POLICE have warned that demand for its 101 and 999 phone services are at an unprecedented high amid concerns about responses to anti-social behaviour. 

Officers from Durham Police attended a meeting held by Darlington Borough Council to discuss concerns over response times to 101 calls, particularly in relation to anti-social behaviour and problems with off road motorbikes.

A number of councillors attended to share their experiences of the impact the issue was having on the community.

READ MORE: Promise to address anti-social behaviour issues in Darlington

Council leader Heather Scott said: "Not just members but members of the community have concerns about the response to 101 call.

"I think it's something as councillors we get reports constantly about complaints."

Durham Police's chief constable Jo Farrell said: "What we have seen though the lifting of restrictions, particularly in May, June and July, both locally and nationally, is a significant increase in calls on police.

"We have seen a huge increase in the 999 system and in 101 calls.

"It's a local issue in Darlington and Durham and it's an issue for the nation.’

The meeting heard there had been a 13 per cent increase in 999 calls, when comparing the same period in 2019.

The chief constable added: "I'm proud of the work that officers and staff do because we try not to turn people away.

"However, it is a fact that pretty much from one minute past five, or certainly by 6pm we are the only organisation that picks the phone up.

"I'm not saying that I don't want the performance to be better. But I will repeat that we are receiving unprecedented amount of demand from the public.

"We are trying to manage it in the best way we can. We are not going to be able to solve that very quickly. I can't plough it a lot of additional resources, it's going to take more work than that."

Andrea Arthur, from Durham Police's control room, told the meeting that on Monday the force had received 1,042 101 calls and 358 999 calls. She added: "That was a regular Monday with nothing particularly exciting happening."

She added that calls could include "non-policing" issues, like cats stuck up trees, and people asking questions like how to report a lost driving licence. She added: "Some of them are real questions but we are not the right people to call on that saturated 101 system."

Meanwhile, councillors shared their concerns about off road bikes.

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Cllr Rachel Mills said there were three "no go" areas in her ward, but said people were unwilling to make reports.

She added: "Pople are too intimidated to go to walk their dogs or have children play in the park but they won't report.

"I can't force someone to make an official complaint and we go around in circles. There's an enormous amount of work to be done."

Cllr Chris McEwan said: "It's not endemic but it's close to that.

"It's having an impact on people's health and wellbeing. Speaking as a citizen and I've got a collie and one of the things that sets her off is an off road bike at speed.

"I should be able to let my dog of the lead. It's affecting my life and hers because of that threat."

Cllr Kevin Nicholson read some of the emails he has received, including one from a 71-year-old woman who is too afraid to go out because she fears being knocked over, and a mother, who has a baby and autistic child who are frightened by the noise of bikes.

He added: "The situation with off road bikes has been one for as long as I have been a councillor and a kid.

"I'm under no illusion about how difficult it is to deal with."

He added: "At the moment when we talk about confidence I believe confidence of criminals is at an all time high and we need to work as partners to restore community confidence.

Chief Superintendent Adrian Green said there had been a 14 per cent increase in off road motorbikes in Darlington this year but added that 23 quad bikes and 13 motorbikes had been seized since June.

He said the police's approach was now to seize bikes and crush them, to reduce the number available in the area. He said a number of approaches were being taken, including using drones – but added that the cost of training pilots meant it was difficult to increase their usage.