THE way people report crimes needs to change because the 101 service is “inefficient”, according to Thames Valley Police’s chief constable.

Francis Habgood said the number of people calling 101 “exploded” in July, but insisted the cost of employing people in call centres was too expensive and said some problems would be better dealt with online.

Mr Habgood told Oxfordshire county councillors yesterday: “Call handling is really expensive and inefficient.”

He added: “It has to change. It is not sustainable. There are forces that are putting significant additional numbers of people in their call centres. But those people come from somewhere and they come from the frontline.”

He said calls “that are not policing issues” are being referred to police as part of the 101 service.

He added: “There are things that we can do to reduce that. I’m being really honest with you and saying: we have got to be better at that.

“When we had burglaries in the north end of Oxford city, we were encouraging people to report... anything suspicious.

“It’s no good if people want to report if they’re holding on for a long time. We have to do something different about it – and probably stream more people online.”

Mr Habgood said the average time of a standard 101 call is between six and seven minutes.

But he said some people had told him they were staying on the phone for up to 40 minutes waiting to be connected to someone in its call centre.

“The first thing I’d say is I wouldn’t be hanging on that long. If it’s not an emergency, there are times when it is less busy so I’d call back,” he said.

“What we’re also encouraging people to do is to look online [to see] if you can report it there.”

He said it previously took an average of three seconds to be answered on the 999 service; it is currently about 12 seconds.

But Mr Habgood said that was “still pretty good” and that it is being “absolutely prioritised”.

If call handlers do not answer the call within a certain time, it can be answered by other call centres across the country.

Lib Dem councillor for Grove and Wantage, Jenny Hannaby, said many people had told her they call 101 for issues such as illegal parking – but that she had discouraged them from doing so.

She said: “People are frustrated – and they hang on.”

All 45 police forces in the UK are covered by 101.

In South Yorkshire, the 101 number can send callers to the South Yorkshire Partnership. That is a link-up between Sheffield City Council and police. It helps on issues including harassment.