More than one in five non-emergency calls to Sussex Police went unanswered from July to September last year – with almost one in six abandoned across the year.
The startling figures have been revealed in response to a freedom of information request made by Brighton councillor Emma Daniel, who sits on the Sussex Police and Crime Panel, who was concerned when residents told her they couldn’t get through when calling 101.
They show the number of unanswered calls rising from 2,200 in January last year to more than 10,000 in September, when 26.4% were abandoned.
Sussex Police said the poor performance was down to staffing pressures, and a recruitment drive has seen the rate drop again, although staff training and organisational changes in February saw another peak.
Cllr Daniel described the number of unanswered calls as a “shocking mess” and said it called into question how accurate reported rates of antisocial behaviour are during the period.
She said: “I tried to call the police to report an antisocial behaviour issue affecting Hanover and waited one and a half hours before I was cut off by 101.
“I was hearing feedback from residents on it as well including reports on social media of people giving up on the 101 call centre.
“I tried to ask about it at the PCP but the commissioner just said that she didn’t think that targets were a good thing. I felt dissatisfied with the answer and wanted to know what the performance actually was.
“It looks like things improved and I hope that they continue to but it’s important that the public can get through.
“How can we trust figures on antisocial behaviour if people can’t report it? The commissioner should have done more to address this fundamental issue with policing.
“It shouldn’t take a FOI to easily see local policing performance figures especially such a fundamentally important one like answering calls.”
Sussex Police Superintendent Ed De-la-Rue said: “Last year we experienced staffing pressures and these came to a peak in September. Part of the response has been a continued recruitment drive and we have seen a significant number of new staff join us since then.
“The percentage of abandoned call has improved considerably most months. February saw a deterioration, influenced by a reduction in available staff compared to previous months, along with some organisational changes.
“During low demand months staff are given essential training to prepare for the higher demand in summer months. We have responded to this rise in abandoned calls and they have reduced again since.
“We often see some people abandoning only seconds into calls, not necessarily if they have been waiting. Some abandonment is positive, it means that people are often choosing to report via the online channels which usually takes them them less time and is more efficient for the force.
“Other reporting channels are available, including reporting online via our website and via email. We urge people to ring 999 in an emergency. We haven’t seen a change in reporting of anti-social behaviour, which members of the public continue to report through all of our channels.
“We would always encourage anyone who experiences anti-social behaviour to report it online, or by calling 999 if they are in immediate danger.”
The issue was also addressed at a performance and accountability meeting between police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne and Sussex police chiefs on Friday.
Mrs Bourne told a meeting: “It’s not about the speed for me, it’s about the confidence of the public. 999 calls have to be answered within a specific amount of time because they’re emergencies. With this one, having a target is not helpful.
“It’s understanding what’s the long term effects are. It’s making sure that the public don’t lose complete faith in that system. At the moment, performance is going up and down and it needs consistency and that would give the public back a confidence.
“I say phone 101, it’s got better, but they’ve had a bad experience six months ago and people remember the time it really annoyed them.”
% calls abandoned (total number)
January 6.2% (2224)
February 8.2% (2770)
March 12.4% (4467)
April 17.6% (6321)
May 18.3% (7333)
June 17.4% (6851)
July 22.5% (9485)
August 21.7% (8904)
September 26.4% (10030)
October 11.6% (4139)
November 8.7% (2853)
December 9.2% (3027)
January 2017 9.6%
February 2017 19.7%
2016 total 16.9%