HMIC raises warning flag as forces strive to cope with increased demand

The majority of police forces do a good job in keeping members of the public safe, with two thirds of forces being graded as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) in a report into police effectiveness published today.

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PEEL: police effectiveness 2016 – National overview

This year’s wide-ranging inspection found that most forces provide a largely good service in keeping people safe and preventing crime, and many forces are to be commended for materially improving the service they provide for vulnerable people.

However, the police service is not as well equipped to stop crime happening in the first place as it has been in the past.

In particular, HMIC was concerned to find an unacceptable level of the public being put at risk as a minority of forces artificially suppress demand, by ‘down grading’ emergency calls in order to justify a slower response, failing to respond to vulnerable victims and not formally classifying gangs of violent and dangerous criminals.

HMI Zoë Billingham, who led the inspection, said:

“Over the last few years, HMIC has said consistently that police forces were managing well in increasingly difficult circumstances. Nonetheless, today, I’m raising a red flag to warn forces of the consequences of what is, to all intents and purposes, an unconscious form of rationing of police services.

“Many forces deserve praise for taking steps to improve how they respond to vulnerable people. But this, whilst commendable, cannot be at the expense of other important areas of policing.

“During this inspection, we’ve seen how some forces are attempting to reduce pressure on their teams by artificially suppressing or downgrading calls upon their service, reducing their ability to take the most effective and prompt action. We think this is often an unintended consequence of recent changes forces have made, frequently in response to the challenge of austerity, and as they struggle to respond to increasing and ever changing levels of demand.

“Consequently, some basic things are not being done: we found evidence of fewer arrests being made, some crimes are being shelved without proper investigations taking place and suspects are not always being relentlessly tracked down. It is vital that police leaders take action now before these problems become more widespread and acute – so that the public are properly protected.”

Two of the 43 police forces are outstanding at crime prevention and four are outstanding in the way they tackle serious and organised crime. Only one force, Durham Constabulary, was found to be ‘outstanding’ overall, with an additional 28 forces being judged as ‘good’. One force was found to be ‘inadequate’ overall: Bedfordshire Police.

There are three main areas of concern highlighted by this inspection:

  • some forces’ attempts to manage or suppress demand are putting people at risk;
  • in some cases, police officers are not carrying out sufficiently well their principal activities of preventing crime, keeping people safe and catching criminals; and
  • police capabilities that are needed now, and will continue to be needed in the future, such as skilled investigators and neighbourhood policing, are insufficient or being eroded.

Forces have improved their response to vulnerable people in the last year: the effort and commitment this has taken should not be underestimated, with thirteen forces improving the quality of their service. Nonetheless, sixteen forces are still judged as requiring improvement and five forces as inadequate.

Last year HMIC warned that neighbourhood policing was being eroded. This year, there is even more evidence of this, and this is likely to negatively affect forces’ ability to undertake the vital proactive and preventative aspects of fighting crime.

For the first time, HMIC is warning of a national crisis in the shortage of detectives and investigators in many forces. This is often leading to excessive workloads and stress amongst those currently in the roles. More than one in five cases is not investigated because “the victim does not support police action”, and in domestic abuse cases the proportion is even higher. HMIC is recommending that the use of this practice is reviewed urgently to ensure that this does not prevent forces from ensuring victims receive the justice they’re entitled to.

Additionally, HMIC is concerned that there is no coherent national picture of threat posed to communities by organised crime groups. Decisive action needs to be taken to address this.

HMIC has made five recommendations for action designed to promote improvements. HMIC will be going back to inspect police effectiveness from Autumn 2017.

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PEEL: police effectiveness 2016 – National overview


  1. Effectiveness is the final part of HMIC’s annual inspections into police efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy (PEEL) to be published. Our inspection focused on the overall question: ‘How effective is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?’ To answer this question HMIC evaluated four areas:
    • how effective is the force at preventing crime, anti-social behaviour?;
    • how effective is the force at investigating crime and managing offenders?;
    • how effective is the force at protecting vulnerable people and supporting victims?;
    • how effective is the force at tackling serious and organised crime?
  2. Overall one force was judged to be ‘outstanding’, 28 forces were ‘good’, 13 ‘requires improvement and one as ‘inadequate’. Ten forces have improved since last year’s effectiveness reports and eight have declined.
  3. For prevention and neighbourhood policing we judged two forces to be ‘outstanding’, 30 to be ‘good’, 10 to ‘require improvement’ and one force to be ‘inadequate’. This represents a decline of 11 and an improvement of three forces.
  4. For investigating crime no forces were judged to be ‘outstanding’, 26 were ‘good’, 17 ‘require improvement’ and no forces were found to be ‘inadequate’. This represents an improvement in six forces and a decline in eight forces.
  5. On protecting vulnerable people, no forces were judged to be ‘outstanding’, 22 are ‘good’, 16 ‘require improvement’ and five forces are ‘inadequate’. This represents 14 forces which have improved and six forces which have declined.
  6. On serious and organised crime, four forces were judged to be ‘outstanding’, 29 are ‘good’, 9 ‘require improvement’ and one force is ‘inadequate’. This represents five forces which have improved and seven forces which have declined.
  7. Individual assessment reports are available for each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
  8. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies.
  9. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 0203 513 0600.
  10. HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729.