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An analysis of police 101 phone calls


July 26, 2016 Simon Ruda and Alex Tupper

In 2011, Police forces across the UK introduced Police 101, a phone number for non-emergency issues. This important public service has come under strain more recently as forces have struggled to cope with the huge volumes of calls – which has sometimes led to callers having to wait for their call to be answered.

Speaking to forces and call handlers suggested a sizeable proportion of phone calls to 101 were inappropriate – for example, people calling to pay a parking fine end up being told that the police can’t help them as this is a local council matter. This means that valuable police resources are taken up by calls that are not related to policing, which means the phone line is more likely to be busy when appropriate calls try to connect.

As part of the Home Office Innovation Fund, BIT was commissioned by Gwent Police, Dyfed-Powys Police and South Wales Police to analyse call volume data to see if we could uncover patterns relating to inappropriate calls.

When conducting the analysis, as ‘inappropriate calls’ weren’t coded in the data, BIT assumed that any phone calls which were resolved in under 30 seconds were likely to be inappropriate for the Police (i.e. where the caller was quickly told their enquiry wasn’t something the police deal with).

One of the most intriguing findings was that the proportion of inappropriate calls received is dramatically reduced if the call waited at least five seconds before being answered. It could be that just five seconds of ringing time is enough to enable the caller to reflect on the purpose of their call and its appropriateness for the police.

As the graph below shows, around four in every ten calls answered within 1 second were inappropriate, whereas only one in ten of those that wait at least 6 seconds are. The possible conclusion from this analysis is that a ring time of just 6 seconds could help cut down inappropriate calls, enabling those in real need of support to be prioritised and more rapidly assisted by the police.

Estimated Proportion of Calls that are Inappropriate, by number of seconds of ring time

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