#004/2009 – Police forces must work harder to meet their Pledge commitment

The majority of police forces in England and Wales have further to go if they are to keep their promise to the public on the service they provide, an inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has found.

Of the 43 police forces inspected, 33 were graded fair. To varying degrees, these forces fell short of their Pledge commitments and needed to improve.

Eight forces – Kent, Surrey, Leicestershire, West Mercia, Humberside, Lancashire, Merseyside and Northumbria – received good grades.

They have generally kept their Pledge with the public and listened to their concerns, acted on their concerns and kept them informed on the progress they have made.

Two forces – Suffolk and Cumbria – have performed poorly and consistently fell short on their commitment to the public. No force was graded excellent and exceeded Pledge standards.

HMIC investigated all 10 Policing Pledge promises with inspectors acting as customers, or ‘mystery shoppers’, to get a realistic, first-hand view of the public’s experiences.

Inspectors attended meetings, visited police stations and sent emails to police teams to test how they were treated.

The time taken to answer the phones and reply to messages was logged, police posters in public places were checked for accuracy and force websites were read to test whether the contact details and police station opening hours were up to date.

Frontline staff in all 43 forces were interviewed and inspectors spoke to members of the public who have recently used their local police service to get a balanced picture of how the police delivered on their promises.

Inspectors found mixed results and HMIC’s report reveals:

  • Some police stations were not open when advertised while others used volunteers to ensure rural stations were staffed.
  • In one force in July, 17% of non-emergency calls were abandoned in a week after being passed to other departments while free phone numbers have been introduced by some forces for non-emergency calls.
  • Some calls to Neighbourhood Policing Teams were never answered while some forces were praised by the public for their high profile neighbourhood policing.
  • The public in some areas were given the opportunity to meet their local police at meetings or informal ‘surgeries’ in supermarkets or libraries while an officer from the neighbourhood team didn’t even attend meetings held in other areas.
  • Not all force websites had the correct opening times for police stations with out of date contact details and public meeting times while some forces used social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Podcasts to advertise their local policing teams.
  • Some forces log all complaints and trawl press articles to pinpoint dissatisfaction and contact the complainant while most forces rarely gave the public the opportunity to discuss their concerns with someone in person.
  • Two forces translated the Pledge into several languages while there was little evidence of other forces communicating with minority groups about the Pledge.

Jane Stichbury, Her Majesty’s Inspector, said that “although the performance of most forces did not consistently match the level promised to the public, the majority of forces have made efforts to build a stronger relationship and dialogue with local people”.

She added: “Forces cannot deliver an effective public service without asking the public what they want.

“They must listen to the public’s concerns, act on their concerns and keep them informed on the progress they have made.

“The public want and deserve improvement from their police forces and they should expect a high level of service tailored to their community.

“Our inspection tested how well the Policing Pledge has been implemented. We did not test how the police responded to the issues and problems raised by the public.

“But as mystery shoppers, our inspectors have seen first hand how the public have been treated and they have not been treated as well as we would hope.

“The Policing Pledge is about providing responsive policing to the public’s needs and this inspection has shown many forces need to step up a gear.”

Police forces signed up to the Pledge in December 2008 and forces were graded after the HMIC inspection between April and August.

Jane Stichbury said: “This was the first year of the Pledge so it may not be surprising that most forces showed mixed performance.

“But force chiefs have reaffirmed their commitment to the Pledge and have been working to deliver the high standards they have set for themselves and the public want.

“HMIC will return to forces to check whether improvements have been implemented and our primary focus by January 2010 will be on those graded poor.”

Notes to editors

The full report is available on the HMIC website: http://inspectorates.homeoffice.gov.uk

  1. Jane Stichbury will be available for interview after the launch.
  2. Inspections took place between April and August 2009. Inspectors interviewed frontline staff, acted as ‘mystery shoppers’ and spoke to members of the public who have recently used their local police service.
  3. The Policing Pledge was introduced for consultation by the Home Office in July 2008.
  4. On December 31, 2008, all 43 Chief Constables in England and Wales signed up to the Pledge to ensure their officers and staff delivered on all aspects as part of a focus on neighbourhood policing.
  5. HMIC’s report found:On pledge points:

    One – to respect the public ensuring fair access to all – 12 forces were graded good while 31 were graded fair.

    Example of good standard: Surrey has consulted widely about opening hours for front counters and makes good use of volunteers to keep rural police stations open.

Two – to give names and contact details for neighbourhood teams – 19 forces were graded good and 24 were judged as fair.

Example of good standard: Kent Police have an easily accessible Police Pledge section of their website with in-depth information about neighbourhood policing including contact details and opening times of police stations.

Three – to make policing visible in your area – 14 forces were graded good, 28 were judged as fair and one was graded poor.

Example of good standard: Avon and Somerset and West Mercia are making good use of local patrol plans covering times and locations where intelligence suggests crime and disorder is occurring.

Four – to respond to every message for your Neighbourhood Policing Team within 24 hours – seven were judged as good, 35 were fair and one was graded poor.

Example of good standard: Several forces responded to 100% of messages within 24 hours.

Five – to answer 999 calls within 10 seconds and get there safely within 15 minutes in urban areas and 20 minutes in rural areas – 17 were graded good, 25 were fair and one was graded poor.

Example of good standard: North and South Yorkshire’s call handlers are equipped and trained to provide estimated times of arrival, helped by systems which automatically locate police vehicles and police personnel.

Six – to answer non-emergency calls promptly and get to vulnerable and upset callers in an hour – 19 forces were judged as good and 24 were judged as fair.

Example of good standard: In Derbyshire, call takers in the call reception centre aim to resolve incidents at first point of contact.

Seven – to arrange regular meetings with the public – 15 were graded good, 26 were graded fair and two were graded poor.

Example of good standard: In Kent, a one month trial is planned during which patrol officers who have been issued with Blackberry devices will seek the views of local people on their priorities and record them electronically.

Eight – to provide monthly updates on progress and policing issues – 12 were judged as good, 30 were graded fair and one was graded poor.

Example of good standard: Cambridgeshire’s ‘You said – We did’ campaign features in newsletters.

Nine – to ask victims how they want to be updated on progress – nine forces were graded good and 34 were fair.

Example of good standard: Lancashire Police have a facility on the crime report to record victim care arrangements. A victim management log is automatically generated for each crime.

Ten – to deal with dissatisfaction effectively within 24 hours – four were judged as good, 35 were judged as fair and four were graded poor.

Example of good standard: Hampshire use a database to record expressions of dissatisfaction received at front counters.

HMIC also rated forces on three separate areas:

Using feedback – eight forces were graded good and 35 were graded fair.

Identifying gaps – 17 were judged as good, 25 were judged as fair and one was judged as poor.

Leadership – 24 were graded good and 19 were graded fair.

  • HMIC made six recommendations to improve the delivery of the Policing Pledge:
    • Forces and Police Authorities should review communications and access, developing a style which supports a responsive ‘customer-focused’ policing service.
    • Forces need to be able to demonstrate effective use and visibility of local teams.
    • Forces need to ensure that systems to call back members of the public who leave messages for neighbourhood policing teams are robust.
    • The Association of Chief Police Officers should examine, with the National Policing Improvement Agency, effective ways of giving the public estimated times of arrival when they call police.
    • ACPO and NPIA, together with criminal justice agencies, should develop an effective process to inform local people of offenders brought to justice.
    • Forces need to ensure effective, simple processes to establish ‘customer contact contracts’ and to resolve dissatisfaction.
  • HMIC is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest. It rigorously examines the effectiveness of police forces and authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence.
  • HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the British Transport Police.
  • The HMIC press office can be contacted on 0207 035 2712.