Planning failures in policing risk public safety

Dedication and a sense of duty by hard-working officers is masking a failure by senior leaders to adequately assess current and future demand, according to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, in his annual State of Policing report published today.

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State of Policing: The Annual Assessment of Policing in England and Wales 2017

The report covers a range of areas of policing themes including:

  • a lack of adequate planning to meet future demand;
  • failures in early intervention to prevent crime and disorder, including the crisis in child and adolescent mental health services;
  • the fragmented use of technology;
  • serious violence;
  • training of police officers in the criminal justice system; and
  • the need to ensure the physical and mental welfare of officers and staff.

Sir Thomas Winsor said:

“The overarching theme that has been present throughout all my State of Policing reports is the hard work, commitment and conspicuous bravery of frontline officers and staff.

“The inspections HMICFRS has carried out during the past year show that the effectiveness and efficiency of the police service is, on the whole, improving, against a backdrop of financial austerity and the rise of crime, especially complex crime. This is to the credit of those who work in policing.

“However, many of the points in this report are issues we have raised before and often. Increasingly these issues are becoming more and more urgent. The principal of these is the failure to plan properly, compromising public safety and relying on frontline officers’ desire to ‘get the job done’. This has allowed too slow and too modest a scale of change that is urgently needed.

“The introduction of force management statements is ground-breaking. For the first time, policing senior leaders will be required to measure and report on future demand, and how they will meet that demand with the necessary skills, expertise and other resources. They will give the inspectorate and the public the highest-quality information about demand, capability and resources, and so enable people to make informed judgments about what they want the police to do.”


The report recognises that policing is often complex and very demanding – and it is likely that this will continue and intensify – but some forces are bringing about the changes to meet current and future demand too slowly and too modestly.

Sir Thomas said:

“We cannot expect forces to meet all the demand we want them to. This means chief officers must make choices about how to respond to each type of demand. It is important that the public understand those choices – and the reasons behind them – so they can have fair expectations and confidence in the police.

“However, some forces are still failing to assess and plan for future demand capability properly and efficiently. Failing to plan properly will compromise public safety.

“In many cases, it is troubling how little forces know about demand – particularly demand that comes from hidden crime, such as so-called honour-based violence and modern slavery. Hidden demand is not just an abstract concept; it represents real people in trouble. These are victims of crime who need help from the police.”

Officers and staff welfare

Sir Thomas said:

“It is vital that the mental health and welfare of police officers and staff are assessed properly by forces, and that they are given the support they need.

“Not only is this important for the individuals, but on a more systemic level, it matters to the effectiveness and efficiency of the force. If a police force’s most important assets – its people – are under undue strain, whether in terms of workload or the nature of the work they do and the effects of that work on them, the force’s ability to service the public is compromised.”

Crime prevention and children’s and adolescents’ mental health services

The Chief Inspector is particularly concerned about public services failing to work together to prevent the crisis in children’s and adolescents’ mental health. If public bodies do not work together to tackle problems properly, at an early stage, before they escalate into criminality, they are simply storing up problems for the police and the rest of society.

He said:

“It is not only police forces that are responsible for preventing crime. Early intervention and prompt, adequate and effective treatment are essential from all public bodies, in order to prevent future crime and disorder.

“A more effective police response to children and adolescents experiencing mental health problems is of course welcome. Police forces are laying the foundations in protecting and promoting the wellbeing of children, but it is too often inconsistent. All too frequently, the response is to treat a symptom which might have been less severe had there been better and earlier recognition of its underlying causes. All agencies and organisations charged with protecting and promoting the wellbeing of children should work together closely.”


Commenting on the importance of the police role in the criminal justice system, Sir Thomas said:

“Police officers need a better understanding of the role they play in the criminal justice system. They must have a sound appreciation of how what they do, or do not do, will be examined – and may be challenged – in court. And it is vital that all officers keep up and build on their skills during their service. Currently, many constables do not usually receive sufficient and specific training in this area.

“Cases involving police or prosecution failures – for example, cases of failed disclosure – strike at the very heart of our legal system and leave our confidence in it severely shaken. They damage people’s lives.”


The lack of long-term planning and fragmented use of technology is something Sir Thomas has highlighted in previous years’ State of Policing reports. Police should make use of new technology and kit to process evidence more quickly and reliably, for example by embracing artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse the huge amount of data held on digital devices.

Commenting, Sir Thomas said:

“With the enormous capability and potential of AI, the police could and must do much more. The opportunity here is not only to get machines to do faster what the police already do. It is also to use technology to achieve police objectives in ways we have not even thought of yet, and might never.

“Instruments and technology exist today which can process information far faster, more efficiently and more reliably and effectively than any human could. But, even more significantly, the capability exists now to devise ways of learning – of machines thinking for themselves – which no person has ever achieved, and perhaps no person ever could.”

Rise in violent crime

The report emphasises that the rise of serious violence means the police must use their powers fairly and proportionately. Over the years, stop-and-search has not been without controversy. But there has been a sustained improvement in how forces record reasonable grounds for stop and search, albeit that there is variation in how forces record, monitor and scrutinise how they use these powers.

Sir Thomas said:

“Some people are dying on our streets because they believe, wrongly, that carrying a weapon will protect them. The Government, police and public all recognise that the police need to use their stop-and-search powers. They are a legitimate tactic to reduce violent crime and take knives and other weapons from those who carry them on our streets.”

Get the report

State of Policing: The Annual Assessment of Policing in England and Wales 2017

  1. More detail on force management statements can be found on the FMS page.
  2. On 19 July 2017 HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
  3. HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing and fire and rescue services in the public interest. It assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and fire and rescue services.
  4. HMICFRS inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies. It also inspects all 45 fire and rescue services in England.
  5. For further information, HMICFRS’ press office can be contacted from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
  6. HMICFRS’ out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217729.