DOUBT has been cast over the public’s knowledge surrounding the use of Dorset Police’s non-emergency number despite its launch more than three years ago.

Members of the Police and Crime panel have expressed concern that Dorset residents are still using 101 as a directory enquiries number.

The discussions came during an update report on the progress of the PCC Police and Crime Plan 2013-2017.

Cllr Ann Stribley, who represents the area of Parkstone in Poole said she recently saw a family sleeping rough on the streets of Dorset and thought it was best to call the 101 non-emergency number to help them.

She said she was kept on the line on hold for 12 minutes and 46 seconds before her call was answered – but was then given the wrong follow up number to call which instead focused on domestic violence.

Dorset Police Chief Constable Debbie Simpson apologised to Cllr Stribley for the incident, and said as of January 23 this year, 79 per cent of calls to 101 were answered within 30 seconds.

She added that 61 per cent of calls were passed on to the relevant people or place within 30 seconds.

Cllr Dennis Gritt said: “The 101 number was despised when it was first launched but last year was thought to be getting better.

“However, I was recently in a situation where I was put through to the answering machine, and on a different occasion the phone was picked up but then I was hung up on.”

Responding to concerns raised by the panel, PCC Martyn Underhill said: “Answering just over 75 per cent of calls within 30 seconds is perfectly acceptable to me; you name me one public sector that answers the phone within that time.

“I ring the tax office and get put on hold for 22 minutes, or with BT 32 minutes even.

“This is not an urgent number we’re talking about; there are no lives at risk and no lives at threat.

“The government charge us to ring 101 and those calls raised 37 million pounds last year, but this money does not come back to the people of Dorset.

“But this is the life we live in; I’m not going to take police officers off the streets to answer phones in the concept of just a 30 second wait in most cases.

“I will let the electorate decide whether I have done the job properly.”

Cllr Phil Goodall said when his elderly neighbour passed away he was unsure whether he was right to call 101 to inform the police that she had died and that the house would now be empty.

Debbie Simpson assured Cllr Goodall that this was the right use of the non-emergency number, and said discussions may need to be held to establish an acceptable waiting time in Dorset for calling 101.

The discussion follows a major national fault in November last year where callers were unable to get through to the Dorset Police non-emergency number.

At the time, Mr Underhill said that there was still a need to educate some members of the public about when to use the non emergency number and when to dial 999.

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