999 crisis as response times drop by two minutes
Police in Lancashire are taking longer to reach emergency cases, according to new figures that add weight to claims that the service is reaching crisis point due to cuts.
Figures obtained in a freedom of information request show the average time for responding to 999 calls has risen over the past three years.
From an average of nine minutes 18 seconds in 2015, response times so far this year have gone up to 11 minutes 50 seconds.
The figures show a steady rise during the intervening years as Lancashire Police had to face up to growing demand while seeing the number of police officers fall until recently.
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “It is a real worry. All the statistics that are coming out at the moment show that community policing is in crisis.
“The bottom line is the Home Office is not putting enough money into our local police forces.”
Lancashire Police receives more calls than any other outside London, relative to the size of its population.
Last year Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services found that almost a quarter of forces in England and Wales were struggling to deal with emergency calls in a timely way.
West Midlands, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire were said to have the worst record on delays in dealing with 999 calls.
In Cambridgeshire, the emergency response time was said to be 15 hours. In some parts of London the time was 40 minutes while Avon and Somersets was 10 minutes.
Lancashire Constabulary has lost more than 800 officers and 350 civilian posts to the Government’s austerity cuts since 2010 and in June figures showed that it solved less than 4.8 per cent of incidents in two of the areas it covers during 2017, one being Blackpool.
Nationally officers in just three other crime hotspots, one in the Midlands and two in the South East, returned poorer results.
At the same time, the force faces rising violent crime in Lancashire. In the 12 months to March this year, 41,408 violent crimes were recorded, 96 per cent more than in 2015.
The police are also taking an increased number of emergency calls from the public, a fact blamed on the sheer number of mobile phones in society coupled with reductions in other services, leaving people with no option but to turn to the police.
Last year it was revealed call handlers at Lancashire Police’s Hutton headquarters were getting more than 90,000 calls during the busiest months – and an extra 90 emergency 999 calls a day – with police and crime commissioner Clive Grunshaw saying the situation was becoming unsustainable.
But the figures for the time taken for officers to respond to an emergency have caused new concern.
Mr Marsden said he has had several conversations with local force leaders in recent weeks over funding and its effect on policing.
He agreed with the National Audit Office’s recent criticism of the Home Office for “failing to effectively monitor the financial sustainability of forces”.
Mr Marsden said: “They have made the situation worse here by not reimbursing Lancashire Constabulary for the cost of policing the fracking operation.
“In all my time in Parliament, I have never seen the National Audit Office be so scathing about a Government department.”
But Blackpool North and Cleveleys Conservative MP Paul Maynard said more investment had been made to the front line in Lancashire.
He said: “I am sure the public will note the gradual increase in police response times with concern.
“It is important people have confidence that in an emergency help will arrive quickly and it is important those responsible continue to work to make best use of the available resources.
“I recently spoke with senior police officers in Blackpool and I am pleased to see significant investment being made in new response teams to tackle this issue and in the force’s ability to handle 999 calls and direct officers where they are most needed.”
A spokesman for Lancashire Police, said: “Demand on the police service has increased both locally and nationally in recent years.
“The volume of 999 calls and emergency responses we deal with continues to rise, as does the complexity of many incidents.
“There can be a number of factors which affect the response time to an emergency incident, but we always deploy the necessary resources as quickly and safely as possible.
“In order to maintain a high level of service, and combat this increasing demand, the police and crime commissioner has recently supported increases in the staffing of both the Force Control room, which handles emergency calls and Immediate Response – who attend the majority of emergency incidents.
“The safety of the public remains our priority.”