Improvements to how the public can contact police in Cheshire will soon be introduced after it was agreed that the Constabulary would boost its resources in the Force Control Centre.
The shift is being made in response to the changing demands of how residents prefer to get in touch with the police. The vast majority prefer the convenience of reporting incidents through the non-emergency 101 phone number, or via the website, with victims of crime now being given direct contact details for officers dealing with their incident for updates.
Resources are to be realigned from some of the Constabulary's police helpdesks to enhance these other methods of contact into the Force Control Centre – which handles 101 calls and online submissions – being bolstered so that they can respond more quickly and provide a better service to the public.
It follows a six-week public consultation exercise conducted earlier this year and means that the helpdesk service will be streamlined to make these improvements.
Facilities at five helpdesks will remain open as normal at Blacon, Crewe, Macclesfield, Warrington and Widnes with opening hours of 8am-5pm, Monday to Saturday – times that the public have chosen to access them in recent years. Northwich will provide a virtual helpdesk function with a video call facility.
Chester Town Hall, Congleton, Ellesmere Port, Knutsford, Nantwich, Penketh, Runcorn, Stockton Heath, Winsford and Wilmslow will be reduced, with the public requiring a face-to-face service diverted to the remaining helpdesks.
As a result of the consultation, there will be a contact point telephone on the outside of each Police building to contact the constabulary for support and each site will also benefit from an additional weekly neighbourhood policing team surgery open for access at the Police station, so the local officers can be seen directly by the public.
Assistant Chief Constable Bill Dutton, Head of Local Policing and Operations, said: "Helpdesks have played an important role in policing, and we know that for many people they have been an important interface between ourselves and the public.
"However, how people want to contact us has changed over the years and, with advancements in technology allowing us greater choice and convenience, it's little wonder that the public much prefer to speak to us via their mobile phones or landlines or contact us through our website.
"Over the last couple of years we have seen an increased volume of calls to us and we are unable to answer them as quickly as I would like.
"These changes will allow us to improve these methods of contact, allowing us to answer phones and deploy officers more quickly than before – helping us to achieve our aim of providing the best police service in the country.
"It's important to stress that we are not closing police stations as we have seen in other areas of the country, and police officers and our PCSOs will remain very much in the heart of our communities – those who would still prefer face to face contact have the option of attending one of our weekly PCSO surgeries."
Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire John Dwyer said: "Improving public contact with the police is a key part of my Police and Crime Plan, and people consistently tell me that they want the police to use resources more efficiently and be more contactable via 101.
"These changes to helpdesks will allow us to invest even more in our force control room and phone operators. Previous investment has already brought 101 waiting times down and an improvement in 999 answer times, so we know this approach works and delivers what people expect.
"I know from my 30-year career as a police officer about the value of face-to-face contact. In that time, I also saw a huge change in how people wanted to interact with their police service. Ensuring weekly PCSO surgeries will enable us to maintain valuable face to face contact while also improving all the other ways in which people contact the police."
Frequently Asked Questions
Which helpdesks are affected by the changes?
A total of 11 helpdesks will no longer be open to the public – those at Chester Town Hall, Congleton, Ellesmere Port, Knutsford, Nantwich, Penketh, Runcorn, Stockton Heath, Winsford and Wilmslow.
Which helpdesks are staying open, and will there be any changes to them?
Five in total – those at Blacon, Crewe, Macclesfield, Widnes and Warrington, with new opening hours of 8am to 5pm Monday to Saturday (These are the times that our data is telling us that the public prefer to see us). There will also be a 'virtual helpdesk' at Northwich with the same opening hours.
What's a virtual helpdesk?
It's a video conferencing facility which connects to one of the other helpdesks in the county. This is for public general enquiries and incident reporting. Transactional services e.g. offender registrations, vehicle seizures, paid services will still need to be dealt with in person at one of the remaining helpdesks.
Are police stations closing too?
No, this review only impacts our helpdesks. All police stations remain unaffected.
Why are you doing it?
Over the years, the number of calls we receive from members of the public have significantly increased, sometimes leading to considerable waiting times for members of the public needing our help.
Meanwhile, face to face contact is becoming less popular, so these changes mean we can realign and make better use of our resources to provide a better service for the public.
What other options of face to face contact are available now?
Each community holds a weekly PCSO surgery where police-related queries can be raised and there are the other five helpdesks at Blacon, Crewe, Macclesfield, Warrington and Widnes available.
Incident and crime reporting, and requests for advice, can be serviced more quickly via telephone or online, though the above options of PCSO surgeries and alternative helpdesks are, of course, available.
Will other methods of contact improve as a result of this change?
Yes – the whole purpose of these changes is to realign our resources so that they better reflect the preferred methods of contact for the modern day.
It's expected that the reallocated resources will mean we can answer calls more quickly in our force control room and be more responsive to online submissions.
What happens now when someone has an appointment with an officer?
For those with helpdesks remaining open, this can still be serviced between 8am and 5pm.
Officers at those locations where helpdesks are no longer available will need to make arrangements with any individuals as they would outside the opening hours.
What about the more transactional things that PCSO surgeries and calling 101 won't be able to help with (e.g. offender registrations, vehicle seizures, paid services)?
These services will be provided at the remaining helpdesks in Blacon, Crewe, Macclesfield, Warrington and Widnes. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.
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(Cheshire Constabulary, Digital Media Officer, Cheshire)