Police cannot continue to fill the gaps left by other agencies
Police forces are having to pick up the slack as cuts in other public services increase pressure on them, according to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, in a report published today.
In his annual State of Policing report, Sir Thomas draws attention to material pressures on police forces in England and Wales, which put the service under strain.
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The principal pressures he highlights are as a result of:
- the failures of other public services, especially in respect of children’s and adolescent mental health, too often making the police the service of first resort, long after the chances of effective prevention have been lost;
- the modern tsunami of online fraud;
- increased police awareness of crimes against vulnerable people, including the elderly and the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, requiring the devotion of higher specialist police resources; and
- the fragmented state of police information and communications technology.
The report highlights that 18 forces require improvement in at least one of HMIC’s principal inspection themes of effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy.
Reflecting on last month’s attack in Westminster, Sir Thomas paid tribute to the bravery of police officers:
“Every day and every night, police officers do things that most of us would go out of our way to avoid. This has been illustrated to a tragically graphic extent by the Westminster terrorist attack in which one very brave police officer, PC Keith Palmer, lost his life.
“Police officers do a difficult job professionally, conscientiously and compassionately, and they deserve our grateful thanks.”
When considering the daily pressures to which the police are subject, Sir Thomas warned against the insidious creep of expecting police forces to be able to deal with the increasing demand caused by a shortage in mental health provision.
Sir Thomas said:
“The police are considered to be the service of last resort. In some areas, particularly where people with mental health problems need urgent help, the police are increasingly being used as the service of first resort. This is wrong.
“The provision of mental healthcare has reached such a state of severity that police are often being used to fill the gaps that other agencies cannot. This is an unacceptable drain on police resources, and it is a profoundly improper way to treat vulnerable people who need care and help.
“The obligation of the police is to prevent crime. This is not only because this makes society safer – both in reality and in perception – but also because it is far cheaper to prevent a crime than it is to investigate and arrest the offender after the event. The same is true of mental ill-health, which is not a crime. It is an old adage that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and this is particularly true when the cure fails and an emergency intervention is required to protect the safety of an individual in distress and, often, people nearby. By the time depression or some other mental disorder has been allowed to advance to the point that someone is contemplating suicide, or engaging in very hazardous behaviour, many opportunities to intervene will have been missed by many organisations. When that intervention takes place on a motorway bridge or railway line, or when someone is holding a weapon in a state of high distress, the expense to all concerned is far higher than it should be. The principal sufferer is the person who is ill, especially when it is realised that his or her suffering could have been much less or even avoided altogether.”
Whilst there are examples of excellence found in the HMIC inspections over the last year, police leaders need to focus more on what matters most, by planning properly for the future, by ensuring that their officers and staff are properly trained, supported and equipped, and by improving the pace of improvement significantly.
The report says that the police are particularly far behind many other organisations in the way they use technology. Used well, modern technology should give the police an unprecedented ability to exchange, retrieve and analyse intelligence.
Sir Thomas summed up:
“The changing nature of crime, and the increasing opportunities to exploit the vulnerability of children and the elderly in particular, creates a greatly intensified need for police leaders to improve their efficiency and effectiveness to prevent crime and deal with offences.
“In too many cases, police leaders are still too sluggish in ensuring their plans to meet new demands are sound, particularly in the need to ensure the complete interoperability of law enforcement information and communications systems.
“For too long, a culture of insularity, isolationism and protectionism has prevented chief officers from making the most effective use of the technology available to them. The blinkers have to come off.”
This year, HMIC has been able to compare year-on-year performance of each police force, and therefore assess the direction of each force and the police service as a whole. Forces are assessed against three broad categories: effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy. Overall, in comparison with 2015:
- in relation to effectiveness, 10 police forces improved, 26 stayed the same and seven forces declined;
- in relation to efficiency, six forces improved, 30 stayed the same and seven forces declined; and
- in relation to legitimacy, four forces improved, 36 stayed the same and three forces declined.
Overall, in HMIC inspections, the judgments which are made in relation to the efficiency and effectiveness of the police are predominantly about how well the police use their money and other resources, not about how much funding forces have at their disposal.
Across the 43 police forces of England and Wales, four forces were judged to be ‘outstanding’ against one or more of these categories; only one force – Bedfordshire Police – was found to be ‘inadequate’ for one category, but 18 forces were found to ‘require improvement’ in one or more categories. On 12 April 2017, HMIC published assessments by each of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary on the performance of the 43 police forces in England and Wales over the last year.
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- Details of the PEEL inspections and HMI assessments can be found on the HMIC website.
- On effectiveness, one force (Durham) is outstanding, 28 are good, 13 require improvement and one (Bedfordshire) is inadequate.
- On efficiency, two forces (Durham and West Midlands) are rated as outstanding, 33 are good, 8 require improvement and none is inadequate.
- On legitimacy – principally how well the force treats people – two forces (Derbyshire and Kent) are rated as outstanding, 36 as good, five as requiring improvement and none as inadequate.
- Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) independently assesses police forces and policing across activity from neighbourhood teams to serious crime and the fight against terrorism – in the public interest. HMIC inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies.
- For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
- HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729.