The teams who answer 999 and 101 calls at Wiltshire Police have won warm praise from the Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson for a sharp improvement in performance.
Mr Macpherson, picured below by Richard Wintle of Calyx, has also announced he is investing £1.8m from his capital reserves in a refurbishment programme.
It will bring together the Emergency Contact Centre, Central Call Handling, the Crime Recording and Incident Bureau (CRIB) and the Crime Management Units from Swindon and Melksham.
They will be under one roof in a modern control room at the Wiltshire Police HQ in Devizes which will allow them to work even more efficiently and effectively.
One of Mr Macpherson’s key priorities since being elected a year ago has been to drive up standards of customer service.
The Commissioner was so delighted with the improved service that he visited the call centre teams with Chief Constable Pat Geenty today (Tuesday 3 December) to congratulate them personally.
Mr Macpherson said: "For various reasons, notably a shortage of staff due to a recruitment freeze, people contacting Wiltshire Police at the end of 2011 and in the early months of 2012 did not receive an appropriate standard of customer care.
“As the recruitment gaps widened staff were unable to answer calls quickly which resulted in a number of complaints from the public.
“For example, the call answering service provided by the CRIB became overloaded and staff were not able to respond to calls as quickly as they would have liked to do.”
In July and August 2012, only 40 per cent of the calls put through to the CRIB by the 101 call handlers were answered within 30 seconds instead of the required 75 per cent.
Mr Macpherson said: "With hindsight, the recruitment freeze introduced to help meet the Constabulary’s austerity savings should not have been applied to Contact Management.
“The demand from the public remained constant, but the ban on recruitment placed pressure on the CRIB that hit them hard.”
“The Chief Constable and I took the urgent decision to lift the recruitment ban so that management could recruit and train new staff. As a result we have seen performance soar.
“Since November 2012, the bureau has operated consistently at or above the level of three quarters of calls answered within 30 seconds.
"Setting levels of satisfactory performance is always difficult, and we know that a target-driven culture can lead to unwelcome side effects.
“However, I think that a simple requirement that 75 per cent of calls to the bureau are answered promptly is a reasonable threshold which ensures that the people of Wiltshire and Swindon get through without delay."
Mr Macpherson said he was also pleased that 93.9 per cent of 999 calls were answered within ten seconds in the first six months of the year against a 90 per cent national standard. The Wiltshire figures had dipped below the Force threshold figure in March and July 2012.
The response rate to emergency incidents (15 minutes in urban areas, 20 minutes in rural areas) for the first six months of the financial year 2013/14 was 94.8 per cent, against a national standard of 90 per cent
With less serious incidents, a 101 or 999 call handler should take the details and pass them to a dispatcher to send an officer within 20 minutes. In the middle of 2012 the performance level dipped below that threshold, but the team are now consistently operating above the required level.
The Central Call Handling team who handle 101 calls are performing consistently well after dips in February and August 2012. They are now answering 98 out of 100 calls within 30 seconds.
Mr Macpherson said: "It has been very pleasing to see how our central call handlers, dispatchers and CRIB colleagues have turned things around. I decided I would like to meet them face to face and thank them – and the Chief Constable – on behalf of the public I represent."
Mr Geenty said: “We were quick to realise that a recruitment freeze was not the right decision for the Force Contact Centre and the Emergency Contact Centre and with the PCC’s investment in this department we continue to work towards excellence in this area.”
Chief Inspector Madeleine Lynch, head of Contact Management, said: “The staff within Contact Management are, in my opinion, the unsung heroes of Wiltshire Police. They are exceptional and professional people who work tirelessly to meet the needs of the public.
“It is very important to me that not only are we prompt in answering calls, but also that our service offers value to the members of our community. I believe we are achieving this every day.”