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'Strategic reserve' and new tech helping Sussex manage call demand

The force received just over 32,000 extra 999 calls across the rolling year period to August 31, up 12% from last year.

A reserve of around 50 ex-staffers and a new workforce management system are helping Sussex Police manage call demand that has surged over the summer months.

PCC Katy Bourne told a recent performance and accountability meeting that the force had received just over 32,000 extra 999 calls in the year to August 31.

She said that of the 999 calls received in August, 88% were answered within 10 seconds. The target for forces in England and Wales is 90%.

This represents clear improvement for a force that HMICFRS deemed 'inadequate' at responding to the public as recently as April, following a 2021/22 PEEL inspection which identified call handling as a significant issue.

The inspectorate's report found that Sussex answered 76.7% of 999 calls within 10 seconds between November 1, 2021 and September 30, 2022 - well below the 90% target.

PCC Bourne asked chief constable Jo Shiner how the force has handled the surge and improved its performance.

While the PCC framed the question in the context of 999 calls, CC Shiner emphasised there has been an increase in "combined demand" that's reflective of a national trend.

She highlighted a number of factors that are helping the force to better anticipate and manage demand, not least the "strategic reserve" that's now in place.

"That is made up of ex-staff from the department. Anybody who leaves is asked whether or not they want to go onto that reserve list. That contains some officers who are trained in contact disciplines...

"We've got about 50 who are in that reserve who we can mobilise a vast proportion of those should we need to do so, but we're also expecting that to increase."

Alongside this Sussex is also benefitting from the decision to invest in a new workforce management system around two months ago.

Calabrio uses current and some historical data to assess the staffing levels needed to meet the demand at certain peak times. 

CC Shiner said: “It has been a bit painful getting some of this in...but we have persisted in terms of making sure that our technology makes us intelligent, in terms of how we are forecasting demand."

It has only just gone live on all teams, meaning the full extent of its benefits will be seen in the fullness of time.

Beyond these two resources, having "omnicompetent staff" who can now move "much more easily between the 999s, between the 101s" is proving helpful.

"New joiners are completely trained in omnicompetence to allow that flexibility of deployment, and those people who have been working in pockets before are going through that training."

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