Policing postcode lottery 'has to stop'
- Published on Friday, 05 September 2014 10:02
- Written by Govtoday staff
A member of the public will receive a different response from the police for the same kind of crime or incident, depending on where they live, a report from HMIC has found.
The report, Core Business: an inspection into crime prevention, police attendance and the use of police time, examines all 43 police forces in England and Wales. It looks at three principal aspects of day-to-day policing: the prevention of crime; how crime is investigated and offenders are brought to justice; and freeing up and using police time more efficiently (which includes the use of modern technology). The report merges three complementary inspections into a single assessment.
HMI Roger Baker, who led the inspection, said: "Police forces have done a good job in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, leading to long-term reductions over the last 10 years.
"However, we were concerned to find that a member of the public will receive a different response from the police for the same type of crime or incident, depending on where they live; this sort of postcode lottery has to stop and a consistent approach applied across England and Wales.
"It is only by fully understanding how they use their staff that police forces can ensure that they are efficient and responsive. We found that this vital element of evaluation and analysis is still lacking in the majority of forces, with fewer than a quarter of forces investigating demand in order to prioritise and organise their workforce. In this age of austerity it's more important than ever that forces understand how to prioritise their resources."
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Thomas Winsor said: "The oxygen of effective policing is intelligence. Information is useless if it cannot be found and used at the time and in the circumstances in which it is needed. And in policing, if it is inaccessible to those who need it, great harm may occur which could and should have been prevented.
"Despite this, in too many respects, police forces have failed to embrace and exploit the capacities of modern technology, and have established information systems which even now lack necessary standards of interoperability. Steps are now being taken in this respect – and they are to be welcomed – but progress until now has been too slow, insular and isolationist. This must change urgently; for as long as these material shortcomings persist, lives are at risk.
"England and Wales has 43 police forces. There are not, and never have been, 43 best ways of doing something. Whilst the roots and much of the practice of policing are local, and will remain so, police forces must collectively recognise that it is in the public interest that every force must understand and adopt best practice, to be applied in the most efficient and effective way in each police force area."
The main aspects of the report are as follows:
Response to calls
HMIC was concerned by the significant variation in the way in which forces approach police attendance in response to calls from the public. Although a small number of forces aim to attend all reports of crimes and incidents, most forces decide whether an officer will attend or the matter will be dealt with over the telephone, using set criteria. In addition, around a third of forces were failing to identify vulnerable and repeat victims. HMIC recommends urgent work is needed to establish national, consistently used definitions of what constitutes a 'vulnerable victim' and a 'repeat victim' in order to bring a uniformity of approach across all forces.
Understanding attendance at crimes
HMIC was concerned to find that almost half of all forces were unable to provide details of the reported crimes that they had attended. This is unacceptable and HMIC strongly recommends that these forces address this issue quickly. Forces cannot adequately assess the service they are providing to victims, or properly understand the demands being placed upon them, if they lack this basic information.
Quality of investigation
HMIC found that for reports of crime such as house burglaries and robberies, there was clear evidence of investigative activity and supervision. However, in some forces crime reported over the telephone showed little evidence of being investigated. Of even greater concern were instances where HMIC inspectors observed call-handlers in some forces encouraging victims to carry out their own investigations.
Knowing where suspects are
Another issue requiring immediate action is the finding that almost half (18) of all forces were unable to tell inspectors either the number of named suspects yet to be arrested, or the number of suspects who had failed to answer police bail. A further seven forces were found to have unsatisfactory levels of activity or supervision when a small number of 'wanted person' files were reviewed.
HMIC found that most forces only have a basic understanding of their demand and the performance and workload of their officers and staff. It is essential in this period of austerity that decisions in relation to resource distribution and levels of public service are made with accuracy and certainty. This is critical to the effectiveness and efficiency of the police and more work needs to be done by forces to improve their understanding.
The national picture in relation to the use of technology by the police can only be described as inadequate. The absence of a national police information strategy and the fact that the Police ICT company is not yet fully operational, despite having been established for some time, has contributed to this position.
The availability of mobile technology for officers and staff to use whilst on patrol is an equally discouraging picture. Many forces are operating with old technology, ill-suited to modern crime fighting. The current situation in relation to the development and the use of ICT in the police service is unsatisfactory. The police service, together with the Home Office, the College of Policing and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners must work together to remedy this as a priority.
HMIC will continue to inspect these areas of policing core business and has made a total of 40 recommendations that significant improvements are made by the service as a matter of urgency.