Crime victims waiting 13 hours for police to attend priority calls

2 Nov 2023

EMBARGO: Immediate Release

  • Freedom of Information requests reveal stark postcode lottery of police response times

  • Birmingham, Reading and Aylesbury Vale among the areas of the country with the slowest response times, with police taking as long as 13 hours to respond to some priority calls

  • Police wait times have nearly doubled in just 2 years, ballooning to 3 hours and 12 minutes on average in 2022 compared to 1 hour and 48 minutes in 2020

Shocking new figures have revealed for the first time the local areas in the country with the slowest police response times, with victims in some areas waiting an average of 13 hours for police to attend priority calls such as burglaries or domestic incidents.

The investigation, carried out by the Liberal Democrats through Freedom of Information requests to all police forces in England and Wales, shows a “disturbing postcode lottery” with response times varying significantly depending on the police force and local authority. Police took 13 and a half hours to respond to priority calls in Birmingham West last year, the longest in the country, compared to just 37 minutes in Bristol and Plymouth.

The data covers local response times for Grade 2 priority incidents, which are deemed serious enough to require an urgent police response, but with no imminent risk to life. These range from crimes like burglaries, a missing persons report or a domestic incident. Crucially, they can also include situations where an offender has been detained at the scene or there is a risk of the loss of evidence. 

Most forces aim to respond to Grade 2 calls within one hour. However, many areas in England and Wales had wait times that were far longer. Victims in Aylesbury Vale, covered by Thames Valley Police waited nearly 11 hours for a response, while those in Reading waited 10 hours and 13 minutes.

Surrey also fared particularly badly, with wait times reaching nearly 7 and a half hours on average across the county in 2022 - more than three times the average wait time in 2020. Some local areas in Surrey fared even worse, with victims in Woking and Waverley left waiting over 9 hours for the police to arrive.

The data also shows that victims are being left longer and longer for the police to arrive. Of the 28 forces who provided responses, the average wait time for 2022 was 3 hours and 12 minutes - nearly double the 2020 average of 1 hour and 48 minutes.

The Liberal Democrats warned that the long response times meant crucial witnesses or time-sensitive evidence risk being lost, adding it was "unforgivable" so many victims are being denied justice. The Home Office’s own statistics have revealed that more than 2.1 million crimes went unsolved in the year ending June 2023 across England and Wales - equivalent to nearly 6,000 unsolved crimes every day. 

The party is warning that years of ineffective resourcing under the Conservative government has left police forces overstretched and unable to focus on neighbourhood crime. This includes taking over 4,500 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) off the streets since 2015, and assigning just 12% of officers to neighbourhood policing teams.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a return to community policing, where officers are visible and trusted, with the time to focus on responding to local crime. 

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said:

“People deserve a swift response from the police when they’ve been the victim of a crime, wherever they are. Yet years of ineffective resourcing of local police forces by the Conservative Party has created a disturbing postcode lottery, with victims left waiting hours on end for an officer to turn up.

“This is not only forcing crime victims to put up with agonising waits, it also means they could be denied justice in the process. Crucial evidence and witnesses are at risk of being lost during these long wait times - and that’s unforgivable. 

“The Home Secretary needs to focus on getting the basics right, instead of endless gimmicks that do nothing to keep our communities safe. It’s time to finally restore proper community policing, so that people can be confident the police will turn up and investigate properly when they fall victim to crime.”


Notes to Editors: 

The data on police response times was uncovered by an FOI to all police forces in England and Wales. Their response provided the following data:

  • The average police response time to attend Grade 2 for each of the calendar years from 2019 to 2022. 

The full data can be accessed here.

Data on PCSO cuts can be found here, based on Home Office, Police Workforce: England and Wales, Table H7 (various editions).

Data on neighbourhood policing team size can be found here, based on Home Office, Police workforce England and Wales statistics

As first reported in the Times here.




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