Suffolk 2014Read more about Suffolk 2014
This is the first PEEL Assessment of Suffolk Constabulary. In making this assessment I have used my professional judgment to consider the evidence available from inspections undertaken in the past 12 months.
The available evidence indicates that:
in terms of its effectiveness, in general, the force is good at reducing crime and preventing offending, good at investigating offending and good at tackling anti-social behaviour;
the efficiency with which the force carries out its responsibilities is good; and
the force is acting to achieve fairness and legitimacy in most of the practices that were examined this year.
Zoë Billingham, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary
In making this first PEEL Assessment of Suffolk Constabulary I have taken into account the challenges to policing the area.
Suffolk Constabulary is a small force. There are seven local authority areas across this largely rural county. There are four military bases, a nuclear power station and Felixstowe is the largest container port in Europe. Tourism is a major industry, with a large number of visitors drawn to the area, particularly during the summer months.
I have been impressed with the force’s strong commitment to preventing and reducing crime; it works well with other partners, especially local councils, to this end. The force is also working well to target prolific offenders across the county.
I am encouraged that neighbourhood policing remains at the heart of the force’s approach. Safer neighbourhood teams deal with their local community’s concerns well and are good at preventing and tackling anti-social behaviour. The force has a strong focus on victims – in particular, those who are vulnerable (this could be because of their age or because they have been victimised before).
I have also been impressed that Suffolk Constabulary has worked hard to reduce its costs and that it is on track to achieve the savings required during the current spending review period. The force has made progress in developing its collaboration over the last four years with Norfolk Constabulary. However, I am concerned that, with a gap in its future budget, the financial outlook for the force is less positive.
Officers and staff in Suffolk are aware of the boundaries of unprofessional and professional behaviour, and staff feel confident to challenge unethical and unprofessional behaviour, thanks to a supportive culture and environment.
There is some room for improvement in the way the force investigates offending. For example, there is only a limited focus on monitoring and improving the quality of crime investigations.
I have concerns about the force’s approach to crime-recording which is not as accurate as it should be.
Our intention is to examine leadership specifically as part of future PEEL Assessments, once criteria have been established. This will allow us to take account of the College of Policing review of leadership that is currently underway.
Over the past 12 months, there have been a number of inspections made of Suffolk Constabulary with a recurrent issue that the force could do more to maximise the benefits of technology, including the use of mobile data to support officers on the front line.
I will be particularly interested to see how the force responds to its future funding gap and how it continues to develop its collaboration with Norfolk Constabulary over the next 12 months.
How well the force tackles crime
Suffolk Constabulary is good at reducing crime and preventing offending. The force is good at investigating offending. It is good at tackling anti-social behaviour.
Suffolk Constabulary has seen bigger reductions in crime over the last four years than across England and Wales as a whole. Victim satisfaction with policing services is also higher than the level for England and Wales. The police work well with partners to prevent crime and reduce re-offending.
Neighbourhood policing remains at the heart of the force’s approach and safer neighbourhood teams understand their local community concerns and priorities and use a range of tactics to fight crime and prevent it. There is a focus on identifying and protecting the most vulnerable victims.
HMIC found that there is room for improvement in the way the force investigates offending. There is only a limited focus on monitoring and improving the quality of investigations, and ensuring the continuing development of professional investigative skills of officers. The force also needs to improve the way it evaluates and learns from what works, so that it can better drive improvements in service quality across Suffolk.
Anti-social behaviour is a clear priority for Suffolk; there is strong leadership and good work taking place in the neighbourhood teams to work in partnership with other agencies to prevent and tackle anti-social behaviour.
Further insights on effectiveness
The domestic abuse inspection found that the public in Suffolk could generally have confidence that the police provided a good service to victims of domestic abuse, and, in doing so, helped to keep them safe. However, there were just three independent domestic abuse advisers in the county; this was insufficient to be able to properly support victims of domestic abuse.
The crime inspection found some positive examples of the force working constructively with partners in identifying and developing new techniques for dealing with hidden crimes such as child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The value for money inspection found that Suffolk had worked with other forces across the eastern region to develop a more effective response to serious and organised crime.
