EMERGENCY police 999 response times have increased over the last three years, The News can reveal.
Call-outs to the most serious incidents where lives are in danger are now on average slower than the national target.
It is concerning. It can be a matter of life and deathFormer police sergeant
Hampshire police have to respond to grade one incidents within 15 minutes – but last year’s average was 15 minutes and 59 seconds.
And in 10 out of 12 months the average was above the 15-minute target, the figures obtained under Freedom of Information have shown.
In 2013, the force’s average was 14 minutes and 49 seconds – so the 999 response has increased by more than a minute.
An experienced former police sergeant told The News: ‘It is concerning. It can be a matter of life and death.
‘If somebody makes a 999 call it’s usually because they’re pretty scared.’
But he added for some incidents police should hang back and assess the situation. And he said difficult routes to incidents sometimes mean responses are slower to avoid crashing.
The News can reveal response times for grade two calls have increased to one hour and 32 minutes 59 seconds last year, up from 71 minutes in 2014. The 2013 figure is 71 minutes but is not directly comparable.
Officers are supposed to get to the scene within an hour of the call.
The force has been hit by £80m of cuts. By April the number of officers is due to be 2,857, down from 3,736 in April 2010.
Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes has admitted emergency responses are not up to scratch. He said: ‘Response times are not as good as I want them to be.
‘Hampshire Constabulary knows this, because I’ve challenged the chief constable on several occasions – they need to improve.
‘But I believe that the use of better command and control systems to manage and deploy resources will see an improvement, and this will be noticeable across rural areas.
‘Now that my commitment to the level of police officers is beginning to take shape and officer numbers will not be reduced, I am expecting improvement.’
Grade three call responses – non urgent – have increased to 209 minutes last year from 133 minutes in 2013 and to 141 in 2014.
A Hampshire police spokeswoman said: ‘There has been a slight increase in the response times over the last three years. The constabulary has a duty to serve two counties, three large cities and expansive rural areas.
‘It’s not news to learn we have been spread very thinly across this geographical area since cuts in funding.
‘We have had to work harder, smarter and faster and use our discretion more than ever.’
She added no two calls are the same and assessments are made of each call.
John Apter, who represents officers at Hampshire Police Federation, said: ‘This is a critical side of policing which is putting the public and officers’ at risk which is totally unacceptable.’
He added: ‘There are not enough officers who are put on response policing.
‘The pressures being placed on them is intolerable.’
How police and staff decide priorities for 999 calls
CALL handlers at the police force’s control room grade each call as it comes in.
Grade one calls are classed as needing an immediate response of within 15 minutes. Grade two calls are classed as priority, and grade three as ‘non-urgent’. A spokeswoman added: ‘Our aim is to effectively manage incoming phone calls via our grading system. Calls are dealt with on their own merit, they are risk-assessed in often difficult and demanding circumstances and the grading system is used in order to prioritise our workload and may not reflect the exact circumstances of that call.’