FED-UP Barnsley residents who in some cases were made to wait as long as two hours when ringing the police’s under-fire 101 number to report a crime have been promised their calls are being answered much quicker.

Call times to the non-emergency police line have been slashed across the district in the last year according to bosses, after fielding long-running criticism about the system’s reliability.

Used for reporting matters such as antisocial behaviour and illegal off-road bikes, attendees at Barnsley’s police meetings have regularly complained about 101.

However, according to new performance figures, the average call-taking time has been reduced from six minutes 48 seconds to two minutes 38 seconds over a year-long period up to April 2020.

Detective Chief Constable Mark Roberts stated this this was due to the introduction of ‘call back assist’, improvements in systems and management, but warned spikes in demand can cause delays at peak times.

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Users were promised significant improvements via a multi-million pound investment package designed to ease the call-taking process at Atlas Court, South Yorkshire Police’s Sheffield communications hub where all calls go, which launched in a revised format late last year.

The call abandonment rate was about 40 per cent last year and is now half that figure.

Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “The 101 system has been a cause of great frustration since before I became commissioner.

“We commissioned new IT and in 2018 a new system, Smart Contact, was introduced.

“As expected, there were some initial delays reported in people trying to contact us via 101 as our staff began to use the system in a full 24/7 operational environment.

“However, these have reduced significantly now and will continue as our staff continue gain experience with this new IT.

“Demand on all police forces is high and it’s vitally important that the 101 and 999 lines be used appropriately so that those who need to get through quickly can.”

Shafton Parish Council’s Les Holt had complained previously to police representatives that 101 was preventing vulnerable-but-willing people from reporting crimes.

“I’m regularly being told that 101 is pointless and that people who are the victim of a crime are put off by the long wait for someone to answer,” he added.

“There are a lot of frightened, elderly and vulnerable people in our village who can’t report crime.

“They trust PCSOs, there should be more of them around as waiting so long to speak to a 101 operator after they have been a victim of crime is unacceptable.”

The force says it’s currently taking around 14,000 non-emergency calls on the 101 lines each day.

On average, another 700 go through the 999 system but the demand on both has grown in recent years.

A police spokesman added: “Customers can continue to report their crime to us on 101, or on 999 if your matter is urgent or relates to a threat to life.

“Alternatively, customers can report a non-emergency incident online through our online services.”