Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Queensland police communications centre can't cope with calls

There's lots of cops driving desks. How about putting some of them on the phone?

CALLS for help to Queensland police are going unanswered because the state's main communications centre is understaffed. Frustrated operators say dozens of callers each day are forced to wait in long queues or fail to get through to the QPS call centre in Brisbane because overstretched operators cannot cope with surging demand.

The delays affect callers reporting incidents ranging from burglaries and noise complaints to car crashes.

Queensland police yesterday admitted the situation was "not ideal", but said life-threatening triple-0 calls were still being answered promptly. [Not always]

Figures provided by the QPS show the Police Communications Centre handled more than 1100 calls a day last year, including 480 to the triple-0 number. The statistics represent a 50 per cent increase on 2005, yet staffing levels have not kept up, improving just 20 per cent in the same period. The Courier-Mail has learnt the PCC regularly operates with a staff of just 12 officers and radio operators – six fewer than the agreed minimum staffing level.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said delays in answering calls could "cost lives". "It is critical that the safety of the public is put first when staffing levels for communication centres are determined," he said.

On a busy shift, call takers can handle more than 160 calls each. At the request of Inspector Paul Fogg, the QPS recently installed a massage chair in the centre's meal room.

But frustrated officers said it was simply impossible to answer all calls with many going unanswered or waiting up to half an hour in phone queues. "At one point on New Year's Eve, we had 20 triple-0 calls in a queue. We weren't able to answer any of them on the first presentation," an officer said.

"One caller waited 28 minutes to be answered (on the normal line). Most people wouldn't have the patience, but this was from a police officer who wanted to see how long it would take."

A QPS spokesman said triple-0 calls were given priority by the PCC which meant there could be "some delay in answering non-urgent calls". "On average, 90 per cent of triple-0 calls are answered within nine seconds of being presented to the PCC," he said.


More on 000 calls

A Morningside family bore the brunt of staff shortages at the weekend when an emergency call to police about a confrontation with a group of drunken teenagers in their yard failed to raise a response.

Dennis Trovas said his three young children were asleep inside his home on Saturday night when his fiancee called triple-0, fearing the youths outside were about to bash him.

"My fiancee was pretty much terrified at the time and I'd assumed we'd get a quick response," he said. "When no one arrived she rang Morningside station and was put through to Mount Gravatt. "They told us to go to Morningside station on Monday morning and make a complaint then."

A Queensland Police Service spokeswoman said police had responded to the call but were diverted to another incident.

A supervisor from Morningside station contacted Mr Trovas yesterday to address his concerns about the lack of a police response, a police spokeswoman said.

"In an effort to prevent further incidents, local police will endeavour to conduct patrols around these streets for people causing incidents," the spokeswoman said.

In a separate incident, a man from Cairns in far north Queensland, who did not want to be named, said he and his wife waited 40 minutes for police after calling triple-0 during a terrifying home disturbance – despite living only 500m from the Smithfield Police Station.

The Courier-Mail revealed earlier this year that police were taking an average of 37 minutes to begin driving to crimes across Queensland.


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