POLICE have admitted they are taking longer to answer phone calls, following a switch to only one control room for the whole of North Yorkshire.

Superintendent Glyn Payne, the officer in charge of the control room behind York police station, said it was impossible to make such a major change without temporarily affecting the speed of response to calls.

And UNISON branch secretary John Mackfall claimed staff were facing a heavy burden of work following the change and morale was low.

The difficulties emerged after The Press obtained figures under the Freedom of Information Act showing the average time taken to respond to the non-emergency number has risen over the past year from six to nine seconds, while the response time for 999 calls had risen from four to five seconds.

Supt Payne said such times were well within the national targets of 30 seconds for non-urgent calls and ten seconds for emergencies.

But he admitted there had been “one or two” complaints from the public since the force’s Newby Wiske control room closed down recently.

He said while about 60 employees relocated to the York room, new staff had to be recruited from elsewhere within the force and externally, all of whom needed training.

He said: “We would ask people to bear with us during this transition.” Supt Payne also advised people raising non-urgent matters to avoid calling first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon, which were generally the busiest times, but call instead in the late morning or early afternoon.

He also revealed “irresponsible” 999 calls had been hampering employees’ ability to respond swiftly to genuine emergencies, with examples including people dialling 999 to:

• Report they have lost a glove

• Ask when a supermarket near the police station shuts

• Request a patrol car to take them home because their taxi queue was too long.

He said: “While people are making these calls, there could be someone else out there wanting to report a genuine emergency.”

He warned people making such calls could be taken to court for making malicious communications.

He said problems should ease when voice-recognition technology is introduced later this year, allowing callers to be automatically re-directed to whoever they want to speak to. But Mr Mackfall said this should have been introduced before the changes came in.

York Central MP Hugh Bayley, who congratulated The Press for obtaining the information, said response times were still good and the public should be reassured, but he would like police to get back to the times of a year ago.

• If you have had problems phoning North Yorkshire Police recently, email newsdesk@thepress.co.uk or phone our newsdesk on 01904 567131. Police employees can also contact The Press in confidence of anonymity.

Growing pressure on county’s only control room

Mike Laycock visited North Yorkshire Police's remaining control room in York to examine the pressures facing staff, following the closure of the other one at Newby Wiske.

THE huge security fence and barriers recently erected around the complex on land behind York police station indicate its increased importance to the force.

All calls from the public are now handled from the control room by staff sitting in front of banks of computers, while colleagues are involved in helping to deploy officers to incidents.

The force’s other control room at Newby Wiske, near Northallerton – which used to handle about half of the public’s phone calls to the police and other tasks – closed down recently as part of a cost-cutting efficiency drive in the face of Government funding cuts.

The force receives about 465,000 non-urgent calls to 0845 6060247 each year, and about 75,000 emergency calls to 999.

Superintendent Glyn Payne, who is in overall charge of the complex, admits staff are facing increased pressures in dealing with such calls and there have been times when they have struggled to answer as quickly as they would like.

He says those pressures look set to worsen later this year when a new 101 number – so much easier to remember – is introduced in North Yorkshire for non-urgent calls instead of the 0845 number.

He says when 101 was introduced in Wales there was a 12 per cent increase in calls, and there is no reason to think this won’t also happen in North Yorkshire.

However, new technology – in the shape of voice recognition software – should help.

Supt Payne says of the 465,000 non-urgent calls, about 200,000 are people wanting to be put through to police officers and departments, all of which now have to be handled by a person.

In future, they will automatically be put through by the new technology, although there will still be an option to be put straight through to a staff member if people want to report an incident.

But isn’t there another problem with just one control room? What happens if it is hit by, for example, a fire? Supt Payne says staff can quickly relocate to a classroom in the main police station, which can swiftly take on a temporary control room capability.

At the same time, Humberside Police is able to deal with North Yorkshire’s calls if the force is temporarily unable to handle them.

Under a reciprocal agreement, North Yorkshire recently dealt with Humberside’s calls for several hours because the latter was suffering phone problems.

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Slowing concern

AUSTERITY measures, while essential, should not affect front-line services. So it is worrying that North Yorkshire Police’s switch to a single control room has resulted in a slow down in answering 999 calls.

Superintendent Glyn Payne, who is in charge of the control room, says it is impossible to make such a major change without temporarily affecting the time taken to pick up the phone.

But that doesn’t make it any less of a concern.

One thing that doesn’t help is the number of bogus calls, although Supt Payne says that should be less of a problem when voice-recognition technology is introduced later in the year.

Up to now, the slow down does not seem to have caused real difficulties, but this is a matter the police must keep a sharp eye on.

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