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Targets based on crude outcomes will lead to 'disastrous results'


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HM Chief Inspector says forces need to prioritise workload, restructure and get better at recruiting senior officers.


Date - 2nd July 2020
By - Gary Mason

Police forces will have to prioritise some crimes given that offences such as burglary have been reduced to “little more than a telephone conversation with the victim” according to the chief inspector of constabulary.

In his annual State of Policing report Sir Tom Winsor says that changes in the 43-force structure are needed as part of the review process and warns of the dangers of forces being set percentage targets on specific offences.

Just 6% of burglaries, 3% of vehicle crimes and 13% of violent crimes were detected across England and Wales in 2018/19, according to the report.

He says: “It is certainly legitimate to expect the police to focus on preventing crime and disorder. But specifically what crimes, why, to what extent, and by what means should they be prevented or detected? Put simply, forces have to prioritise.

“The risk is that targets based on crudely drawn percentage measures will lead to perverse outcomes. They have repeatedly done so in the past, to an unacceptable extent and with disastrous results.”

He cites the cases of systematic physical, sexual and emotional abuse of vulnerable children in the late 1990s which are now subject to a major national inquiry and he says were, to a considerable extent, ignored or tolerated.

“At the time, police forces tended to focus on other priorities such as burglary, street robbery, criminal damage, anti-social behaviour and car crime. As a result, in too many respects, child abuse went unchecked,” he warns.

He says the service needs to “get back to first principles,” whereby it works out what capabilities and capacity it needs to tackle crime effectively and efficiently.

It should then reorganise accordingly, defining what should be done locally, regionally and nationally. The process should involve comprehensively mapping out the real patterns of demand and offending. This should be not just on a geographical basis but in public, private and virtual environments too.

While welcoming the 20,000 officer uplift he warned that recruitment of such high numbers will not be straightforward because of short term funding arrangements with the service needing to recruit and train 54,000 people over the next three years given current wastage rates.

Sir Tom said police numbers are still currently at their lowest level since 2010 and forces would need an additional 14,000 staff to support the extra officers recruited in the uplift.

He said around a third of the police service is expected to have under five years' experience within the next five years.

There are other limitations associated with the uplift funding. These include its relatively short-term nature and the wider police funding arrangements, the formula for which continues to attract considerable criticism.

There are “deeprooted problems” with the funding formula, which the uplift money doesn’t address, he said and the Home Office should replace it with more sustainable arrangements such as rolling three-year programmes, adjusted each year.

He said an unwanted effect of short-term funding arrangements is the way they often impede new and longer-term investment.

As a result, in some respects, particularly technology, policing is gradually falling further behind some other aspects of society.

A good example of this is the Police National Database, to which a few forces’ information systems still aren’t properly connected. This is despite the police service treating the matter as a critical incident during 2019.

Sir Tom also set out his proposals for a voting system that would nationalise decisions on policing policies and practices for the 43 forces in England and Wales.

Under the plans, he said the Home Secretary would have special voting rights and would be able to "veto" or "force something through" as long as there are "checks and balances".

"Chief constables and their police and crime commissioners can pool their sovereignties, by adopting a network code based on those used in other safety-critical essential public services," he said.

"Using a mechanism of qualified majority voting, with appropriate minority protections and checks and balances, decisions on policing policies and practices which need to be common, stable, efficient and effective can be made. There are not 43 best ways of doing the same thing."

Sir Tom also linked badly needed reforms of police structures with the way the service selects senior officers.

He said the current arrangements are leading to parochialism and a significant drop in applicants for the most senior roles.

Before 2011, Inspectors of Constabulary played an active role in advising police authorities as they recruited new chief officers.

They gave a professional view on the quality of evidence each candidate offered, while not taking part in the panel’s decision making.

The system was discontinued when police and crime commissioners were introduced, and Sir Tom says it wasn’t replaced with anything more suitable.

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