The data, based on 5.2 million 999 calls to troops in the UK between November and April, showed that 29 percent of them were not answered within the target time of 10 seconds. This would equate to nearly three million a year.
Only 11 troops – a quarter of 44 officers – were within target by their average time to respond. Northumbria took the longest, averaging 33.3 seconds. By contrast, Lincolnshire and Avon and Somerset had an average of just six seconds for each of their calls.
One in 20,999 calls from all troops took more than a minute to answer, equivalent to 500,000 per year and six times the target timescale. It ranged from 16 percent in Northumbria to none in Northamptonshire.
A source from the Department of the Interior said: “With significant disparities across the country, this information will enable all forces to make their service meet the expectations of the public.”
Rick Muir, director of the Police Foundation – which led a committee on the future of the police – said response times were critical to saving lives, protecting people from harm and solving crime. “Speed of response is essential,” he said. “The fact that they don’t hit the target is worrying.”
David Wilson, a professor of criminology at the University of Birmingham, said the combination of rising crime, falling prosecution rates and longer response times was worrying. “It’s part of a pattern where we’re getting a second-rate service from what a first-class organization should be,” he said.
It follows warnings from HM Inspectorate of Police that troops are at risk of being overrun by a wave of 999 calls, caused by a lack of confidence in the non-emergency 101 line. It found that 999 calls rose 11 percent in two years and that a quarter of troops were often “overwhelmed” by demand.
Some troops said as many as 30 percent of the 999 calls now related to issues, such as mental health crises, that should be addressed by other organizations such as the NHS.
This has a knock-on effect on response times. Freedom of information requests from 22 of 43 police forces in England and Wales suggested officers were now 28 percent slower to attend first-degree emergencies after receiving 999 calls than six years ago
This equates to taking an average of three minutes longer to get to serious incidents – from 11 minutes and 20 seconds in 2015 to 14 minutes and 30 seconds in 2021, according to data obtained by the BBC.
Asst Chief Constable Alan Todd, for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, joked, a delay in connecting and inappropriate use of 999 to call for issues that are not emergencies can all contribute to delays in answering.
“We will learn from this data to improve the rate at which 999 calls are answered so that the public can expect the fastest possible response when calling 999,” he said.
Boris Johnson has previously expressed concern that working from home is less productive. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for government efficiency, has been tasked with getting civil servants back into the office.