The Victoria Police Department has faced problems since transitioning to a regional call service station this year.
On Jan. 22, VicPD joined dozens of other municipalities and RCMP detachments to congregate its emergency and non-emergency calls to the E-Comm 911 call centre in Saanich. Since then, the public has faced long wait times for non-emergency calls, sometimes waiting up to 40 minutes. Others have also faced delays in emergency calls, though on a much smaller scale.
“The transition has been less than fluid,” said VicPD Chief Const. Del Manak. “I still like the idea of it, but when it comes to the practical application it’s had a significant impact on our community, specifically people phoning the non-emergency line.”
These kinds of waits can have dire consequences, Manak explained.
“When that happens many people hang up,” he said. “Now we have crime happening in our community and it’s not reported so we’re not aware. If we saw a trend we could try to find out who’s responsible, and we could rededicate and reprioritize our resources… but we may not know that if people aren’t calling in.”
Some people who get frustrated then try to head to the police station in person, something front staff can’t handle since all reports need to go through a phone call first.
When officers do show up after receiving a call, Manak said, they often get an earful for being late and not caring about the community.
“It’s really impacting our brand,” Manak said. “It’s been really challenging on many fronts.”
Manak has spoken with E-Comm about the issues, and received reassurance that changes are being made. A new supervisor has been brought down from the mainland to help oversee the changes.
E-Comm said they are taking a multi-pronged approach to the delays.
“We’ve been open about the challenges that have been happening about longer-than-normal wait times,” said Jasmine Bradley, corporate communications manager for E-Comm. “The main issues have been staffing, increasing call volumes, and calls coming into the non-emergency number that aren’t actually police matters.”
On Vancouver Island from January to Oct. 31, E-Comm said it’s answered 78 per cent of its 140,000 non-emergency calls in five minutes or less, and 91 per cent within 10 minutes. For its emergency calls, 97 per cent have been answered within five seconds.
To try and improve those numbers, E-Comm is hiring more staff and has changed its training models to make sure staff are feeling better prepared and supported in hopes of increasing retention.
“It’s a very rewarding job, but it’s not for everyone,” Bradley said.
An education campaign is also being put out to let people know what is not a police matter; common but inappropriate calls include reporting traffic closures, power outages, garbage piles or asking questions about bylaws.
E-Comm will also be installing technology updates, including voice recordings giving examples of when it’s appropriate to call 911, the police or someone else.
“Our number one goal at the end of the day is to provide quality service to the public and to the police services,” Bradley said.
Improvements in service are anticipated in the near future.