Police 'used 101 number for their own admin tasks'
A police 101 service deemed "not fit for purpose" was clogged up for an hour a day by officers doing administrative tasks, the BBC can reveal.
The 101 non-emergency number was introduced to free-up calls to 999.
Internal Devon and Cornwall Police emails reveal its officers used the system to request contact numbers. Staff have since been taken off patrol to deal with the call centre backlog.
A force spokesman said "the process has ceased".
The internal messages urging staff not to abuse the system were disclosed to the BBC in a Freedom of Information request to all police forces in England.
It revealed Derbyshire Constabulary also warned its officers not to abuse the 101 facility.
Devon and Cornwall Police said the 101 number is barred from all police landlines, mobile phones and airwave terminals.
However, staff are still able to access the 101 service through their private mobile phones and landlines, "which has been actively discouraged", the force said.
Devon and Cornwall's former police and crime commissioner, Tony Hogg, said earlier this year the 101 service was not fit for purpose.
"At a time when we have been reducing some face-to-face contact though the closure of public enquiries offices, it is vital that our phone contact system is fit for purpose - it is not," he said.
"There is a lack of police management focus in this area and that needs to change."
A Devon and Cornwall Police spokeswoman said: "An internal message went out eight months ago asking officers not to contact 101 for administrative tasks, this process has ceased."
Rob McMahon, a taxi driver from Kingsbridge, Devon, said he called 101 to report a drunk driver last year but had to wait 40 minutes to get through.
"By the time I got through he had gone home. It's put me off calling 101. Lately I had cause to dial 101, but I emailed because I didn't want to be hanging on the line for so long."
101 non-emergency number
- It was introduced across England in 2011 to cut calls to 999
- Waiting times for 101 calls to be answered by Devon and Cornwall Police rose 450% since the service started, it emerged in 2014
- Police failed to answer more than a million calls to 101 phone lines in 2014 while some callers waited more than an hour to speak to someone, it was reported
- In 2015, Insp Matt Johnson of Cambridgeshire Police admitted in a public meeting that "life was too short" to use the service
Since 2014, Devon and Cornwall Police has encouraged the public to use email or an online form to report crimes, in order to cut delays to the 101 number.
A spokeswoman for Derbyshire Constabulary said its first internal message was issued because "officers and staff were calling 101 rather than using our online telephone directory".
"The workforce responded positively to that message. The number of this type of call has fallen dramatically as a result," she said.
"The second message was issued when there were problems with 101 that reduced the number of lines carrying the calls. This was a temporary problem but to alleviate the pressure on call handlers the message was issued to officers and staff.
"The recent introduction of mobile data equipment will reduce the calls from officers to 101 even further."
Calum Macleod, vice-chair of the Police Federation, said: "We would expect all police officers and staff to use the 101 phone line appropriate and responsibly, and in line with any local procedures that are in place."