Increasingly inexperienced police officers were investigating serious crimes due to a shortage of detectives, according to a police watchdog. A report published by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) earlier this month warned that ‘cracks in the system are widening’. It concluded that while police forces were delivering a good level of service, they were straining under significant pressures and that level of service would soon deteriorate.
The inspectorate revealed that a quarter of victims were receiving inadequate service due to offences such as burglary and theft being assigned to ‘beat’ officers or being dealt with over the phone. This was a result of the crime prioritisation programmes which sought to deal with these ‘common’ offences swiftly and only pass high-risk offences to specialist investigators or detectives – of which there were too few.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said: ‘There’s a shortage of detectives to do the routine detective work, and very often it’s being farmed out to people who do their best but are not trained at the same level.’ This has resulted in crucial evidence not being gathered and potential lines of inquiry being missed. HMIC said that 14% of detective posts nationwide are vacant. Even with the current recruitment campaign, it is predicted that this deficiency will take years to level out.
Louise Haigh, shadow policing minister said: ‘The Tories have been warned time after time over their reckless cuts and we are now seeing the consequences, with key pillars of policing across the country starting to corrode.’ She added that communities are suffering as investigations were ‘collapsing, neighbourhood policing is suffering, officer welfare is declining and there is a rising threat from insider corruption’.
Parr notes that although there were real signs of strain within the police service, technology was enabling better use of resources. ‘Despite worrying trends, there have been some areas of innovation and improvement. In particular, we are seeing forces getting better at identifying vulnerability, with officers now having a greater understanding of what to look for to provide the right service. We also found several forces developing innovative ways of using technology to better manage the demand on their resources.’
The Home Office responded to the report recognising the pressure on the police. A spokeswoman said: ‘This is why we have provided more than a £1bn increase in police funding compared to last year, including council tax and funding to tackle serious violence.’
The report focused on the themes of police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy gathering information by inspecting 14 police forces nationwide including City of London, West Midlands and Greater Manchester forces. The remaining 29 police forces in England and Wales will publish their assessment of police effectiveness later in the year.