How well the force delivers value for money
Suffolk Constabulary’s response to the financial challenge of the spending review to date has been good. The force is on track to achieve the savings required by the end of the spending review period in March 2015. The force has made good progress in developing its collaboration over the last four years with Norfolk Constabulary, although HMIC has some concerns about the effect that a recent decision by Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner may have on the force’s ability to meet its longer-term (three-to five-year) financial challenges while maintaining the service it provides to the public.
Suffolk is on track to achieve the savings requirement of the spending review period. An important element of the force’s plans has been collaboration with Norfolk, which has provided both operational and financial benefits. Suffolk has also worked hard to reduce its costs, both pay and non-pay, making it one of the lowest cost forces.
The force undertakes regular reviews of the demands and challenges it faces. This informs allocation of staff and helps the force structure how it provides policing. The force is clearly focused on improving outcomes by managing the quality of the service it provides to the public. It has improved its response to calls from the public, achieved a greater rate of crime reduction over the spending review period in comparison to other forces, and victims report higher levels of satisfaction.
However, with a material gap in its future budget, the financial outlook is less positive. For 2015/16, Suffolk expects to have a £2.8m gap in its budget with a worsening position in 2016 and beyond.
HMIC has some concerns about the effect of a recent decision by Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner not to support the introduction of a joint contact and control room at a single site, and the creation of a shared service partnership for the provision of some business support functions with Norfolk. While the decision taken by the police and crime commissioner has not been the subject of review by HMIC, HMIC is concerned about the effect it may have on the force’s financial position. Collaboration with Norfolk forms part of Suffolk’s future savings plan. HMIC’s concern is that the police and crime commissioner’s decision may have jeopardised efforts to extend that collaboration, which in turn may have an adverse effect on the chief constable’s ability to provide efficient and effective policing in the longer term. As such, Suffolk now needs to identify an alternative plan for achieving these savings and, in doing so, provide affordable policing in Suffolk while providing an effective policing service to the public.
Does the force act with integrity and provide a service the public expects?
There is clear leadership from the chief constable to create a climate of ethical behaviour, and staff and officers are familiar with ‘What you need to know’, a booklet issued by the chief constable, together with his counterpart in Norfolk Constabulary, that sets out what is expected in terms of standards and integrity. Staff are prepared to challenge inappropriate behaviour and feel the organisation will support them when doing so. However, the rigour of initial assessments of misconduct cases where there is a potential of criminal offences is unsatisfactory, and there is limited proactive work to identify trends, risks or vulnerabilities in respect of corruption.
Further insights on legitimacy
The Crime Survey for England and Wales (12 months to March 2013) found that the proportion of respondents who think that the force does an excellent/good job was broadly in line with the figure across England and Wales. The same survey over the same period found that the proportion who agree that the force deals with local concerns was broadly in line with the figure for England and Wales. The force’s own victim satisfaction survey (12 months to June 2014) found that the proportion of victims who were satisfied with their experience was greater than the figure across England and Wales.
The crime data integrity inspection found the force promoted a victim-centred approach to crime-recording, disposal options and no-crime decisions. The inspection on domestic abuse found that force control room staff were competent, confident and empathetic in dealing with domestic abuse victims. They were trained to gather as much relevant information as possible by questioning the caller and the force had good systems to identify repeat callers and anyone who may be vulnerable. They also carried out background checks of the police databases for any previous police involvement. This enabled them to assess the risk and send the right level of police response, and helped the officers attending build a picture of the threat of harm to a victim and their children.
As a result of the crime data integrity inspection, HMIC is concerned that a notable proportion of reports of crime are not being recorded, and this means that victims of crime are not receiving the service they should when they first report a crime.
HMIC is also concerned with the accuracy of the decisions taken by the force when making no-crime decisions (cancelling a recorded crime) as too many of these are incorrect. The force needs to take action to improve, serve the victims of these crimes and provide the public with confidence in the force’s crime data.