New 999 and 101 assessment hopes to improve call handling in Scotland

The way 999 and 101 calls are made in Scotland is set to change with a new assessment system being put in place by police.

Under the new system, information provided by someone calling either number will be used to determine the most appropriate and proportionate police response in each individual case.

Call handlers will make an enhanced assessment of threat, risk, harm and vulnerability while there are broader response options in what police say is moving away from a “one size fits all” approach.

These include officers scheduling appointments at mutually convenient time with the caller or even issues being resolved over the phone.

As well as what has been described as “the changing nature of policing”, the changes come after recommendations made by various public bodies in 2015 following the deaths of John Yuill and Lamara Bell.

The pair died after lying in a crashed car at the side of the M9 three days after the incident was first reported to police.

John Yuill and Lamara Bell
John Yuill and Lamara Bell

Assistant Chief Constable John Hawkins said: “We receive 2.5 million calls a year, less than 20% result in a crime being recorded, and increasingly people contact us around matters relating to vulnerability.

“That assessment of vulnerability and recommendations around improving vulnerability have featured in a number of reports from the Police Investigation and Review Commissioner (Pirc) so our changes are very much in line with those recommendations but it also reflects the changing nature of policing today.

“Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary conducted a review and they came up with 30 recommendations after the M9 incident in particular.

“We accepted them all, they’ve been discharged and working through that period of time has allowed us to really develop and improve infrastructure.

“We’ve got a resilient national call-handling infrastructure and significant investment in ICT and staffing levels.

“Now we’re ready to introduce the second wave of change which is a greater focus on how we interpret and respond to the information that comes from the public.”

The approach will start in the Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway divisions as a proof of concept, and depending on the results a decision will be made about a further phase rollout across the country.

Future phases could also see the introduction of digital means for members of the public contacting police.

When Police Scotland was created in 2013, there were eight service centres and eight control rooms with different sites and systems not speaking to each other.

Now when a call goes into the Police Scotland service centre, those requiring a police response get put through to one of the three area control rooms – Helen Street in Glasgow, Bilston Glen in Edinburgh and one in Dundee.

That has paved the way for the second phase of changes with extra training being provided to call handlers.

ACC Hawkins said £1.3 million has been allocated to the entire project, with a sum “in the region of £500,000” being spent on the initial proof of concept.

He added: “Our staff within C3 division, the service advisers and the call handlers are really positive about the opportunity to ask more questions to make a more effective assessment of risk in order that they can direct the right response to the member of the public.

“Our officers are very keen too on the street in local divisions around the country to make sure that they’re sent to the incidents that need their attention most.

“We’ve made significant improvements in call handling in recent years. But it’s important to stress it’s impossible to eliminate risk completely in a police call handling environment.

“It is an eminently risky business responding to calls when people are in distress. But we’re better placed to deal with that than ever before and the changes we’re making will further improve our ability to respond to those risks.”