A South Yorkshire Police 101 call handler has to be prepared for anything.
The first call when they start their shift each day could be as innocuous as a parking dispute or something as serious as a multi-vehicle pile-up.
It could even be – as happened in Sheffield not too long ago – someone who was given the wrong change.
Showing people what the job involves was part of the reason why the force held a ‘Twitterthon’ on the night of the England vs Russia Euro 2016 match. Incidents and advice were posted live on Twitter for eight hours and the force responded to comments online.
PC Nicola Millward was monitoring incidents from across South Yorkshire on the night.
“The idea is to try to show the public how we work with demand and what the force has to face,” she said. “We also issue advice. We’ve done them before, on Bonfire Night and ‘mad Friday’.
“We’re trying to get people to think about things, and the different ways they can contact us. We’ve done quite a big campaign on when you should and shouldn’t contact the police.”
The force is expected to cut 55 officers and 214 support staff roles by April 2017 to help plug a £10.5 million budget black hole. PC Millward said these pressures meant a lot of work had been done on how demand is managed.
“I don’t think people appreciate the demand we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
“Particularly when it’s a big football match.”
The Twitterthon began quietly, with a couple of reports of domestic violence during the Wales vs Slovakia match, which kicked off at 5pm, three hours before the England game.
Officers expect an increase in such crimes during football matches and similar events, when alcohol often flows.PC Millward said: “One of the force’s focuses is domestic abuse, because there has been an increase. The last few years the lack of finances has caused arguments and that can escalate, especially if you put alcohol in the mix.
“But now people are more inclined to report it. Previously people didn’t feel confident.”
The number of incidents reported to police is much higher now than it was a decade ago. In parts, says PC Millward, this is due to the ease of getting in contact. There’s the 101 number, or 999 for an emergency, but people can also report crimes online. “Previously it wasn’t as easy for people to get in contact,” she said.
“But now it’s a lot easier so we do get more people reporting things. It’s positive that more people are reporting.”
The call handlers based at the Atlas Court office in Newhall play a key role. They are the first point of contact for people who are often distressed. “It’s the first impression of the police,” said PC Millward. “We are that first voice people hear. It can go from someone phoning in with a medical emergency to someone who’s at a really serious traffic accident.
“It’s quite a rigid training process for call handlers. It has to be, because of the type of things they do. Part of my role is to be here for advice because of my experience in different areas.”
One call handler, or contact resolution officer, is Ciaran Dixon. He’s been in the job for three and a half years.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s different every day. You can’t really get bored in this job.”
That doesn’t mean the job is easy – there’s no way to predict what calls are going to come in.
Ciaran said: “Being prepared comes with the training. Everyone gets it. Experience is a lot of it as well. If there’s something you haven’t come across, there’s always someone that’s around to help.
“You do have problems with some calls. But you have to adapt. Some people are really irate and you can’t calm them down. You have to take control.”
As the night progressed, the number of incidents increased. Domestic violence, violence in the streets and drink driving were reported after the England game.
This was all published to the force’s 88,000 Twitter followers using the #DrinkSafeSY hashtag, along with advice and signposting to various support agencies.
Chief inspector Richard Lambert, force lead for alcohol-related crime, said: “We tend to see an increase in alcohol-related incidents such as anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse and drink driving during events such as Euro 2016.
“The Twitterthon raised awareness of the demand on the police force during big events like this, and promoted responsible drinking. We had plenty of online interaction with members of the public and we hope it gave a good idea of the kind of high demand the force faces.
“There was a total of 1,797 calls into 101 and 999 on the day of the England and Russia match, with 839 of those coming in during our Twitterthon.
“Overall, 1,366 police incidents were created, with 197 of these being created after the match finished. We saw an increase in domestic-related incidents, incidents of violence and drink driving after the end of the game.
“While we want people to enjoy the tournament and we realise that some will be watching the football and having a few drinks, our message is to please ensure you drink responsibly and don’t regret your behaviour.”
Dealing with drunk, angry or scared people can be a taxing job. But staff at Atlas Court know how to support each other.
PC Millward said: “We get a lot of characters here but you need that. You get a variety of ages. But people support each other, because of some of the incidents we deal with. It becomes another family, when you work closely with people for long hours.”