Over the last four years, almost two million people discontinued their calls to Police Scotland when they went unanswered for up to two minutes.
Data obtained by the Scottish Conservatives reveals that 1,862,957 calls to 101 were discontinued by the caller after they failed to get through.
These figures represent calls between January 2018 and the end of November 2021.
Every year in this time period, more calls were discontinued than were answered.
The same could be said for 999 calls. Between 2018 and 2021, 15,700 calls were discontinued within two minutes of the caller getting no response.
Effect of the pandemic
The number of discontinued calls for both 101 and 999 was at its highest during 2020, the year the pandemic hit.
919,790 calls to 101 were discontinued in 2020, more than three times more than the year before.
The impact of the pandemic on 999 calls was smaller, but there were still over 100 more discontinued calls than in 2019.
Police Scotland’s own reports show that the average time taken to answer a call increased by over 16% between 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Their reasoning for this, detailed in the report, is as follows: “Although every public service has suffered due to the conditions created by the pandemic, Police Scotland have maintained all our services throughout the period, despite increased and varied demands, high ongoing absences, and the difficulties created by necessary social distancing.
“These conditions have been compounded by further displacement demand by partners offering a reduced service. Police Scotland have prioritised the answering of 999 calls, and our performance in this area remains strong.
“High demand on the 101 number along with the requirement to prioritise 999 calls led to significant delays during busy periods.”
Tackling discontinued calls
Just this week, Police Scotland has launched a new digital contact platform that aims to protect and strengthen its critical 999 and non-emergency 101 services.
This, combined with extra measures taken at the end of 2021, hopes to lessen the pressure on the phonelines.
Assistant Chief Constable John Hawkins said: “Earlier this week, we announced significant investment in new technology to further protect and strengthen our emergency 999 and non-emergency 101 services.
“At the end of last year, we introduced a range of measures to boost our 101 and 999 services, both of which performed well over the festive period against a backdrop of high demand and significant absence.
“Police Scotland receives more than three million public contacts each year and our committed officers and staff continue to prioritise our 999 emergency calls which are answered in under 10 seconds on average.”
‘Unacceptable and unsustainable’
In their response to the party’s Freedom of Information request, Police Scotland said the reasons for calls being discontinued include “the caller deciding to
use another channel such as 999 or online reporting or to call back at another time.”
However, members of the Scottish Conservative party have put the “staggering” figures down to the “failure” of the SNP government to give the police more funding.
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary, Jamie Greene, said: “These figures are absolutely staggering. Our officers are doing their best under severe pressure, but they are simply not being given the resources they need by the SNP government.
“This situation is completely unacceptable and unsustainable going forward. We cannot have this huge volume of calls from members of the public going unanswered when they could be alerting police to serious incidents.”
‘These figures must be a wake-up call’
Mr Greene went on to highlight his party’s call to increase police funding by £36.5m in the 2022-23 Scottish Budget.
“We have seen tragedies occur before in Scotland when calls have been missed,” he said.
“These figures must be a wake-up call for SNP ministers to guarantee officers can answers calls as promptly as possible. If not, this could again have devastating consequences.
“These statistics are a damning indictment of the SNP’s failures to fund our police.
“Ministers must urgently reverse their plans to hit police with yet another cut in this year’s budget and support Scottish Conservative calls for a significant increase in their capital funding.”
Scottish Government response
The Scottish Government said police capital budget has more than doubled since 2017-18, and that additional funding has already been granted in the wake of the pandemic.
In response to the data, a government spokesman said: “Delivery of the police 101 and 999 service and the deployment of resources are operational matters for the Chief Constable, with oversight provided by the Scottish Police Authority.
“As Police Scotland have made clear they have taken all necessary steps to protect the critical emergency 999 and non-emergency 101 services throughout the pandemic.
“The total budget for policing in 2022-23 is almost £1.4 billion, including an additional £40.5m increase in resource funding and a further £6.6m to mitigate the impact of COVID on the policing budget.
“And despite cuts to the Scottish Government’s capital budget we have more than doubled the police capital budget since 2017-18, supporting continued investment in police assets including the estate, vehicle fleet, specialist equipment and ICT to ensure officers have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.
“We also welcome Police Scotland’s plans to introduce a new digital contact platform which will help strengthen their 999 and 101 services.”