Crime victims waiting up to 50% longer for 999 calls to be answered

The average wait for a response to a 999 call in England and Wales increased by 17 per cent between 2011 and 2014

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The Independent Online

Crime victims are waiting up to 50 per cent longer than they did three years ago for the police to respond to emergency calls, prompting warnings that public safety is being jeopardised by the delays.

The average wait for a response to a 999 call in England and Wales increased by 17 per cent between 2011 and 2014, the equivalent of an extra one to two minutes before police arrive.

The biggest increase has taken place in Bedfordshire, where the response time has gone up from seven to 11 minutes, a jump of more than 50 per cent.

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Large rises were also revealed by police in Cornwall (50 per cent), Essex (38 per cent) and Kent and West Mercia (33 per cent each).

The longest average waits were in Cambridgeshire and South Wales (14 minutes) and Durham (13 minutes).

Twenty out of 27 forces in England and Wales which replied to Freedom of Information requests said that response times had gone up, with just two saying they had fallen. Two forces – South Wales and West Yorkshire – pointed to cuts in police numbers as a reason for longer waiting times.

The FoI requests, which were submitted by the Labour Party, covered numbers of urgent emergency calls at night.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “999 waits have gone up significantly for the most serious emergencies and that means victims are being put at risk.This is the direct consequence of Tory police cuts, yet now they want to go even further.”

She claimed the party’s “extreme plan” for further spending cuts if it wins the election would mean the loss of more than 20,000 police officer posts.

Numbers of officers in England and Wales have fallen by 17,000 since 2009, with police chiefs braced for further  reductions.

Neil Rhodes, the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, went public last year with a warning to Theresa May that response times to 999 calls would rise because of the continuing squeeze on his budgets. Other police chiefs are understood to have reinforced the same message privately to the Home Secretary.

The Home Office points to figures showing continuing sharp falls in crime as proof that police have the resources to cope with the pressures on them.

But Steve White, the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “What we are seeing are the dangers of the government cutting the police budgets so harshly over the last five years.It can come as no surprise that victims of crime are now having to wait significantly longer for police help to arrive.

“There are now 17,000 fewer officers and 17,000 fewer police staff around – what does the government expect will happen?

“Cuts have consequences and the politicians must start backing the police service. Otherwise, despite the best efforts of officers, victims of crime are going to have to wait longer and longer for police attention.”

In an attempt to ease the pressure on police, a new non-emergency 101 number was introduced last year in England, Wales and Scotland.  It was designed for the public to report crimes such as drug dealing, car theft and  vandalism.

But a separate FoI request last year found that hundreds of thousands of calls to the new number – about four per cent – were going unanswered because people hung up or were disconnected.