Concern as 101 call waiting times reach over three minutes
People calling 101 to speak to the police had to wait an average of three minutes 25 seconds, according to recent Police Scotland figures.
They show that between April 1 and June 30 this year, 999 calls took an average of six seconds to be answered.
However, the average call answer time for 101 calls had increased by one minute 28 seconds compared to the same period last year, taking it to well over three minutes.
While Police Scotland’s contact centres are organised nationally, members of Falkirk Council’s Scrutiny committee were concerned about the impact on local policing and at a previous meeting had asked senior officers for more information.
At the most recent meeting, Falkirk Area Commander, Chief Inspector Craig Walker, said Police Scotland receive around 3.4 million calls annually and staff had been working “in very challenging circumstances”.
He said: “Police call centres have operated by necessity throughout the pandemic with staff physically present at work, which has resulted in a number of Covid absences and challenges such as social distancing.”
He said that another pressure is the fact that call handlers are now having to ask more health and safety questions about the incident to find out what PPE might be required by officers attending.
And he said that staff were also trying to solve queries before passing it on to officers.
“While this has a positive impact on local policing, with a high number of calls resolved, it clearly adds to time,” he added.
Councillor John McLuckie said: “Three and a half minutes to get through is a significant figure and that means that for some people it is taking longer.
“I am aware of the number of calls that the police deal with but this has got to be looked at.
“I do hope there is a way of improving this in the future.”
Forth Valley Chief Superintendent Alan Gibson told members that the Coronavirus pandemic had a significant impact on staffing.
“We are the service of last resort – when people don’t know who else to call they generally call the police.
“Over the past 18 months we’ve taken calls about Covid-19 regulations, pharmacy opening times, emergency plumbers – the list goes on.
“We’ll never turn anybody away because invariably people come looking for help and assistance.
“Are the call answering times acceptable? No, they’re not and the Chief Constable himself has said that.
“We want to do better – and we are doing better.
“We went through a really challenging time and we are one of the only contact centres in Scotland that remained open right through the heart of Covid to provide a service to the public.
“The whole organisation suffered because of absence – at one point I had 118 officers missing because of Covid-19, which is eye-watering in terms of my job.
“It gave me sleepless nights. Thankfully, we’re in a very different place now.
“We’re definitely seeing an improvement and getting back on an even keel.”
But he added that it was important to note that 999 calls had not been impacted and the staff at the contact centres had done a magnificent job.