POLICE in Oxford are missing their target to respond to “urgent” 999 calls by nearly 40 minutes, it has been revealed.

When 999 calls are made by the public, they are given one of two categories by the operator.

The “immediate” group relate to the most serious and life-threatening incidents, while “urgent” refers matters thought to be less serious.

Thames Valley Police are supposed to respond to immediate calls within 15 minutes, and to urgent calls within an hour.

But while the force is hitting the first target in Oxford, the average response time for urgent calls in the city is 100 minutes.

In Reading, the average response time for less serious 999 calls was 91 minutes.

Chief Constable Sara Thornton rubbished the “urgent” figure, putting it down to Oxford experiencing more calls that do not require a response within the hour.

She said: “The average attendance is a meaningless statistic as it includes cases where we have agreed with the caller that the response can be delayed overnight or until the caller has returned from work.

“While it is important that we arrive promptly when people call for help, we also need to balance this with the need for officers to drive safely over many miles to get to the incident.”

The response figures were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act for the period between April, 2011 and March 2012, the last full year available.

Countywide police are faring much better, with an average response time for immediate calls of 15 minutes and urgent calls of 62 minutes.

But performance in Oxford has improved over the past five years.

In 2011/12, 71 per cent of the urgent calls were reached within an hour compared to 63 per cent recorded in 2007/08.

And police attended 85 per cent of top priority calls within the 15 minute target, compared to 82 per cent five years ago.

Chief Supt Alan Baldwin, head of tasking and resilience, said: “Oxford city is a busy place. And certainly it’s difficult to get across the city. “There can be one or two calls that skew average times.”

Mr Baldwin said better training, technology, communications and better anticipation of incidents had led to improvements.

He said: “It’s important we provide a top-quality service for victims and for callers.

“I am pleased we are getting better. But I accept there is always room to get even better.”

Thames Valley Police received about 500,000 999 calls last year.

Karis Daniels, whose brother Blayne Ridgway was stabbed to death in the city in 2010, welcomed news that most vital calls were reached within 15 minutes.

The Wood Farm resident, 26, said: “Anything beyond that is too long to wait at the scene of a serious crime.”

Graham Smith, chairman of the Thames Valley Police Federation, said: “Officers are doing wonderfully in the circumstances of budget cuts and pressure on police to do more for less.”

Calls police aim to reach within 15 minutes include crimes in progress, those with a risk of death or serious injury, and serious traffic issues.