Paul is a dog handler in my old county police force.
“As a dog handler, my bread-and-butter is burglaries. I go in with my dog, and he sniffs out anybody who shouldn't be there. We're a specialist team, but there are so many burglary calls that we have no shortage of work.”
“So I arrive at a burglary and the control room shows me on-scene. However, before I get a chance to go in with the dog, the control room always calls me up. They say 'We've got a domestic around the corner.'"
"'Could you just pop over there first, so we can show you on-scene and get that call off our screen?'"
For the control room operators it's all about what's on their screens – the list of calls awaiting attention. They have an ever-growing list of unattended calls, and the moment they can show an officer on-scene at one, it's off their screen. That's their priority.
“'Just square away the domestic as quick as you can, then you can go back to the burglary. Okay?' That's what the control room says to me – as if any domestic involves less than two hours of paperwork...” he says.
A bit of background – attendance targets are the rules governing the maximum number of minutes officers should take to arrive at a call:
999 calls – 'I grades', also called 'Immediates' – are generally 15 minute targets.
Less urgent calls – called 'S' for 'Significant', but widely known as 'Slow' – are allowed 60 minutes.
“There's broken glass outside my door.”
“I'm feeling depressed.”
These would both be 'E grades'. Supposedly 'E' means 'Extended', although in reality officers refer to them as 'Eventually,' as in "Your call is of little interest. We'll get to you eventually." The attendance target for E-grades is 48 hours.
These times are sacrosanct under Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model.
“When I refuse the control room's request, they then say to me, 'Well, tell you what, can we just put you on-scene anyway, to reduce our call list?'”
The response teams are so stretched now that traffic cars and armed response vehicles are being used in the same way:
“When they're not at firearms calls, the ARVs are now staying in their bases instead of patrolling, to avoid being sent to calls about dog muck and lost handbags.”
I'm reminded of a conversation with a paramedic, who told me:
“If we're not on-scene within twenty minutes we are considered to have missed the target, even if we have saved the person's life.”