A review of Police Scotland’s call handling has made 30 recommendations for improvements to the service.
The report, by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, says that the Scottish Police Authority should not approve any further plans to centralise call handling facilities until it receives independent assurance that Police Scotland is ready.
The report followed Police Scotland’s failure to respond for three days to calls to a car accident in which two people died.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman said that lower priority calls to the police could be affected by: “a lack of available resources to attend incidents and weak local management of calls.”
He also highlighted weaknesses in Police Scotland’s approach to the roll out of its new national call handling model, describing oversight of the project as “inadequate.”
Mr Penman continued: “There was an initial focus on meeting deadlines and increased productivity rather than a well-managed project with a focus on customer service, good staff relations and thorough process design.
“Making direct contact with the police can be a major step for a member of the public. It is essential in maintaining public confidence in policing that all calls are effectively managed and the caller’s experience is positive.”
Police Scotland responded quickly to the report.
Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick said recommendations from the HMICS report would be implemented to ensure the service continues to strengthen call handling and deliver a modern service for communities.
“Handling 999 and 101 calls is a key part of our frontline policing response,” she said, “We will now implement the recommendations provided by the HMICS as we go through the next steps of our improvement programme.
“HMICS has highlighted a number of specific assurances around capacity, capability and processes including staffing levels, training, basic processes, management of high priority calls, risk assessment and information and communications technology which provide confidence to the public about telephone contact with the police.
“Maintaining the eight previous systems to manage calls was no longer a viable option,” she continued. “Making changes in how we deliver, manage and improve that service for the public is highly complex and the report highlights that. We remain only part of the way through a programme of improvement aimed at delivering a model which will provide continued high levels of service.
Justice Minister Michael Matheson told MSPs: ““The report includes some hard messages for Police Scotland and I have been assured that all 30 of the recommendations will be accepted and actioned by them. It is my strong conviction that investment in staff is as important if not more important than investment in systems.”
But Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was scathing about the report’s findings: “The Inspector has uncovered appalling failures including insufficient staff, inadequate oversight, low staff morale and calls being recorded on scribble pads. Police chiefs lost sight of what is important.”
And he attacked the SNP Scottish Government describing its handling of Police Scotland as been casual and cavalier, undermining the excellent work of police officers and civilian staff.
“We can’t allow things to carry on with denial and bluster from government ministers. They have got it so wrong on so many things,” he said and called for: “a wider inquiry into the operations of Police Scotland.”