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Call takers caught in 105 staffing squeeze

Call takers at Police's non-emergency 105 centres are under the pump as staff shortage takes a toll on service delivery.

One source says it is not uncommon to have calls queuing most of the day, with up to 50 per cent being abandoned across a day due to callers hanging up.

Police Service and Resolutions executive director Rachael Bambery has confirmed to Police News that in the first quarter of 2022, 28 per cent of calls were abandoned by callers within one minute, while 55 per cent were abandoned within two minutes.

The 105 service operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round and current call volumes average between 26,000 and 28,000 a week. A voice message does encourage callers to visit the website rather than wait for a long time on the line.

The centres operate primarily between Piki Ki Te Ao in Auckland and the Kāpiti Digital Centre in Wellington, with a small number of staff taking calls in Dunedin.

There are about 300 staff on the phones, with others, from various workgroups, clearing emails and working on other functions.

Staff numbers across the 111 and 105 lines are at 881 FTE (fulltime equivalent), up from 841 when 105 was set up three years ago. An attrition rate of 12 per cent across the service group and Covid have affected staffing over the past two years. The 105 line experienced a cumulative attrition rate of 15 per cent in the 2020-21 year.

Police says that while the attrition rate is high compared with the rest of the organisation, it’s considered about normal for the contact centres. It’s working to improve online reporting options by mid-year and is also developing a retention strategy for the contact centres.

Calls to the 105 line can take up to 20 minutes, or longer if they are complicated issues. The communicator is required to make a comprehensive report for district staff to investigate reported offences. According to one staff member, call takers are spending more time “having a breather” between calls “because they know there are 10 more waiting”.

Rachael says it’s important for callers to remember that 105 is a “non-emergency” service. “Our advice is that if an incident is happening now, or people have fears for their safety, call 111. But if it has happened, then call 105.”

She also suggests that callers “be patient”, rather than abandoning calls after a short time, or use online reporting options in the first instance. “There is no disadvantage in terms of the speed of police assessing matters reported online compared with by phone.”

Meanwhile, reports of problems with getting through to 105 and 111 lines have emerged in the media along with public feedback that calling 105 is “a waste of time”.

Such reports add to the frustration for staff who want to give their best service.

Tina Dower, the Police Association’s Police employee representative board director, is a fierce defender of the call centre staff. “I have been involved in this environment for quite some time. The staff are good at what they do and want to help people as best they can,” she says.

“There are certainly times where there is more congestion and longer wait times. Police are doing their best to roster for the busy periods, but Covid has taken a toll with people off work or in isolation.

“Better education on when to call 105 would assist call volume, along with the ability to report online via the Police website.”

She agrees that 105 has become a victim of its own success. “Before 105, people were required to go to their local station to make a report and there was under-reporting. With the Crime Reporting Line, now 105, reporting of crime is easier and people are more than likely going to ring us.

“Staff do more than answer victims’ calls. They have a wealth of knowledge in other areas too. They are the first point of contact to Police. Calls range from non-police matters, reporting of volume crime, public safety order (PSO) queries and assistance for frontline staff and fielding custody queries. We cannot forget the emails they receive to complete reports for too.”

The qualities required of a 105 call taker are listed by Police as the ability to communicate and build rapport with people from all walks of life, to listen to what people need, to analyse information and act decisively, to handle stressful and emotionally difficult situations with a level head and a sensitive approach, and with integrity and professionalism.

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