THE costly but heavily-criticised Devon and Cornwall police contact centre is finally improving with fewer people abandoning calls because of long waiting times.

However, the average time people have to hang on to speak to a police call handler on the 101 non-emergency number is still nearly an hour.

Police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez says the previously ‘embarrassing’ contact service, has dramatically improved in performance with over 90 per cent of 999 calls being answered within 10 seconds.

Abandoned calls to 101 have reduced by around 40 per cent with the introduction of a call back service. And the reopening of police enquiry desks have helped public engagement with the police, she told the Devon and Cornwall police and crime panel.

In addition, a triage service enables callers to speak to a ‘human being’ within 30 seconds and then redirected.

However, as the average 101 call waiting time is 47 minutes, the commissioner says work still has to be done.

Ms Hernande said: ‘We know this is still too long, but two minutes, which is what the public think is right, is unreasonable. We are aiming for 20 minutes waiting time on 101 calls.’

She said she had invested ‘millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money’ into more staff and better technology, but progress had been slow, partly because of the demand on 999 calls which had risen by 25 per cent.

She aaid: ‘I have come to the police and crime panel in the past and been embarrassed at what is happening on that phone line, but I am so delighted with the level of effort that has gone into making things better. We are definitely on the right track.’

In August, Devon and Cornwall Police was the best performing force in the UK for answering 999 calls promptly, and although there were technical issues in September, in October the average waiting time was six seconds.

Around 1,500 people have now visited the 12 police enquiry offices which the commissioner has reopened across the two counties in the last year and she is looking to reopen four more.

Although the openings have been staggered over that period, if they had all been accepting members of the public dropping in over the 12 months, that equates to two people per week using each station’s new front desk.

The commissioner has said previously that footfall is not the key reason for reopening front desks, but rather about making communities feel safer and officers being more accessible.

Ms Hernandez is asking for suggestions so future offices can be in the right location, as well as where there is most demand.

Members of the police and crime panel said there needed to be more information about the police enquiry offices as lots of people still didn’t know about them or what they could use them for, both for reporting crime and getting advice. These offices had a lot more potential to take pressure off the call centre, they said.

Ms Hernandez said it was up to local teams to decide which way worked best for them as not all officers were interested in using social media. 

She said emails to neighbourhood teams was not something she wanted to promote as some could get missed when officers were off, and incidents not responded to.

She said: ‘We have some challenges in directing people to the right contact service for them but things are improving.’