Police ‘falling behind’ rapid changes in crime, says watchdog

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor
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POLICE in England and Wales are “falling behind the curve of rapidly changing criminality” because they are using old-fashioned methods, according to the Government’s chief inspector of forces nationwide.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor, publishing his annual assessment on the state of policing, praised the “unfailing commitment” of officers but said they were unprepared for future crime trends.

HMIC found that the police are too focused on dealing with crimes they are used to dealing with, rather than the crimes that victims experience or report, as they are not putting the victim’s experience at the centre of their service.

The watchdog said victims of crime were being let down in areas covered by nearly half of the police forces in England and Wales by poor investigations, and that a “deficit in skill and experience of officers investigating crimes” and a lack of supervision was behind weak investigations.

In Yorkshire, the region’s four forces were all said to need improvement in the way they investigate crimes, though three out of the four were described as good at reducing crime.

Only Humberside Police was rated as less than good in its efforts to reduce crime and prevent offending, and the watchdog said it had “some specific concerns about its approach to domestic abuse”.

The watchdog said it was concerned the force “has not yet done enough to achieve a secure financial position for the future”, adding: “Reserves will be used to make up the shortfall in the savings requirement each year.”

According to HMIC, many types of crime are not being investigated well enough in West Yorkshire because the county’s force is too focused on tackling burglary.

Though the region’s biggest force was said to be good at reducing crime and preventing offending, it was described as focusing “heavily on acquisitive crime such as dwelling burglary, with an inconsistent approach to tackling other types of crimes”.

The report said: The force uses a wide range of investigative tactics with real drive and determination to resolve its long-standing burglary problem.

“Accredited investigators are used to investigate more serious crimes, but the allocation and supervision of less serious crimes is inconsistent.

“Burglary is a clear priority for the force, but the investigation of other crime types has suffered as a consequence with additional focus required on those that have a level of threat, risk and harm.”

Mr Winsor said basic investigative skills and victim care, as well as the ability of officers to tackle unreported crime such as cyber crime and child sexual exploitation, must improve and that leadership will need to adapt.

He said: “The capabilities of the police have fallen behind the crime threat in recent years and these need to improve if the police are to get ahead of the curve of rapidly changing criminality.

“The landscape in which police forces are operating has changed beyond recognition in recent years and continues to evolve quickly.

“Unreported crime such as cyber crime and crimes against vulnerable people, the most disturbing of which is child sexual exploitation, is not an emerging threat: it is here now. The police need to learn the lessons from the past and improve the prevention and detection of such crimes.

“The response to child sexual exploitation in particular will require strong leadership to overcome the cultural and institutional barriers that have hampered the response so far.

“Almost all crime has a technological aspect to it now and the capability to deal with this cannot therefore be the prerogative of the specialist officer; every officer needs an understanding of it and the capabilities to deal with the cyber crime they encounter.

“My concerns about police capability should be seen in the context of the fact that our assessment found that police forces perform well in many other respects: we were particularly impressed by the way that many of them are: tackling anti-social behaviour; preventing crime; and responding to financial cuts.

“However, the quality of leadership, supervision and management at all levels, will need to adapt to the new environment if the police are to meet the challenges they face in improving capabilities, meeting the needs of victims and becoming ever more efficient and effective.”

HMIC today published the results of the first annual all‐force inspections, known as known as PEEL Assessments, described as a “comprehensive assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of policing in each force area”.

Forty of the country’s 43 police forces were deemed good or outstanding at preventing and reducing crime, though only 24 forces were said to be good at investigating crime.

HMIC said 40 forces were providing good or outstanding value for money but raised concerns about the “gradual erosion of neighbourhood policing” and said bosses were “only now starting to consider how to improve productivity by identifying and analysing demand”.

The assessments give the nation’s police forces one of four possible ratings for effectiveness, efficiency and the legitimacy of its policing.

Humberside Police was the only force in Yorkshire not said to be at least ‘good’, the second highest rating, for its efforts to reduce crime.

HM Inspector of Constabulary for the Northern Region, Michael Cunningham said: “Humberside Police does not provide a consistent level of service to victims of crime.”

He added: “Investigations are not always effectively supervised and victims of domestic abuse may not have received the level of support they needed

“The force has introduced a new leadership style and the culture of the organisation is now more able to support the level of change resulting from a reduction in the workforce, and while progress has been made with plans for a new affordable structure being well underway, the force has not yet found the required recurring savings.”

In response, Humberside’s police and crime commissioner Matthew Grove said changes being made to modernise his force and cope with dramatic budget cuts “should not be rushed”.

He said that when he was elected in 2012 he “found a Force that had achieved much in reducing crime but was not performing as effectively as it could nor should”.

He said: “This was not due to any lack of commitment or professionalism by its officers and staff, but as a result of the way it was structured with leadership and management devolved within a divisional system.

“On appointing the Chief Constable I tasked her with redesigning the delivery of policing to better protect the residents of East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire and ensure they have the best possible policing service that their money could provide.

“I am confident that the implementation of the new ‘One Force’ model, which is now beginning, will address many of the issues already identified, and confirmed by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary’s findings in the report.

“I appreciate the length of time taken, however, to introduce the changes necessary to modernise the Force to cope with the changes required whilst at the same time coping with significant financial reductions could not be rushed.

“The new Humberside Police ‘One Force’ structure will ensure a Force fit for the 21st century and able to properly protect and serve the public.”

Temporary Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, Dee Collins, said: “Crime has fallen in West Yorkshire by 19 per cent over the last four years and the proactive work we have been doing, including using predictive policing methods to identify areas at risk, has seen a particular reduction in dwelling burglaries.

“We note the Inspectorate’s comments that the sustained focus on preventing and reducing burglaries should not be at the detriment of other crime priorities.

“In line with the Police and Crime Plan, we are increasing prioritisation in other areas, including the recruitment of additional investigators to tackle safeguarding and child sexual exploitation investigations following the allocation of funding by the Police and Crime Commissioner.”