HIGH-VOLUME offences such as criminal damage or vehicle crime are “on the verge of being decriminalised” by police forces which have given up investigating them, a policing watchdog has warned.
In a new report, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said this “mindset” had led to a concerning trend of asking victims to turn DIY detectives and carry out investigations themselves.
Victims of high-volume offences like vehicle crime and “burglaries of properties other than dwellings” are asked questions by call-handlers to assess the likelihood of the crime being solved, inspectors found.
In some forces this included asking victims to check if there was CCTV or fingerprint evidence available, as well as requesting victims to interview their neighbours and check second-hand sales websites to see if their property was being sold.
Inspector of Constabulary Roger Baker, who led the inspection, said: “It’s more a mindset, that we no longer deal with these things. And effectively what’s happened is a number of crimes are on the verge of being decriminalised.”
He added: “So it’s not the fault of the individual staff, it’s a mindset thing that’s crept in to policing to say ‘we’ve almost given up’.”
Elsewhere, the inspection found some forces were losing track of named suspects and wanted persons because they did not have effective systems for actively pursing them.
This included suspects who had been bailed from a police station and failed to return.
The report said: “It is a matter of extreme concern that some forces were not able to provide the data requested on these points. Timely and effective pursuit of named and wanted suspects should be core business for the police.
“Inspectors were also particularly concerned by the number of “desk-based investigations”, where forces decide to deal with a crime over the telephone without any attendance at the scene, without face-to-face contact with the victim.”
Desk-based investigations are failing to serve the public and mean “little or nothing more than recording a crime without taking further action”, HMIC warned.
A total of 37 out of 43 forces in England and Wales used a system in which a call-handler assessed whether an officer should attend the scene of an incident. But in some forces, call-handlers could not accurately describe what amounted to a risk or threat, while 17 forces failed to identify vulnerable callers. Attendance rates at crime scenes in the year to November 30 2013 varied widely between forces from 39 per cent in Warwickshire to 100 per cent in Cleveland.
This means that nearly two-thirds of crime scenes in Warwickshire were not attended by a police officer.
And in 17 forces, the Inspectorate found police community support officers (PCSOs) were being asked to investigate crimes too serious for their role or training.
HMIC also found the national picture across all forces in relation to use of technology was “inadequate” with officers using “old technology, ill-suited to modern technology”.
Official figures released earlier this year suggested police are failing to solve half of crimes, including nearly three quarters of cases of theft, criminal damage and arson.
Data from 28 forces in England and Wales, excluding the Metropolitan Police, showed that in April and May this year 52 per cent of crimes were classed as “investigation complete, no suspect identified”.