Changes to Devon and Cornwall Police’s 999 call answering service have propelled it up the response times leaderboards, thanks in part to contact centre technology.
In November 2022, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez announced the target of 90 percent of 999 calls to be answered within ten seconds. At that time, the Devon and Dorset police force had been ranked near the bottom of the police call response league table at 41st out of 44.
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To improve its response times, it switched to an “AACC7” callback system, introduced a switchboard triage service, and reopened six public enquiry offices (PEOs) throughout 2022 and 2023.
By December 2022, the Devon and Cornwall police force had met 90 percent of the target and, in August 2023, it was ranked as the best-performing force in the UK, with 88% of calls answered within 10 seconds.
Since August, more than 90 percent of call times have been answered within ten seconds.
A report by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, stated: “The Commissioner has invested significantly in contact services and called on the Chief Constable to put in place a number of mitigations to address poor performance.
“The key introductions of switchboard triage and a callback function are already delivering improvements, and the force is now focusing on consolidating improvement activity and maximising productivity.”
In October 2023 the average wait time for a 999 call to be answered by Devon and Cornwall Police was 6 seconds, representing a reduction of 25 seconds since its answering times in October 2022.
During 2023 the number of 999 calls has increased, with a peak of 34,861 in June 2023. Call handling times have continued to reduce overall, in spite of this increase.
The introduction of a callback service and a triage service has reportedly helped to improve response times, allowing callers to speak to human agents within 30 seconds before being redirected.
Plans for Further Improvement
There is still work to be done, however, as Hernandez admitted the average call waiting time for non-emergency 101 phone calls is 47 minutes.
The next phase of the Commissioner’s project to reopen police enquiry offices will see stations reopened to the public in Devonport, Looe, Ilfracombe, Honiton, Okehampton and Kingsbridge in the 12 months to April 2024.
A total of 17 front desks are being reopened under the project, having been shut as a result of the 2009 financial crisis, taking the total number of PEOs across the force area to 26.
A further two PEOs will be opened in 2024/2025, with an additional two the following year.
The report outlined some of the actions taken to improve call response times by the Devon and Cornwall police force: “The Commissioner has made connectivity with the public a cornerstone of her Police and Crime Plans, arguing that face-to-face contact with the public helps victims and provides a long-term solution to rebuilding confidence in policing.
“Twenty-four new police enquiry officer posts have already been created and more staff are now being recruited in the new locations.
“New technology means that when not dealing with face-to-face enquiries they can reduce demand to the police contact unit by dealing with emails and web enquiries.”
£1.5 million has already been earmarked for investment in the project and Exmouth Police Station in East Devon is being rebuilt to include a functioning front desk.