Thousands abandon 101 calls to Essex Police

Essex Police has pledged to look at introducing a free call back option for its 101 system and admitted 20 per cent of callers giving up before speaking to a call handler is “unacceptable”.

The force receives between 600 and 1,000 101 calls per day depending on the time of year, with an average wait time of more than four minutes to be connected.

Although the abandonment rate of 101 calls to the Force Control Room fell slightly, from 26 per cent in September 2020 to 22 per cent in September 2021, it still means thousands of calls are being potentially lost.

However, the deputy constable for Essex Police, Andy Prophet, said the force would look at providing a free 101 call back service.

He told the Essex Police, Fire and Crime Panel crime panel last week: “The free call back is a really good idea.

“I know we don’t have a piece of work looking at it and whether our system is intelligent enough to do that I think is something we can absolutely take away.

“We don’t see a 20 per cent abandonment rate as an acceptable level of service and we do have an ambition to improve it.”

The numbers of interactions via Live Chat during the second quarter of 2021 increased to 66 per day – calls that would otherwise have been dealt with via 101.

These 6,145 Live Chat interactions are the highest since the service was launched. In addition, 754 online reports of anti-social behaviour were generated in the second quarter of 2021, which is 101 more than during the previous quarter and also the highest volume since this alternative to calling 101 was introduced.

Police Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex Roger Hirst said measuring the actual numbers abandoning calls was tricky given recorded messaging at the beginning of the call informs people of the options to use other means.

He said: “It used to be a big problem. Five years ago the average call wait on 101 was very nearly 30 minutes. We had maximum waits of up to four hours.

“And we had a drop call rate of in excess of 40 per cent.

“Since then we have restructured a lot and put more resources in. In particular we have achieved a lot of shift from the telephone to online.

“Having shifted a good percentage onto the online service, 101 has got lot better.”

He added: “The messaging when you dial 101 says that you will get a better service if you go online and if they do that counts as dropped call.

“And we haven’t found an accute way of monitoring that.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter