Gillingham councillor Roger Monksummers has described the delays on 101 calls in Dorset as ‘pathetic’ and ‘appalling’ after he spent lengthy periods trying to report crimes. The town councillor and retired prison governor says that on three occasions he has experienced delays when seeking to alert the police to potential wrongdoing. Councillor Monksummers, who blames a lack of resources, warns that the problem risks undermining communications between the public and the police and reducing the flow of information to the force.
The most recent episode came in late June when, exasperated at cannabis fumes wafting in once again from a property near his home in Gillingham, Councillor Monksummers dialled 999 because a crime was in progress. When told by the operator that unless life was in danger they could not take the call at that time, he was persuaded to call 101, which is for non-emergency incidents. He says the operator at first sought to dissuade him but eventually tried to put him through to the control room. ‘I called at 9.22pm and finally got through at 10.01pm – 39 minutes later.’
In April Councillor Monksummers had also made a 101 call to report his concerns about ‘suspicious characters’ who were in the streets near his home. Although the call was answered quickly he spent 20 minutes waiting to be put through to the control room to pass on his information. The following morning he had an update to pass on and again, though he initially got through quickly, he had to wait for 11 minutes before he could speak to the control room. ‘This was on an ordinary mid morning on an ordinary weekday when nothing much was happening,’ said Councillor Monksummers. When he tried to report this delay via email on the Dorset Police website, his message to the main contact designated for reporting such incidents came back as ‘undeliverable’. He said: ‘The email address had been deactivated.’ Councillor Monksummers then reported his concerns about this by phone to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset.
The councillor also experienced a delay late last year when he repeatedly passed on his concerns about possible drug use at a nearby property – the same address he complained about in June – noting the very obvious smell of cannabis wafting across neighbours’ houses. ‘When I rang that in I felt I was virtually been treated as a nuisance caller and that I was wasting their time because I was the only one complaining. I rang the police about them at least half a dozen times to say that we have these guys with their comings and goings and that they could well be selling,’ says Councillor Monksummers.
It was only after the retired prison governor said he was minded to go around to the address concerned and confront the people that police took action. A raid later revealed that cannabis was being grown at the address and two men have been released on police bail pending further enquiries. ‘I really am genuine appalled, it’s absolutely pathetic and worse than useless – we don’t pay for this level of service when we pay our rates. There is no level of service,’ said Councillor Monksummers, who said he nevertheless understands the reasons for the problems. ‘They simply do not have the resources – they are just under resourced. Their staffing levels and their budgets are political decisions and they’re not being allowed to do the job.’
He continued : ‘But they have to understand, and I am speaking as a councillor, that people are very unhappy because they feel that the community is not being supported by the police – and that we are not getting community policing, we are not seeing the police in the community and they are not communicating with the public.’ Councillor Monsummers added: ‘And the public can’t communicate with the police because they haven’t got enough staff to answer their phones. People are just not going to ring in – not many people would hold on for 20 minutes or half an hour.’
Asked about the 101 call delays a spokesperson for Dorset police said: ‘Calls to Dorset Police are graded on an assessment of threat, risk and harm to ensure that we direct our resources to those incidents that are of most urgent need and to ensure the best possible service is provided to all members of the public. During the 2016/17 financial year, the average wait time of a non-emergency call was just over 3 minutes (3.09sec). ‘
He added: ‘We advise that where possible, all non-emergency incidents and intelligence be reported to Dorset Police online at www.dorset.police.uk and via email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a call-back service with 101, where the caller can leave their details and receive a call back once a call handler becomes available. If a crime is in progress or life in danger, always dial 999.’
*A 21-year-old man and 25-year-old man – both from Gillingham – were arrested on suspicion of producing a class B controlled drug and possessing a class A controlled drug and have been released on police bail pending further enquiries until July 2017.