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CLEVELAND POLICE: Extra staff for needed to cope with rising demand

CLEVELAND POLICE: Extra staff for needed to cope with rising demand

Image: LDRS

A FORCE control room will be bolstered by 33 new recruits to improve response times and prepare for rising demands.

Cleveland Police’s call room receives more than 1,000 enquiries a day from across Teesside.

Now councillors have heard how the force is recruiting a new cohort of 20 call handlers to start in June on top of 13 new recruits already signed up.

The force’s control room has around 200 staff in total at the moment, including supervisors, spread out across five teams.

Not all staff and officers work at the same time.

Superintendent Marc Anderson revealed the uplift during an update on the performance of Cleveland’s “Operation Phoenix” crackdown last summer.

He explained how the operation, and a review of demand by technology firm Process Evolution, had sparked the fresh recruitment drive.

“The review of the control room as a result of this operation has identified the demand has ever increased,” said Supt Anderson.

“When we talk about 1,000 calls coming in a day, that gives some context of the volume.

“As a result of that, it’s been identified by the organisation that more staff are needed in there – with 13 brought in as part of a new cohort.

“There is a new recruitment campaign where 20 have been identified to start in June – so there is an increase and uplift in staff within the control room.”

Efforts to improve responses at the force are continuing as part of the recovery from a damning HM Inspectorate of Constabulary probe in 2019.

Cleveland Police brought its control room back in house in May 2019 after ending its contract with Sopra Steria earlier than planned.

That year, the inspectorate found the force was trying to make changes to cope with demand – but it also found unnecessary risks were arising from how teams dealt with non-emergency calls.

A follow-up visit by inspectors late last year found improvements – with a restructured control room now featuring extra staff trained by the force.

The 2020 HMIC report added: “We found that the majority of calls are answered promptly, and callers receive a polite, professional and empathetic service from the call handler.

“Call handlers also provide callers with appropriate advice about how to keep safe until an officer can attend, and how to preserve evidence.”

A vulnerability desk also works with the force’s control room to track and improve responses to domestic abuse cases and sexual offences.

After the meeting, a force spokeswoman confirmed 13 people had already be recruited and would start work in May – with a further 20 staff to be signed up in the coming months.

She said: “During the pandemic last year the demand in control room wasn’t as high as normal.

“The force was really proactive in planning ahead with advertising the vacancies to ensure we can meet demand when people’s lives start getting back to normal and when the demand picks up.”

Frustrations still cropping up

Pleas for people to keep calling and reporting incidents and problems are stressed time and again by Teesside leaders.

Past meetings of the Cleveland Police and Crime Panel have heard plenty of discussion of call response times.

In November, Deputy Chief Constable Helen McMillan explained how teams had tried to make their answers a “more attractive proposition” – with the 101 answer machine message made shorter to keep people on the phone.

However, some familiar bugbears arose again at the latest Middlesbrough culture and communities scrutiny panel.

Hemlington councillor Jeanette Walker said residents sometimes had to wait “up to 50 minutes” to get an answer after calling 101.

The Labour member added: “I know from past experience, if we don’t report these incidents we don’t get any hotspots (recorded).

“When people give up because they’ve hung on the phone for 50 minutes, that means, to me, that report and incident never go anywhere.”

Cllr Walker said she regularly urged people to report problems but added getting through could “sometimes take ages” – and wanted to know what was being done to ease frustrations.

Superintendent Anderson pointed to the uplift in call centre staff already underway.

“As I touched upon (in the presentation), the force is taking the step to recruit more people in the control room,” he added.

“There is a cohort of staff already brought in and around 20 staff earmarked to come in June to deal with some of the issues you’ve highlighted there.

“That’s important – and it’s important, as you correctly pointed out, that people do ring in.”

The senior officer added that new newsletters would flag up the top three priorities in each ward – with more community meetings planned to come after the pandemic eases.

Supt Anderson added: “What your neighbourhood teams do where those reports of anti-social behaviour come in is they review them on a morning, and if they haven’t had a service, they look at making call backs to those people where appropriate.”

Independent charity Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously to report crime on 0800 555 111, or online at www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter

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