My last blog was about the Switchboard Stress of trying to contact local councils to find out some information about the Community Trigger. A member of the public commented on the post on our Facebook page that they had been one of the people I was concerned about: trying to activate a Community Trigger through the telephone number given, only to find it was the council’s main switchboard and no-one knew what it was or who to put her through to!!
In the interest of a balanced argument, I want to follow this up with a blog about the distance we now feel from the police. I have documented before how calling the 101 number to activate a Community Trigger can be just as frustrating as a council switchboard. Why? The same reason – the staff officer answering the call does not know what the Community Trigger (or ASB Case Review) is!
I believe there is a real problem when an organisation distances itself and essentially becomes faceless. We suffer from council and police distance – perhaps it is more common with the council, but we are used to being able to talk to the police aren’t we? When I was overseas once, I lost my passport. I went to the local police station in a small town and was able to immediately report the missing passport (essential if I was to get an emergency one processed by the Embassy). I could not do that today in my home city as the local police station has very limited opening hours and outside of those no-one answers the doorbell (I suspect it doesn’t work). Once a police car pulled up whilst I was looking to report something and the officer told me I could not report it to her because she didn’t actually work there.
We know there are less bobbies on the beat and more stations are closed. So if it is not an emergency the 101 number becomes the main and sometimes only way to talk to the police. That would be particularly true for the house-bound, the sick, those with disabilities or scared to leave their home because of the anti-social behaviour of their neighbours.
The 101 Number
I make a lot of different phone calls and yet the only one I get billed for, which is not covered by my unlimited minutes, is when I need to make a call to the police’s non-emergency 101 number. I personally think that is bizarre. If the police wants to minimise people wrongly using the free 999 emergency number, it might be a good start to make its alternative free! I can call a council anywhere in the country, I can call my bank and people on other mobile networks to me free of charge, but I cannot call the police. This immediately puts up a layer of police distance.
Cost aside, an important article about Crimestoppers caught my eye last month about why more people are using this free, anonymous service to report crime and anti-social behaviour. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that some people find it very difficult to talk to the police directly. The simpler reporting process that Crimestoppers offers is also significant. Then the article cites the fact that people have problems reaching the police non-emergency number, 101.
“There is in some parts of the country an element of frustration with 101,” says Mr Hallas, Crimestoppers CEO. “They know if they call us they will be answered pretty quickly.”
The issues are well known and it was referenced in a Westminster Hall discussion on anti-social behaviour in Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire. Emma Hardy, MP for Hull West and Hessle stated that:
“I am sure she is as aware as I am of the number of dropped calls to the 101 service and the number of incidents that actually get reported. If she goes out and talks to people in the community, she will find that most of them never even bother ringing 101 to report antisocial behaviour, because they know they may be on hold for more than 40 minutes.”
A BBC article in August gives further evidence of this for people in Wales with a staggering 135,389 of calls being abandoned or redirected last year.
Getting Someone to Act
In that same debate, I was delighted to see that the Minister responsible for anti-social behaviour, Victoria Atkins, highlighted the Community Trigger as follows:
“If I may, I will let the hon. Lady know about the ability of victims of antisocial behaviour, or someone acting on their behalf, including a Member of Parliament, to request a formal antisocial behaviour case review – I do not know whether she is aware of this – which is called a “community trigger”. I like talking about it, because colleagues should be aware of it and they can use it if requested by their constituents. It enables victims of antisocial behaviour to ensure that their voice is heard when they believe they have not had a satisfactory response to repeated complaints of antisocial behaviour, and it forces agencies to act. The relevant bodies in a local area must agree on and publish their case review procedures. Therefore, if she believes that the relevant agencies in her constituency, have not acted on reports of antisocial behaviour in Hull and East Riding, that is a possible solution for her constituents.”
However, let’s just reflect on both this blog and my Switchboard Stress blog. Ms Atkins, I am sorry to say that some people can only activate their Community Trigger by calling 101 – that same number which some people have despaired of calling. Others have the option of calling their local council and getting lost in the deliberations of a switchboard operator who has no idea what they are talking about. Or there might be an unwieldy online form. A victim of persistent anti-social behaviour should not need to jump through so many hoops to shout out for help. Come on public servants – there is a real opportunity here to choose to NOT be a faceless organisation, reduce that police distance and let people who are suffering have access to help.
Is this not common sense? I have no idea why police websites do not give an email address to relieve pressure on their 101 number, nor why Community Trigger webpages can’t give a direct line number rather than switchboard. The Community Trigger is for people who feel they have nowhere to turn, who need help and are desperate. It is so unfair to set them up like this and create such distance. Is it any wonder people give up?
And what is the risk of a victim of persistent anti-social behaviour giving up on reporting it and feeling like there is nowhere to turn? At one end of the scale, suicide like we saw with Fiona Pilkington. At the other end of the scale, a victim taking matters into their own hands and committing a crime in their desperation to stop the anti-social behaviour. In the 21st century when thanks to technology and the internet, we are more connected than ever, how is it that police distance is only widening?