June 2019: News from Avon & Somerset PCC

May 31 2019

Treat 999 call handlers with respect

I’m under no illusion how difficult policing is and the challenging circumstances our police officers and emergency services face on a daily basis to keep our communities safe. However, it’s not just our colleagues on the frontline who face abuse; abusive calls to 999 and 101 call handlers is on the rise.
Unfortunately, our call handlers have come to expect swearing and name-calling but in more serious cases some of our call handlers have received death threats and threats of rape. One individual even threatened to burn down a call handler’s house with her children inside. The reality that our call handlers face is unacceptable. Our call handlers, who go above and beyond to protect us from harm, deserve to come to work without being worried about potential abuse they might face during their shift. They deserve to be treated with respect and we all need to show support to these individuals who work so hard to keep our communities safe.
Nationally, there has been an increase in 999 calls and within Avon and Somerset we have seen an 8% year on year increase. This 8% equates to approximately an extra 48 calls every day or an additional five hours of call handling per day. Disappointingly, some 999 calls are not emergencies and some are even hoaxes. We need to remember that non-emergency calls to 999 could be blocking a real emergency and this is deadly serious.
In May, we supported Mental Health Awareness Week. Many mental health charities now believe that people are more aware and feel more empowered to tackle mental health. It is great that people now feel empowered to speak out about their experiences in schools, workplaces and in their communities but we now need to turn this awareness into action. We know that mental health services are woefully underfunded and those experiencing a mental health problem wait an extremely long time to be able to access the treatments and the services they need.
This all has an impact on our stretched emergency services, particularly policing. For example, in Avon and Somerset, on average, an incident involving someone in a mental health crisis will take four and a half hours of an officer’s time. The majority of contact when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis into the police is by the communications centre as 101 or 999 calls. The average time on these calls is 77.9% higher than the average call and mental health related calls take up 12% of all calls. We cannot offer the best support to those suffering a mental health crisis in the back of a police car; we need to work in partnership to create a longer-term solution that involves all public services to provide those experiencing a mental health problem with the support they deserve.