South Yorkshire Police and Humberside Police were among the 18 forces nationwide judged by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to require improvement in the way they reduce crime and keep people safe.
HMIC’s report on police effectiveness said the majority of forces were good at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour but that this good performance was being put at risk by the erosion of neighbourhood policing.
Police forces nationwide have made significant cuts to their workforces since 2010, though many are now starting to recruit more officers as a result of a better-than-expected settlement in last year’s comprehensive spending review.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham, who led the inspection, said: “Frontline neighbourhood police officers have told us repeatedly that they are being pulled from their vitally important preventative work in communities to fulfil other duties, like guarding crime scenes, spending time in stations investigating crimes or staffing police station front counters.
“Losing our eyes and ears in the community is only likely to hamper good performance in preventing crime.
“Police leaders need to take heed of HMIC’s early warning and make sure that neighbourhood policing - the cornerstone of the British policing model, is preserved for future generations.”
South Yorkshire Police was told it needs to “ensure that it responds with appropriate promptness to reports of crime”.
Her Majesty’s Inspector Mike Cunningham said: “HMIC was concerned to find that due to high levels of demand, officers are not able to pursue investigative opportunities consistently in a timely way.
“Officers are becoming frustrated and we are concerned that evidential opportunities may be lost along with the confidence of victims and witnesses.”
In similar criticisms of Humberside Police, Mr Cunningham said its staff “working in neighbourhood policing were frustrated as they had struggled to maintain a consistent approach to neighbourhood policing due to lack of capacity”.
He said: “Staff expressed their concern that the rise in their workload and investigations had an impact on their ability to carry out preventative and problem-solving policing.”
West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire’s police forces were both judged to be “good” in their effectiveness at tackling crime and keeping people safe, though they were said to require improvements in some areas.
South Yorkshire Police was judged to be good at tackling organised crime, and was praised for an investigation which “had been well led, with detailed policy for the use of the full range of law enforcement tactics”.
HMIC said: “As a result of this investigation five people have been charged with threats to kill, conspiracy to supply class A and class B drugs, illegal possession of firearms and money laundering offences.”
The inspection, described as “one of the most wide-ranging inspections HMIC has ever conducted”, graded only one force, Durham, as being outstanding.
Ms Billingham said: “We’ve examined police effectiveness across the board – from how forces identify anti-social behaviour hotspots, to their mapping of organised crime groups, and from their management of the most dangerous offenders, to their work to protect children.
“The job of the inspectorate is to shine a light on both good performance, and on things that need to improve; and this inspection found both.”
Deputy Chief Constable Dawn Copley of South Yorkshire Police said: “Overall, HMIC recognise that the force works well to prevent crime and antisocial behaviour, and we have been successful in maximising the proportion of our staff on front line duties against a reducing workforce.
“The feedback about how effectively we tackle serious and organised crime, including the use of the full range of legal powers, is welcomed, as these matters affects all our communities.”
Crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings said numbers of neighbourhood officers in his force were becoming stretched, but that he would keep PCSO numbers at existing levels – 225 – for the coming years.
He added: “I also note the strain that has been placed on the force due to cuts in grant and therefore in numbers. We need to find more savings from areas other than the workforce if the good work is to be built upon.”
Deputy Chief Constable Garry Forsyth of Humberside Police said: “Humberside is one of only nine forces in the country to maintain its performance and not see an increase in overall recorded crime in information released nationally.
“We are fully aware of the need to continue to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour and are working hard to address these issues.
“HMIC has said that the public should be confident we are working to address any challenges and I want to echo that. Since I arrived here last year there has been significant progress, although I am the first to admit that much remains to be done.”
Humberside crime commissioner Matthew Grove said the report “further demonstrates how far Humberside Police has moved since the force restructure to a single force model in April of last year”.
He added: “The report highlights much of the good work being done on a day to day basis by police officers and staff to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour and improvements that have already been made, but the report rightly identifies that further improvements are needed.”