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Last Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007, 08:32 GMT 09:32 UK
101 - one year down the line
By James Lynn
BBC News, Newcastle

The government's non-emergency number was designed to reduce pressure on the 999 system, but could it actually herald a new dawn of public confidence?

101 logo
The number allows residents to report community problems directly

One year on, Northumbria 101 advisors are fielding a steady 12,000 calls per month.

They are the first port of call for community problems "not happening now".

In other words, if you actually see someone daubing graffiti, call the police. But if the paint's dry - dial 101.

The same goes for other non-emergencies such as noisy neighbours, abandoned vehicles and anti-social behaviour.

But is 101 doing more than just taking the heat off 999?

In July 2006, four non-emergency call centres were set up within the Northumbria Police force area.

Based in Sunderland, Newcastle, Northumberland and South Shields, phone lines are manned around the clock by a 200-strong workforce.

CALL 101 FOR...
Vandalism and graffiti
Noisy neighbours
Intimidation and harassment
Abandoned vehicles
Rubbish and litter
Drunk or rowdy groups
Drug-related anti-social behaviour
Problems with street lighting

It is notable that the volume of 999 calls has remained steady since the system was introduced, but operations manager Peter Coats insists the figures are incidental.

"What we're trying to do is free up the police to deal with real emergencies.

"If there are 500 emergencies in a day, then there will be 500 calls to the 999 system - there's nothing we can do about that.

"Our job is not to reduce those numbers, but to make sure the calls are appropriate. Anything that's not an emergency, we can help."

The real strength of 101, he says, comes from the allocation of responsibility.

Place a call, for example to report vandalism, and whoever answers the phone is accountable for the results - a broker, in effect.

101 data entry screen
Callers receive a reference number, allowing anonymity where necessary

"Many calls require services from more than one organisation. Police deal with vandalism because it's a crime but they won't remove it - that depends on where the damage is.

"If it's on a phone box, you need to speak to BT. If it's at a railway station, you need Network Rail.

"The customer doesn't need to know this - they just want the problem sorted out.

"One issue is dealt with by one advisor. You're told what's going to happen, when it's going to happen and who's going to do it.

"They'll arrange for the police to take statement and for the council to remove the graffiti."

'Suppressed demand'

While a single point of contact is likely to be welcomed by anyone with community problems, the biggest challenge for Home Office-funded project is raising awareness of its existence.

The results of a recent survey, carried out by South Tyneside-based community group Forum 50, found that 61% of people aged over 50 had heard of 101. However, the scheme is still relatively small.

Including Northumbria, five areas of the UK currently use the system - South Yorkshire, South Wales, Hampshire, and Leicestershire & Rutland.

Northumbria 101 call centre
Northumbria 101 employs 200 advisors in four call centres

Each comprises a partnership of local councils and police forces and, depending on their success, the system could be rolled out nationwide.

The Northumbria Partnership is confident of its future. It claims to be tapping into many cases of "suppressed demand", where people with long-running problems, passed from pillar to post, are finally getting help.

And, says Peter Coates, people who have used 101 have greater confidence in public services.

"999 was introduced in the 1930s. If you'd asked people 13 months after it was launched how many people knew about it, you would get an interesting answer.

"It would be great if no-one had to dial 101 at all. But we do have problems in our communities so why not take advantage of us?

"Almost everyone has a mobile phone. The number's easy to remember. So for the moment, our message is - 101 it now."

Line 101 fails to cut 999 calls
16 Aug 07 |  England
Force launches new 101 crime line
11 May 06 |  Hampshire

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