Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Kim McGuinness has to put pressure on force bosses to improve responses on the non-emergency number.
Latest figures have revealed Northumbria Police’s performance in answering 101 calls has plummeted over recent months.
From a high of 91% of 101 calls answered within the force’s 60 second standard in January 2021, that figure dropped as low as 15% last October – albeit increasing steadily since then to 24% in November, 31% in December, and 44% in January.
McGuinness told members of the region’s Police and Crime Panel on Monday (March 28) that increasing demands on officers and rising call volumes since the lifting of lockdown had impacted response times.
The Labour PCC, who recently announced plans to recruit dozens of new call handlers funded by a council tax rise, said performance was “going in the right direction” but is still “not good enough”.
She added: “I expect it to improve and we will be keeping pressure on the police to make sure that happens.”
The PCC’s office said a high number of 999 calls, which was 22% higher in 2021 than 2020, was having a knock-on effect for 101, but that recruitment of 50 new call handlers was now under way.
Latest data from December 2021 showed 65% of 999 calls to Northumbria Police were answered within 10 seconds, is the force’s standard for emergency calls.
That figure had been consistently around the 90% mark for much of the Covid pandemic and in the months before the virus hit the UK.
Northumberland county councillor Colin Horncastle warned the prospect of having to wait “30 or 40 minutes” on the line to 101 meant volunteers involved in the Operation Checkpoint rural policing initiative would struggle to report incidents.
Sunderland representative Sean Lewis also raised concerns about communities resorting to vigilantism if they are put off by the long waiting times, before asking if hiring extra staff would resolve the problem.
Since the panel meeting, the PCC’s office has confirmed the recruitment of 50 new call handlers.
Based at call-centres in Ponteland and South Shields, Northumbria Police’s call handlers have dealt with a significant rise in the number of contacts over the last year, receiving an average of 880 calls per day in the period July - September 2021, compared to 676 for the same period in 2020.
New technology and call back features are also planned.
McGuinness said: “The police undoubtedly need more people.
"In Northumbria, the Chief Constable and I recognise this – that’s why we are recruiting well above and beyond Government targets to get officers on the streets, but the recruitment of officers is only half the battle.
"The bottom line is we need more people answering the phones too – it’s a frontline job.
“They are at the heart of the action and are that reassuring voice at the end of the line often when people need someone most.”