It’s all about getting the right numbers in the right place at right time

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I write these weekly columns to explain some of the hidden challenges facing my officers.

I have written copiously in recent weeks about reduced police numbers and the impact on the service we offer.

This doesn’t just affect our visibility on the streets, it can sadly also have consequences for victims. When you call the police, it’s reasonable to expect that we will take your call seriously and deal with it appropriately.

Every call for service is assessed by the call-takers in our control-room and will be graded as ‘urgent’, ‘priority’ or ‘routine’.

‘Urgent’ incidents are those where there is a danger to life or a risk of injury being caused imminently. Examples include serious road accidents, assaults or serious disorder. If a crime is in progress, or if an offender is still on scene, or has just left the scene, this would also be ‘urgent’.  As you would expect, these should receive an immediate response.

‘Priority’ incidents would be those where there is no immediate risk to life or injury. An example would be a compliant prisoner detained for shoplifting in a supermarket. Incidents which involve vulnerable or distressed people would also be graded as ‘priority’. Many other types of incident could be graded as ‘priority’ where prompt attendance is considered appropriate to the circumstances.

We will attend ‘priority’ incidents as soon as a resource is free. However, each ‘priority’ is assessed on its own merits, using our professional judgment, and some will take precedence over others.

Any other call where attendance is considered appropriate would be graded as ‘routine’. Where possible, we try to make appointments for routine incidents.

Mr Smith lives in Crowland. He has had problems with a neighbour for several years. It has affected Mr Smith’s health and taken over his whole life. Mr Smith is now on medication for his nerves and he feels afraid to go out, for fear of what the neighbour will do. So when Mr Smith’s unpleasant neighbour made a rude gesture as he was walking past, Mr Smith called the police to report it.

At this point, I think I need to make the distinction between what is important and what is urgent.  Mr Smith is a vulnerable victim. Some people may think a neighbour making a rude gesture is trivial, however after years and years of similar conduct, Mr Smith is at the end of his tether and wants the police to help.

Any of you who have been victims of years of anti-social behaviour will understand this. So, his call is important, but he is not at immediate risk of harm, so this would not generate an urgent response. Mr Smith called 101 at 4pm on a Saturday in August.  The call-taker assessed his call as a ‘priority’ because of Mr Smith’s vulnerability. This meant that the next available officer should have visited him. 

This was a busy Saturday evening. From the time Mr Smith called in until 10pm officers dealt with the following urgent incidents: a traffic collision in Spalding, a violent domestic incident in Deeping St Nicholas, a concern for welfare in Tydd St Mary, another concern for welfare in Holbeach, a suspicious incident in Quadring and a fight outside a pub in Spalding. 

The constant stream of urgent incidents meant that no officer became available to visit Mr Smith, or any of the other non-urgent callers, that evening.

Because of this, an appointment was made for 8pm – 9pm on the following day.

At 8.30pm on the Sunday Mr Smith was contacted by the duty sergeant, who explained that officers were dealing with a serious collision in Sutton Bridge and a sexual incident in Donington.  Mr Smith agreed for the appointment to be rearranged for 5pm to 7pm on the Monday.

Unfortunately at 4.58pm on the Monday an officer was attacked in Sutterton.  All available officers had to rush to the scene and there were five arrests made.  This tied up all officers taking statements, conveying prisoners to Boston etc for several hours.  Unfortunately, because of the confused nature of an incident like this, Mr Smith’s appointment was missed.

A constable booked on duty at 7pm the same evening and they were tasked with visiting Mr Smith. The officer visited Mr Smith at 8pm, but unfortunately they had only been with Mr Smith for a few minutes when they were diverted to deal with a high-risk suicidal missing person in Deeping St Nicholas. There were no diary appointments available for the next day, but it was noted that Mr Smith’s local community beat manager was on duty on the Thursday. That officer visited Mr Smith as soon as they came on duty on the Thursday. This was five days after Mr Smith’s original call.

I am genuinely sorry that it took so long for an officer to deal with this incident. I share this example with you in the hope that this demonstrates the demands on our limited resources and the difficult balance between dealing with what individuals feel is important to them and the need to respond to urgent incidents. It doesn’t mean that Mr Smith’s case isn’t important.

Readers will each have their own policing issue that is important to them and they feel frustrated about. For some it’s street drinkers or foreign-registered vehicles. For others, its cyclists on the pavement or motorists using mobile phones. Many people are fed up with seeing cars contravene the pedestrian area of Spalding Market Place or parked outside schools. I’ve lived in Spalding for nearly 30 years and understand that these are all important issues.

Could anyone look Mr Smith in the eye and say that their policing issue is more important than his?

Being a police leader is about getting the right numbers of officers in the right place at the right time. It’s also about using my professional judgement and taking tough decisions when we don’t have the right numbers. At the risk of repeating myself from other recent correspondence, this isn’t something that we can always achieve because of the demand of emergency incidents, but I remain committed to providing South Holland with the best policing service that we can with the numbers that we have.