December 05 2023
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Policing: The criminal postcode lottery

Policing: The criminal postcode lottery

police lanternA 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 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary reported yeserday. The report Core Business: an inspection into crime prevention, police attendance and the use of police time (download here) examines all 43 police forces in England and Wales.

  • James Patrick, the police whistleblower who exposed the manipulation of crime figures. He writes the Whistleblower’s Diary here. Read an interview with James here

Inspector of Constabulary Roger Baker, who led the inspection, expressed concern about the development of ‘a postcode lottery’. ‘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,’ he 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.’
Thomas Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary

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 was alarmed to find that almost half of all forces were unable to provide details of the reported crimes that they had attended. 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.

Another issue requiring immediate action was 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.

Most forces only had a basic understanding of their demand and the performance and workload of their officers and staff.

A deeply disturbing picture of the truth about policing continues to emerge. First there was the stripping of police recorded crime from the national statistics, then the discredit of the crime survey – which underestimates crime by a half by failing to move with changes in criminal behaviour. Historic sexual offences and cover up dominate the headlines, with sudden surges in forces getting their houses in some order, and the HMIC has already confirmed that crime data integrity is a substantial issue for nearly all forces.

The impact of this has always been clear: that police forces don’t know what they are doing, because they can’t know, because they don’t have the facts before them.

The HMIC report underpins this, because it shows that police forces don’t understand their business and subsequently have misallocated their resources consistently through a lack of knowing what is happening. This leads to situations where suspects carry on offending and victims are told to investigate crimes themselves.

We do however need to be clear: the weight of burden does not hang on the shoulders of constables… these are strategic and policy decisions, badly made, by people out of their depths in senior ranks. ACPO and the Superintendents have a lot to answer for, as do the Police and Crime Commissioners.

The correct look at the correct people is long overdue and, as long as it continues, it will be the victims of crime – the very people that the misdirected and under-resourced front line officers are struggling to protect – who will continue to suffer unnecessarily.

It’s high time this mess was resolved and the HMIC, while making progress, are still pulling their punches and making excuses for not taking harder lines with those who keep the police in this mess, having put it there: the leadership.