101 caller 'waited nearly an hour', BBC FOI shows

Staffordshire Police 101 call centre
Image caption Staffordshire Police switched from two call centres to one in 2014

A caller to Staffordshire Police's 101 service was kept waiting for almost an hour, figures obtained by the BBC show.

The force took the longest in the West Midlands to answer the non-emergency calls - averaging just over a minute - although one caller waited 51 minutes.

However, it said the way it measured calls being answered differed to other forces.

Assistant Chief Constable Nick Adderley said there would be investment to appoint more call handlers.

A BBC Freedom of Information (FOI) request was made to all forces in the West Midlands region about the performance of their 101 service since April 2012.

'Streamline the system'

The service was introduced to five forces in 2011 and was introduced across England and Wales the following year.

The figures revealed waiting times and the number of calls abandoned by the public:

  • Staffordshire Police had the highest proportion of abandoned calls - 145,000, or one in eight. The force does have a call back option
  • There were about 37,000 abandoned calls in Warwickshire and 22,000 within West Mercia, figures showed. Each force had a 24-second and 32-second "wait" time, respectively
  • West Midlands Police recorded more than 130,000 and an average wait time of 20 seconds, but only gave data for three years

In Staffordshire, a call is classed as answered when the person gets through to a call handler. In Warwickshire and West Mercia, it is as soon as the call is transferred to an automated operator.

West Midlands Police's "wait" time is measured from the time of the call connecting to its system to the time a call taker answers.

Police force Total calls (2012-Jan 2016) Abandoned calls % abandoned
Staffordshire Police 1,124,397 145,735 12.96%
Warwickshire Police 1,119,455 37,560 3.35%
West Mercia Police 772,810 22,458 2.90%
West Midlands Police 1,816,690 133,109 7.32%

Image caption PCC Matthew Ellis said 999 calls were a priority and two-minute wait times on 101 were "perfectly acceptable"

Matthew Ellis, Staffordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner, said a two-minute wait, which reflected figures for 2015-6, was "perfectly acceptable" as it "allows more police to be on the beat".

He admitted changes in 2014 of two police call centres reducing to one "wasn't quite as effective as it should've been".

Supt Martin Samuels, spokesperson for the Warwickshire and West Mercia forces, said both were reviewing the 101 service.

West Midlands Police said it was looking to increase the number of non-emergency call handlers.

Analysis - BBC Stoke political reporter James Bovill

Concerns have been raised that hundreds of thousands of people haven't been able to get through to the 101 number in the Midlands since 2012. Crimes could have gone unrecorded, incidents ignored.

But Staffordshire's police and crime commissioner says it's hard to compare like for like. There's no standardised way of monitoring 101 performance, and that needs to change.

Most forces acknowledge they must do more to improve. Staffordshire and the West Midlands forces say they'll take on more call handlers. Warwickshire and West Mercia - which have a strategic alliance - say they are looking at bringing in a single, standard system.

But all forces stress their 999 emergency response times must remain the priority.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites