Cornwall councillors have slammed the police’s 101 crime reporting system as “not fit for purpose” and say it is leading to Cornish residents not reporting anti-social behaviour and other incidents.

The comments were made at a meeting of Cornwall Council’s neighbourhoods committee last week as councillors discussed the Safer Cornwall Partnership Plan for the next year.

Cllr Jim McKenna, who sits on the Safer Penzance partnership, urged the council to put pressure on the police to replace the non-emergency 101 phone and online form reporting system with “something that works”.

The meeting heard that anti-social behaviour (ASB) incidents in Cornwall in 2023 were actually lower than the previous year.

Criminal behaviour closely linked with anti-social behaviour, such as criminal damage and public order offences, had also reduced in the past 12 months, reversing the previous increasing trend.

A report by council officers said: “The fall in reports comes at a time when public confidence in the police is low, both locally and nationally, and anti-social behaviour continues to be the primary concern of communities, by far outweighing concerns about crime and other community safety issues.”

The report added that feedback from Cornish communities indicates that low level incidents are not being reported to the police due to long waiting times to report through the 101 non-emergency routes and a perceived lack of action being taken.

Truro councillor Rob Nolan addressed officers involved with the Safer Cornwall initiative: “Fifteen years ago when I walked home from a city council planning meeting I walked through a sleepy town.

Now when I walk home there are people shouting and screaming on street corners and lurking in dark doorways and I feel intimidated. God knows what it’s like for a young woman walking home on her own.

“And yet how hard have you worked over the last 10 to 15 years to better the situation?

"I know you do. Without the anti-social behaviour officers, street marshals and all the things you’ve done we’d be in a worse position, which is hard to imagine.”

He added: “I’ve stopped telling people to report things [on 101] because they’re still on the phone after 40 minutes to the police and if they do get through, well nothing really happens anyway.

“What can I say to people?

"Because I want them to come into town in the evening, I want it to be safe to walk around.

"You’re doing everything you can as far as I can see.

"If I was a little old lady I wouldn’t go anywhere near the town centre at night.

"So what should we do? We’re doing innovative work and yet the town centre doesn’t feel safe. What hope can you give me?”

Erika Sorensen, the local authority’s strategic intelligence manager, said the council was working with a whole range of partners to tackle anti-social behaviour across the county.

She said: “We’ve come through some really challenging times, so we’re not alone. Cornwall’s anti-social behaviour problems haven’t happened in a vacuum.

"There are similar issues in town centres all over the country.”

The perfect storm of the legacy impact of Covid, the cost of living crisis and high levels of homelessness have created problems, but the council is working with towns to develop customised packages for their specific needs.

This included employing dedicated ASB workers, plain clothes police walking around with victims of crime so they can gather evidence, increasing CCTV provision and earlier intervention to help vulnerable people who may cause ASB issues.

The meeting heard that the council has trained over 1,000 people to recognise people with mental health, trauma and drugs issues.

Cllr Jim McKenna said 101 was “absolutely not fit for purpose.

"I think in terms of levels of confidence in terms of the police and council tackling the right issues part of it is undoubtedly down to the inability to get through to the police when people need to, not necessarily in an emergency but for something that’s important to them and their community.

"If the police could fix that or there was an alternative that worked I think that would be part of the solution in bringing up public confidence.”

He asked that the council puts pressure on the police and “those who resource policing to get something that works as this absolutely doesn’t.

"A lot of people don’t bother reporting because they’re fed up with being stuck on the end of a phone”.

Cllr Jayne Kirkham said only 19% of people in Cornwall think ASB is being tackled.

She added that using the online 101 form was just as hard to get a response as the phone line.

She said the ability to email 101 with concerns had now been removed.

Cllr Carol Mould, portfolio holder for neighbourhoods, stressed that crime rates in Cornwall are low.

“It is quite disturbing that people say they feel unsafe at night because there really is an awful lot of stuff going on in our towns to make people safer.”

She wondered if more could be done to flag to residents of Cornwall what’s being done and what help is available.

The council’s Have Your Say Survey 2023 revealed that three quarters of residents have experienced anti-social behaviour in their local area.

Almost 50% of people who experienced crime or ASB had reported it as compared to 40% the previous year.

Reasons given for not reporting included telephone waiting times, lack of knowledge of how to report and a perceived lack of response.

Only one in five people thought the police and council are tackling the issues that matter.

A rise in young people behaving anti-socially has been a growing theme over the past 12 months.

There was more violence amongst young people and concerns were raised about weapon carrying.

The report stated: “We have also noted less community tolerance for young people, particularly when seen together in groups, which we need to balance against the actual risks.”

Simon Mould, chair of Safer Cornwall, said it was critical that local communities report incidents but the council was aware that lack of reporting is still an issue.

The council is working with Devon and Cornwall Police to build confidence in the system, he added.