Police control rooms are in danger of being overwhelmed by the demand they face

Police control rooms are in danger of being overwhelmed by the ever rising and increasingly more complex demands they face, HMICFRS has warned.

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A call for help – Police contact management through call handling and control rooms in 2018/19

In our report titled ‘A call for help’ published today and based on its 2018/19 inspection, HMICFRS states that police control rooms are hampered by inconsistent management systems and are often taking calls which are neither emergencies nor routine police work, and which would be better dealt with by other agencies. This added demand can also result in calls from vulnerable people going unanswered or assessed. Adopting a more consistent approach should help forces to better meet this demand.

The inspection, which looked at police contact management through its call handling and control rooms in 2018/19 also found:

  • inconsistencies in how forces manage complex demand and resolve calls without deploying officers;
  • that many forces don’t have effective systems in place to manage the risk and volume of work increased demand creates;
  • there are still inconsistencies in how the police respond to vulnerable people; and
  • that some forces do not offer and trauma support to call handlers.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Phil Gormley said:

“Inconsistencies in how police forces respond to calls from the public need to be eradicated or else they risk being overwhelmed by rising and increasingly complex demand. The control room is one of the engine rooms of a police force. If it doesn’t have the right systems and processes in place, the force won’t have an accurate picture of demand. This will affect its ability to respond to calls and investigate crimes effectively. It can also prevent the most vulnerable in society getting the help they need.

“We found that the people carrying out this hugely important work were, almost without exception, dedicated and professional public servants. Yet they are often unsung and undervalued and do their best despite limitations in technology and management structures. We call for them to be supported properly and consistently across England and Wales.

“There is no excuse for forces not adopting a standardised approach so that they can better understand and meet the demands placed on them. The police service now needs to agree a standard for how quickly forces must respond to 999 calls. Forces must make sure that the service the public receives is consistent and equitable, not dependent on where they live.”

HMICFRS has made recommendations to improve how control rooms operate, as well as how forces manage contact from the public more widely.

Get the report

A call for help – Police contact management through call handling and control rooms in 2018/19


  1. In March 2020 we suspended our inspection activity to enable forces and fire and rescue services to focus on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. We deferred this report’s publication as part of this suspension. HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor comments in detail on this as part of his annual assessment of policing, published on 2 July 2020. Our findings in this report are based upon evidence we collected before the pandemic was declared. Care should be taken if seeking to make links between our findings and police performance during the lockdown.
  2. Contact management is the process in which police forces deal with contact from the public. The majority of this is received through police control rooms, either from 101 or 999 calls.
  3. For further information, HMICFRS’s press office can be contacted from 9:00am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 07836 217729.
  4. HMICFRS’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217729.