Dorset Police Among Forces 'Letting Victims Down'

27 November 2014, 10:08

The police watchdog's found victims of crime are being let down by nearly half of forces - including Dorset.

In its annual assessment of the state of policing in England and Wales, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said it was of ``material concern'' that 18 forces out of 43 were assessed as requiring improvement in the way they investigate offending.

Inspectors said a ``deficit in skill and experience of officers investigating crimes'' and a lack of supervision was behind weak investigations.

``Opportunities to secure a successful outcome for victims of crime are being missed as a result of failures to conduct an effective, prompt and professional investigation,'' the HMIC report said.

Failures to do house-to-house inquiries, take photos of injuries in domestic abuse cases and collect CCTV evidence on assaults in public places were among some of the inconsistencies found in the way evidence was gathered, the report said.

Crimes are being investigated by officers who also provide neighbourhood policing services such as patrols, some of whom have not investigated crimes for a number of years, inspectors said.

Inspection plans - used by officers to determine what they need to do gather evidence - were of a poor standard in 18 forces, with some officers copying and pasting previous versions to new investigations.

HMIC has also launched a new website to allow the public to see at a glance how well their force is performing.

Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor said officers were ``policing the crimes of today with the methods of yesterday and insufficiently prepared for the crimes of the future''.

Dorset Police says five of the six areas were assessed as 'Good' and only one area as 'Requires Improvement'. Dorset Police has responded strongly to explain their practices in the area requiring improvement, as the Force felt this was not fully considered during the inspection. The HMIC has taken this into account, changing the wording of the full report, but not the overall rating.

In relation to the other two reports published today, the Integrity and Corruption inspection found high standards at all levels of Dorset Police, from a clear leadership commitment to ethics and professional behaviour, down to ethical decision-making and professionalism in day-to-day policing. The Crime inspection found the Force to have achieved large crime reductions and to have a good preventative approach, with some recommendations made around investigative practices.

Many areas of the PEEL assessment do not yet have a rating, as the HMIC hasn't inspected these subjects recently. In future years, the intention is for a full PEEL report covering all topics to act as a single benchmark for police forces across the country.

Responding to the reports, Deputy Chief Constable James Vaughan said:

"The PEEL assessment process is a good concept, which will simplify how police performance is measured and presented. This will help the public understand exactly how their local police force is operating. In future years it will be even more valuable, as the new inspection process will be fully in place, rather than ratings being largely a repeat of previously-published single-issue inspections.

"Overall, I am pleased the HMIC's findings reflect the excellent work that I know goes on across the county every day. Their PEEL assessment presents a Force that has continued to cut crime despite the financial challenge, that works hard to prevent crime and stop repeat offending, and that deals well with anti-social behaviour in partnership with other organisations.

"In addition, it is encouraging that the reports reflect positively on our style of policing. Specifically, that our officers and staff operate with high levels of integrity, that they are encouraged and enabled to solve problems using their initiative, and that we have an evidence-based approach to setting priorities and evaluating our effectiveness.

"While we welcome many of the recommendations and are already working to improve in areas such as crime recording, which I commented on more fully last week following their Crime Data Integrity inspection, the Force has provided information to the HMIC that we think challenges their 'Requires Improvement' assessment of our investigative approach.

"We fully respect and value the independence of HMIC inspections, which the public must have faith in. We provided strong factual evidence that challenged this finding on grounds of accuracy. We were given assurances this further information was relevant and had been taken into account - indeed the detail of the report was changed - however, it is disappointing that having changed the detailed findings, they have not reviewed the overall rating in this area."

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said: ``Chiefs whose forces have fallen short on the standard of crime investigation will be analysing the reasons for this and taking action to improve on this crucial area of policing.''

Steve White, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: ``We have been warning there are issues around what the service can provide against cuts to funding and police numbers. Although we are pleased that the majority of forces are performing well, we know that officers are struggling to provide the service they believe the public deserve.''

24 forces were assessed as good at investigating crime, including Hampshire.

Commenting on the report, Chief Constable Andy Marsh said:

"There is good news for people in this independent report. It shows that our communities are getting a good service, and they are getting it for less money than elsewhere in the country. It has been possible to do these two things together because we have been ahead of the game in making tough decisions to reform our back office functions and policing model.

"Only by making cuts this way have we been able to keep investing in neighbourhood policing. As today's report states, this is in contrast to national concerns about gradually eroding this key area of policing."

"The report does, however, underline a clear note of concern. We are already extremely efficient. We have already done the innovative things that other forces are now looking to do. If budgets are cut further beyond 2016 we will be hit disproportionately hard and we will have no other option but to further reduce our frontline services. This can only impact our ability to serve the victims of crime."

Simon Hayes, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire, commented:

"It is reassuring the HMIC Crime Inspection Report highlights areas where Hampshire Constabulary is performing well.  In particular, it is interesting that the report warns about the gradual erosion of neighbourhood policing.  Through my Police and Crime Plan and Estates Strategy, I challenged the Constabulary to ensure that policing is placed squarely at the heart of neighbourhoods, which has been met through their Operational Change Programme. It is also reassuring that the report acknowledges a continued focus by Hampshire Constabulary in putting victims at the centre of policing, which is also a priority within my Police and Crime Plan."

"This report does highlight the detrimental impact that further Government cuts to policing  will have on the Constabulary's ability to maintain and improve their performance in the future.  The loss of around £80m in Government funding has already taken a significant toll on what is already a lean and efficient low cost force.  Government and HMIC must realise that we have reached a point where we can no longer do more with less."