Norfolk Constabulary needs to improve response to emergency calls involving vulnerable people, says HMICFRS

A review of Norfolk Constabulary’s call handling found control room personnel “displayed high levels of professionalism in their dealings with the public” and that the force performs well in most functions in the control room.

May 28, 2024
By Paul Jacques

However, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) identified areas where the force’s response to vulnerability could be improved, something which the constabulary said it is already addressing through the implementation of the Right Care Right Person initiative.

The review was commissioned by the then police and crime commissioner for Norfolk in January this year to examine how the force handles and responds to 999 calls.

It was commissioned following the deaths of four people at a house in Costessey in January after a 999 call, made an hour before police attended, was not responded to.

The constabulary referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which continues to independently investigate the circumstances of the 999 call and previous contact with the family.

HMICFRS, which reviewed almost 500 emergency 999 calls, said that overall, the force’s call handlers provide an effective and professional service to the public and a new script approach to completing risk assessments has supported improvement.

However, the inspectorate also found during the review period that:

  • Information gathered through the call handling system was not recorded consistently, and there were variations in how checks on force systems were completed. Sometimes, these checks weren’t completed at all;
  • Some control room staff had not received the relevant training to help them correctly identify and respond to vulnerable people during calls; and
  • Incident responses were sometimes downgraded without being reassessed or without supervisory oversight.

Inspectors said that this lack of consistency meant the force “wasn’t always able to identify vulnerable people”, and may not provide them with “the safeguarding support or level of response needed to keep them safe”. This includes children and victims of domestic abuse.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Roy Wilsher said: “We found that Norfolk Constabulary’s call handlers provide a high level of service to the public. However, we found some areas that need to be improved. This is particularly relevant to the identification of, and response to, those that are vulnerable.

“The force must make sure it has robust quality assurance measures in place to ensure processes are consistent, and it should provide staff with relevant training to help them to correctly identify vulnerable people.

“The force’s new approach to risk assessment and the introduction of the Right Care Right Person model will help formalise the working arrangement that the force has with other agencies. The result will be that incidents that aren’t police matters are dealt with by the most appropriate agency.”

Responding to the report, Chief Constable Paul Sanford said: “I welcome this report and it is pleasing to see that overall, inspectors found we provide a high level of service to the public, often in demanding circumstances. The inspectorate found calls were answered well; our staff are polite, professional, and acted appropriately in 99.3 per cent of the calls audited for the report.

“We accept the findings around inconsistencies in how information is recorded for calls relating to vulnerable people and that this doesn’t always happen.

“We have already taken steps to address this through our work to implement the Right Care Right Person initiative, which has seen changes to our systems in the control room, which means call handlers will have to record details for such calls in the future.

“The findings from this report provide further evidence that this is the right thing to do and that the public will receive an improved service, which also goes some way to address issues identified in this report.”

Last year the room dealt with more than 450,000 calls for service, including emergency and non-emergency calls, reports via our website, live chat service and emails.

Mr Sanford added: “Control room staff work in a demanding and dynamic environment and this is evidenced in the report in reference to a call handler who maintained contact with a suicidal missing person for thirty minutes; providing reassurance and support and preventing them from taking their own life.

“The demand we deal with is vast and we maintain one of the fastest average answer times in the country for emergency calls, answering 90 per cent of 999 calls in ten seconds.

“We have already taken action to address the issues identified in this report and I hope this provides a degree of reassurance to the public about our call handling processes.”

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