Police watchdog warning as forces strive to cope with increased demand
HMIC raises warning flag as forces strive to cope with increased demand
The majority of police forces do a good job in keeping members of the public safe, with two-thirds of forces being graded as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) in a report into police effectiveness published today.
However, last year HMIC warned that neighbourhood policing was being eroded. This year, there is even more evidence of this, and this is likely to negatively affect forces’ ability to undertake the vital proactive and preventative aspects of fighting crime.
For the first time, HMIC is warning of a national crisis in the shortage of detectives and investigators in many forces. This is often leading to excessive workloads and stress amongst those currently in the roles.
More than one in five cases is not investigated because “the victim does not support police action”, and in domestic abuse cases the proportion is even higher.
HMIC is recommending that the use of this practice is reviewed urgently to ensure that this does not prevent forces from ensuring victims receive the justice they’re entitled to.
Additionally, HMIC is concerned that there is no coherent national picture of threat posed to communities by organised crime groups. Decisive action needs to be taken to address this.
HMIC has made five recommendations for action designed to promote improvements. HMIC will be going back to inspect police effectiveness from Autumn 2017.
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HMI Zoë Billingham, who led the inspection, said:
Over the last few years, HMIC has said consistently that police forces were managing well in increasingly difficult circumstances. Nonetheless, today, I’m raising a red flag to warn forces of the consequences of what is, to all intents and purposes, an unconscious form of rationing of police services.
Many forces deserve praise for taking steps to improve how they respond to vulnerable people. But this, whilst commendable, cannot be at the expense of other important areas of policing.
During this inspection, we’ve seen how some forces are attempting to reduce pressure on their teams by artificially suppressing or downgrading calls upon their service, reducing their ability to take the most effective and prompt action. We think this is often an unintended consequence of recent changes forces have made, frequently in response to the challenge of austerity, and as they struggle to respond to increasing and ever changing levels of demand.
Consequently, some basic things are not being done: we found evidence of fewer arrests being made, some crimes are being shelved without proper investigations taking place and suspects are not always being relentlessly tracked down. It is vital that police leaders take action now before these problems become more widespread and acute – so that the public are properly protected.
Two of the 43 police forces are outstanding at crime prevention and four are outstanding in the way they tackle serious and organised crime. Only one force, Durham Constabulary, was found to be ‘outstanding’ overall, with an additional 28 forces being judged as ‘good’. One force was found to be ‘inadequate’ overall: Bedfordshire Police.
There are three main areas of concern highlighted by this inspection:
- some forces’ attempts to manage or suppress demand are putting people at risk;
- in some cases, police officers are not carrying out sufficiently well their principal activities of preventing crime, keeping people safe and catching criminals; and
- police capabilities that are needed now, and will continue to be needed in the future, such as skilled investigators and neighbourhood policing, are insufficient or being eroded.
Forces have improved their response to vulnerable people in the last year: the effort and commitment this has taken should not be underestimated, with thirteen forces improving the quality of their service. Nonetheless, sixteen forces are still judged as requiring improvement and five forces as inadequate.
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