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Steve White, Chair of the Federation of England and Wales, said: “It’s interesting to note that HMIC highlights that austerity is causing issues and has conceded that forces are ‘struggling to respond to increasing and ever-changing levels of demand.’

“But talk of austerity is actually too simplistic. HMIC talks about a denigration in neighbourhood policing – what do you expect when the central budget for policing has been slashed by 22% since 2010? The number of cops has also dropped drastically – since 2009 we have lost 21,500 officers.

“The Federation has been pointing out the pitfalls of continually taking the axe to police budgets over successive years and warning that it will actually hurt the very people we have pledged to protect – members of the public.

“Some forces are clearly coping better than others, but you can’t compare 43 forces with one another – it’s like comparing apples with pears. What we are seeing is a service that is only being driven by cost constraints and some areas of policing are on the critical list and heading towards intensive care.”

The HMIC report singles out a national crisis in the shortage of detectives, and says the public – including vulnerable victims – are being put at risk.

Mr White said: “This is of major concern. We’ve got a situation where some areas are so short of detectives that one force even resorted to advertising for an unpaid volunteer to trawl car boot sales for stolen property. Yet vulnerable people are being let down because of a lack of resources and vital preventative patrols which safeguard the public are endangered.”

Reasons for the nationwide shortage of detectives include increased workloads combined with a reduced workforce, long hours and increased stress.

Mr White added: “The situation is reflected across all other areas of policing as well, as evidenced by our recent welfare survey where 80% of respondents said they felt stressed or suffered from other mental health and wellbeing difficulties. We keep saying it – but this report really has got to be a wake-up call. There now needs to be a proper debate around how much the public and Government want from their police service and how much they really want to spend on it. The public and our officers deserve as much.”

UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL 00.01 THURSDAY 2 MARCH 2017

HMIC raises warning flag as forces strive to cope with increased demand

The majority of police forces do a good job in keeping members of the public safe, with two thirds of forces being graded as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) in a report into police effectiveness published today.

This year’s wide-ranging inspection found that most forces provide a largely good service in keeping people safe and preventing crime, and many forces are to be commended for materially improving the service they provide for vulnerable people.

However, the police service is not as well equipped to stop crime happening in the first place as it has been in the past.

In particular, HMIC was concerned to find an unacceptable level of the public being put at risk as a minority of forces artificially suppress demand, by ‘down grading’ emergency calls in order to justify a slower response, failing to respond to vulnerable victims and not formally classifying gangs of violent and dangerous criminals.

HMI Zoë Billingham, who led the inspection, said:

“Over the last few years, HMIC has said consistently that police forces were managing well in increasingly difficult circumstances. Nonetheless, today, I’m raising a red flag to warn forces of the consequences of what is, to all intents and purposes, an unconscious form of rationing of police services.

“Many forces deserve praise for taking steps to improve how they respond to vulnerable people. But this, whilst commendable, cannot be at the expense of other important areas of policing.

“During this inspection, we’ve seen how some forces are attempting to reduce pressure on their teams by artificially suppressing or downgrading calls upon their service, reducing their ability to take the most effective and prompt action. We think this is often an unintended consequence of recent changes forces have made, frequently in response to the challenge of austerity, and as they struggle to respond to increasing and ever changing levels of demand.

“Consequently, some basic things are not being done: we found evidence of fewer arrests being made, some crimes are being shelved without proper investigations taking place and suspects are not always being relentlessly tracked down. It is vital that police leaders take action now before these problems become more widespread and acute – so that the public are properly protected.”

Two of the 43 police forces are outstanding at crime prevention and four are outstanding in the way they tackle serious and organised crime. Only one force, Durham Constabulary, was found to be ‘outstanding’ overall, with an additional 28 forces being judged as ‘good’. One force was found to be ‘inadequate’ overall: Bedfordshire Police.

There are three main areas of concern highlighted by this inspection: some forces’ attempts to manage or suppress demand are putting people at risk; in some cases, police officers are not carrying out sufficiently well their principal activities of preventing crime, keeping people safe and catching criminals; and police capabilities that are needed now, and will continue to be needed in the future, such as skilled investigators and neighbourhood policing, are insufficient or being eroded.

Forces have improved their response to vulnerable people in the last year: the effort and commitment this has taken should not be underestimated, with thirteen forces improving the quality of their service. Nonetheless, sixteen forces are still judged as requiring improvement and five forces as inadequate.

Last year HMIC warned that neighbourhood policing was being eroded. This year, there is even more evidence of this, and this is likely to negatively affect forces’ ability to undertake the vital proactive and preventative aspects of fighting crime.

For the first time, HMIC is warning of a national crisis in the shortage of detectives and investigators in many forces. This is often leading to excessive workloads and stress amongst those currently in the roles. More than one in five cases is not investigated because “the victim does not support police action”, and in domestic abuse cases the proportion is even higher. HMIC is recommending that the use of this practice is reviewed urgently to ensure that this does not prevent forces from ensuring victims receive the justice they’re entitled to.

Additionally, HMIC is concerned that there is no coherent national picture of threat posed to communities by organised crime groups. Decisive action needs to be taken to address this.

HMIC has made five recommendations for action designed to promote improvements. HMIC will be going back to inspect police effectiveness from Autumn 2017.

To view the PEEL: Police Effectiveness (PDF), please click here.