A Sussex Police contact handler has won a national award after reducing nuisance calls to police by 10,000 per year.
Sarah-Louise Gliddon said about 20 per cent of calls to police were abusive or malicious in nature, while a relatively small number were genuine hoaxes.
Every second counts on a 999 call and when Sarah-Louise found certain individuals were persistently calling 999 or 101 lines with hoaxes or non-police matters – some up to 100 times a day – she was determined to tackle the problem.
By monitoring the most persistent callers, she found just 279 individual callers were responsible for more than 20,000 calls in one year, using up more than 800 hours of talk time. This equated to more than 15 hours of call handler contact time each week.
She investigated the callers case by case, ensuring that those who were vulnerable got the help they needed and introducing fines or prosecutions for those who persisted in abusing call handlers and jamming phone lines.
She said: “We get a lot of calls from conspiracy theorists and those who think they can use 101 for non-police matters, such as ordering takeaways.
“This month, for example, we have had 59 calls from a female, often to sexually harass female call handlers in the early hours.
“When a caller exceeds a certain number of calls, an officer might visit them, and a warning may be given.
“If this is not heeded, we will issue a fixed penalty notice. We have also prosecuted some persistent callers who presented the greatest risk to the force.
“However, the single biggest factor behind unnecessary persistent calling is mental health, along with dementia.
“By working in partnership with social services, the ambulance service and other agencies, in the last four years we have been able to assist more than 300 individuals to get the care they needed.
“One caller with dementia, who made more than 5000 calls to 999 in 2016, is now calling us just seven times per month after we worked with her family.”
Four years later, she has led the force in almost halving demand from hoax and persistent callers, addressing the behaviour of almost 500 individuals and saving the equivalent of over eight hours of call time to 999 and 101 each week.
Her work has now been recognised as ground-breaking nationally with the accolade of National Police Chief’s Council Local Policing Award for Contact Handler of the Year at the 2019.
Sarah-Louise, who has worked with Sussex Police for 15 years said: “I’m surprised and very honoured.
“This work is very rewarding in itself. As well as improving the quality of service we offer the public, I get to help vulnerable people who sometimes don’t have a voice.
“I also get to protect my colleagues by dealing with those who think it’s acceptable to verbally abuse and threaten call handlers.”
Sarah-Louise, who in her spare time presents Hailsham FM’s Friday night show, has also trained her colleagues extensively, and her best practice has been shared with other forces.
Through delivering presentations in local schools in the last year, she has also achieved some significant reductions in hoax calls from teenagers.
Sarah-Louise explained: “It’s important the public know that every call to the FCCCD is answered by our switchboard who assess the caller’s need. If it is an emergency, it will immediately go to our 999 call takers.
“Even if a caller has been flagged as a persistent caller, the call is always treated on its own merit. We cannot take that risk that they could genuinely need our help.
“Those calling us to report or follow up on genuine police matters are never regarded as persistent callers.”
Giles York, Sussex Police Chief Constable, said: “I warmly congratulate Sarah-Louise on winning this well-deserved award.
“Through her professionalism, enthusiasm and innovation, she has led the force in greatly reducing the demand of avoidable persistent callers.
“Every unnecessary call can potentially mean a delay in an emergency call getting through. By saving hundreds of hours of contact handler time over the last four years, Sarah-Louise’s work has been vital in helping to ensure the public can reach us when they most urgently need our help.
“Through improving practices, engaging partners and training our staff, Sarah-Louise’s work has helped protect the vulnerable and ensure our Force Contact, Command and Control Department (FCCCD) continues to improve its service to the public.”
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne said: “I am sure that all Sarah-Louise’s fellow contact handlers and police colleagues will be delighted, like me, to celebrate her exceptional approach to improve a key public service by making it easier for genuine callers to get through on 999 and 101.
“It is sad to hear that many of the 20,000 calls being made were from people living with mental health conditions and dementia so I really applaud the help that Sarah-Louise was able to direct these people to stop them making unnecessary calls.
“Cracking down on 500 persistent, vexatious and malicious callers has halved the demand from non-genuine callers. I hope that anybody thinking of abusing the system will see that they will be identified, warned and potentially prosecuted.
“With over 800,000 calls to 999 and 101 each year, Sarah-Louise has established a system that is helping Sussex contact handlers manage rising demand more efficiently.
“She is a very worthy winner of this award and she will be especially thanked by those callers who genuinely need a police response.”
The Sussex Police FCCCD receives more than 800,000 calls per year. In 2018 241,387 of these were calls to 999, while 101 received 556,393 calls. The force also received 134,795 reports via email in 2018 and 44,942 online reports.