I HAD the pleasure of meeting Assistant Chief Constable, Nikki Leaper to discuss, amongst many topics, the 101 service.

Those who read my occasional column in the Mid-Devon Advertiser, will remember that I have had the opportunity, since doing this column, to visit the control room at Police Headquarters at Middlemoor, Exeter.

I wanted to update readers since my last report on progress being made especially since the report placing Devon and Cornwall Police into special measures.

So this was a good place to start, so I asked Assistant Chief Constable what this meant as regards to the morale of staff and the force as a whole. The Assistant Chief Constable quite open in a reply, confirming that of course those on the frontline in the control room felt that their hard work and dedication appeared not to have met the exacting standards by the investigation team.

However, instead of being demoralised, those affected, especially in the control room, felt that it gave them an opportunity to move forward and cooperate in addressing the issues raised. 

To that end, the Assistant Chief Constable sought the assistance of one of the top performing police forces, Humberside, to conduct a peer review on the way the current contact area operated and provided a factual report on how they see the findings and a way forward. 

The report highlighted areas where the force could demonstrate that improvements were already being made. 

I also learnt that the full report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services was due out on February 2, 2023. What was originally put out was an abridged version, highlighting the main concerns and advising that the force was put in special measures. The full report went into more detail of the findings.

There is an over-arching improvement plan that has been leading improvements since March 2022, after the inspection was carried out at the end 2021, beginning of 2022.

Part of those improvements included an uplift in resourcing which began in March 2022. Due to lengthy training requirements required by the role and high staff turnover, recruitment remains ongoing to achieve these uplifted staffing figures. 

The Assistant Chief Constable then provided me with some useful information which I will now detail below:

Since March 2022 the force are recruiting 107 new call handlers and radio incident management officers, some of which at present are going through training and mentoring. Once completed these staff will join the 230 staff in post, who work routine shift patterns, covering days, lates and nights. 

In addition to the call handlers and radio incident management officers, the incident resolution centre also makes up part of Contact. 113 officers manage demand and undertake crime related tasks and incident resolution as they come in, depending on the severity.

Whilst there are I was shown the control room where 98.2% of 999 calls during that day had been answered in under 10 seconds. The national standard is set at 90% of 999 calls should be answered in under 10 seconds.

101 calls received that day were 352 and it was accepted that most of these were not answered within five minutes of the service level agreement, which is the required time limit. The longest wait was 27 minutes. The Assistant Chief Constable accepted that this situation was indeed unacceptable and understood the frustration that those trying to get through felt.

On an average day the force receives between 800-1,000 999 calls rising in the summer period to around 1,200 calls.

I was advised that so far since midnight today 450 contacts had been made including 101 calls, 101 email, web chat had been received, this does not include 999 calls. If you then take the 352 101 calls received in the same period then by the end of the shift at midnight tonight over 1000, 101 calls by all methods would have been received.

Since November 2022 a new system called ‘NICHE’ had been introduced to assist with process times and once bedded it will make response times for 101 far better. 

Modernising IT systems will reduce duplication, currently officers and staff have to double key a lot of information and update information manually on various systems, which slows down process times and moving information around the Contact Centre. The new IT systems will in turn improve process times, automate in part, leading to better public service delivery and in turn be able to offer call backs to the public.

Of course, such demanding roles within the control room, and the variety of calls received, some of them as you can imagine are traumatic. The welfare of the staff is of paramount importance and dedicated HR provision in place to provide an enhanced support for individuals, other examples focussing on welfare include visits from the force chaplains, welfare dogs and occupational health support.

On an average day the police received many calls that are non-police related matters. That is to say items that the police cannot assist with such as civil matters, calls about potholes, hosepipe bans etc. 

10% of 999 calls a day are made up abandoned calls and the main reason is ‘pocket dialling’. 

Pocket dialling refer to where a mobile phone accidently calls 999 sometimes even when the phone is locked. In addition, a member of the public may call 999, in good faith, to report say an RTC, but as a call is answered sees or hears the approaching emergency vehicle. The caller then abandons the call without advising the call handler.

The call handler not knowing whether the call was deliberately abandoned or not, has to follow up the call to make sure the caller is safe. If the caller had actually waited and advised the call handler this would not necessarily needed to have happened and that time could be spent dealing with another call. 

Another section which we properly don’t hear about is the repeat and vulnerable callers. The force have introduced a Demand Reduction team to identify repeat and vulnerable callers. This looks to reduce contact from persistent/nuisance callers, using both partnership work, civil orders and prosecution. For example one member of the public with mental health issues emailed the force 3,000 times in August. 

Well some good news, so I’m led to believe, is on the way in a new online system due to go live in March 2023. It is called ‘Single Online Home’. Currently the 101 email contact channel provides the public an opportunity to send in information through a free text format this will change with Single Online Home, where the information requested is more structured, saving many follow up calls to get the right information, so queries can be answered more efficiently and directed to the right business area.

Yes I know, I didn’t know about this either but I’ve been assured that if I go on the Devon and Cornwall Police webpage, I will see it at the top of the webpage, where you can actually go and have a look at before it goes live. I will do so very shortly.

In addition the Assistant Chief Constable explained that an additional six front offices have opened this month, (Tiverton, Truro, Falmouth, Penzance, Newton Abbot and Bude) increasing the provision of front office services. This enables a better service to the public by providing greater connectivity and accessibility. The front office staff will be trained to deal with digital demand and non-urgent contact demand, supported by new technology, significantly expanding the available resource base for Contact.

I like to express my appreciation and thanks to the Assistant Chief Constable for her time and for her patience for speaking to me and showing me the control room. I appreciate that even though our time was short, that time was being taken away from her other important duties as Assistant Chief Constable.