Police to scrap 999 call targets

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The Independent Online
A POLICE force is to abolish set time targets for responding to emergency 999 calls after its chief constable condemned them as "misleading and dangerous".

The targets will be dropped in Sussex from April after it was revealed that there were almost two crashes involving police cars every day, with a significant number taking place during emergency call-outs.

Paul Whitehouse, the Chief Constable of Sussex, said that the targets, which are monitored by the Audit Commission - which considers them a key factor in making forces more accountable - put the public and officers at risk.

He argued that some officers were taking unnecessary risks just to beat the target times. In Sussex, they are supposed to arrive at 90 per cent of incidents requiring "emergency response" within 10 minutes if they take place in Brighton, Hove, Eastbourne, Hastings and Worthing, and within 20 minutes elsewhere. The police, exceeded their target last year by responding in time in 91 per cent of the cases.

In the 12 months to March 1998, there were 873 accidents involving police cars, which included damage to vehicles being chased. In almost 80 per cent of them - 701 - police vehicles were damaged. Three people died, 13 were seriously injured and another 36 hurt in the accidents.

Mr Whitehouse said: "What gets measured gets done and if you measure the speed, officers will get there with speed. They will see that as more important than anything else. They may then take their eye off the ball. The pressure on officers to drive fast can lead to them making errors. We think it's more important to deliver a quality service.

"It's better to respond to an emergency call in 11 minutes and do it properly than try and get there inside 10 minutes and not do it properly. I'm in favour of performance indicators; it is the targets we are taking away."

He added: "We shall continue to get to those calls which require our immediate attendance as fast as possible."

Sussex Police Authority has agreed to a request by the force to withdraw the targets from 1 April. In future, the force intends simply to publish their performances without a target. There will also be surveys of emergency callers who will be asked how satisfied they were with the service.

Government figures estimate that the full cost to taxpayers of each road death is pounds 1,042,000 including the time of police, hospitals and coroners, loss of earnings and legal fees.

The emergency response times were one of the original police "performance indicators" established five years ago. The Audit Commission has called for national standard targets for emergency responses, which it believes are an important part of police scrutiny. It has criticised some forces for setting targets that are easy to reach. For example, in Humberside they have only to attend to 85 per cent of calls made in urban areas within 15 minutes.