Police forces good at keeping people safe but showing strain

Most police forces are maintaining a good standard of service to the public, despite dramatic increases in demand and ongoing financial pressures, but cracks are beginning to show, according to a report published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

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PEEL: police effectiveness 2017 – A national overview

Police effectiveness is one of the all-force inspections carried out by HMICFRS as part of their annual PEEL reports.

HMICFRS adopted an interim risk-based approach to inspection in 2017 in order to focus more closely on areas of policing where risk to the public is most acute. Under this approach, not all forces are assessed against every part of the PEEL effectiveness programme every year.

Forces were assessed against the following areas:

  • Preventing crime and tackling anti-social behaviour;
  • Protecting vulnerable people; and
  • Specialist capabilities.

The inspection found that over two thirds of forces in England and Wales continued to be good at keeping people safe and reducing crime and one force is graded as ‘outstanding’ for the third year running. Overall slightly more forces improved than deteriorated.

Her Majesty’s Inspector Zoë Billingham, who led the inspection, said:

“In the face of substantial increasing pressures, dramatic increases in demand and rising numbers of complex crimes like sexual abuse, child abuse and domestic abuse, most forces continue to do a good job in keeping us safe. It is especially commendable that almost all forces are taking effective action in the fight against organised crime. I congratulate officers and staff on the way they have largely kept policing standards high.

“But I have major concerns that policing is under significant stress. On occasions, that stress stretches some forces to such an extent that they risk being unable to keep people safe in some very important areas of policing.

“About a quarter of forces are all too often overwhelmed by the demand they face, resulting in worrying backlogs of emergency jobs, with officers not attending incidents promptly, including those involving vulnerable people.

“Last year, we warned of a national crisis in the shortage of detectives. Measures to address this are taking time to take effect. There is now a shortfall of 5000 investigators across England and Wales. This means one in five detective desks are empty or are filled with unqualified staff. It is not surprising that this often places a very great strain on existing detectives.

“I am pleased that forces continue to prioritise and improve how they keep vulnerable victims safe. But progress is stubbornly slow. Performance is still below standard in nearly half of all forces.

“Police officers, police staff and PCSOs rise to significant challenges every single day. It is vital that police leaders take effective action to stop the problems we have found becoming ever more entrenched and widespread.”

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 30 forces being judged as ‘good’. No forces were found to be ‘inadequate’ overall.

The report noted some good work:

  • Most forces are doing an effective job overall, with two-thirds assessed as good and one as ‘outstanding’;
  • Nearly half of all forces have increased or maintained the number of officers assigned to neighbourhood policing and that vital service has been shored up;
  • Two-thirds of forces are increasingly working with other agencies and local bodies to tackle serious and organised crime;
  • More forces have invested in facilities for digital forensics and the backlogs from 2016 have been reduced by 17 percent; and
  • Front line police officers have better systems for identifying domestic abuse and are more aware of this type of offending

However, there are areas which continue to need to be addressed:

  • There has been a lack of progress in understanding why, in some forces, a large number of crimes are written off, denying the victim the service they’re entitled to;
  • A large number of forces rarely evaluate their approach to problem solving and tackling crime, and thus are unable to promote best practice
  • Despite an increase of 4000 records on the Police National Computer in the last year, almost half forces were not using the information to proactively locate and arrest suspects; and
  • Some forces are still struggling to evaluate the risk from, for example, registered sex offenders and there has been an 18 per cent increase in the number of overdue assessments.

The way the police treat vulnerable people has improved since last year’s report, with 23 forces graded as good. Forces are, together with other local agencies, developing their understanding of so-called ‘hidden harm’ such as modern slavery and human trafficking. Nonetheless, there are thirteen forces that have never been considered to be of a ‘good’ grade. Three forces this year have deteriorated from ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement’.

This year also marks the start of a deeper look by HMICFRS into how well forces support people with mental health conditions. This allows for a detailed inspection in future inspections. This has already shown some promising approaches and the police service has shown a strong commitment to supporting people who are vulnerable due to mental health problems

Many of the problems highlighted in this year’s report are recurring themes. In future years, an integrated inspection into a force’s efficiency and effectiveness will provide further insight into the cause of repeated and systemic problems. These combined inspections will help drive improvement across the service.

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PEEL: police effectiveness 2017 – A 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?’
  2. Overall one force was judged to be ‘outstanding’, 30 forces were ‘good’, and 12 ‘require improvement’. No force was graded as ‘inadequate’. Nine forces have improved since last year’s effectiveness reports and six have declined.
  3. For crime prevention and neighbourhood policing we judged two forces to be ‘outstanding’, 34 to be ‘good’ and seven ‘require improvement’. No force was ‘inadequate’. This represents an improvement of five forces since last year.
  4. For investigating crime no forces were judged to be ‘outstanding’, 33 were ‘good’, and 10 ‘require improvement’. No forces were found to be ‘inadequate’. This represents an improvement in nine forces and a decline of two forces.
  5. On protecting vulnerable people, no forces were judged to be ‘outstanding’, 23 are ‘good’, 19 ‘require improvement’ and one force is ‘inadequate’. This represents 12 forces which have improved and seven forces which have declined.
  6. On serious and organised crime, four forces were judged to be ‘outstanding’, 34 are ‘good’, four ‘require improvement’ and one force is ‘inadequate’. This represents two 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. There will be further reports which draw further on police effectiveness in dealing with domestic abuse cases and mental health, later in the year.
  9. On 19 July 2017, HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.
  10. HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing and fire & rescue services in the public interest. It assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and fire & rescue services.
  11. 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.
  12. For further information, HMICFRS’ press office can be contacted from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
  13. HMICFRS’ out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217729.