Half the English police forces inspected since last year are failing to meet required standards at investigating crime, according to analysis by the Observer that raises questions over whether policing is fit for purpose.
The findings will pile renewed pressure on the home secretary, Suella Braverman, who has told police leaders she “expects” them to cut crimes including murder by 20%, without detailing how, as part of her “back to basics approach”.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “These findings are a damning indictment of 12 years of Conservative mismanagement of the Home Office.
“Their failed policies have left policing overstretched and undermined, with still 6,000 fewer neighbourhood police, shortages of detectives, and record low charging rates, so more criminals are being let off, while victims and communities are let down.”
Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, added: “Billions are being spent on a public service that appears to be underperforming badly.”
Of the 39 police forces in England, 29 have so far been inspected by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) under the new assessment regime. When it came to investigating crime, three forces were assessed as inadequate, 11 as requiring improvement and eight as adequate. Just seven were rated good.
In terms of responding to the public, five were judged inadequate and 12 as requiring improvement, with only four classed as good.
The findings follow a wave of negative publicity concerning police performance with responses to burglary, robbery and thefts recently castigated for resulting in unacceptably low charge rates.
“Even the home secretary has had to admit that people aren’t reporting muggings because they only get a crime number, since the police are so overstretched,” said Cooper.
Garside added: “When the police appear unresponsive or indifferent, it corrodes public confidence and feeds cynicism.”
Gloucestershire Constabulary is among six forces currently in special measures, the highest number of forces concurrently under investigation.
The force was judged inadequate last year at investigating crime and responding to the public, with not all crimes recorded and officers sometimes taking days to attend incidents. HMIC said Gloucestershire’s results for domestic abuse cases were “of particular concern”.
Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said: “If police are called and don’t do anything, or are completely slow and slapdash or useless about investigating something, then a perpetrator in a relationship will feel that he is able to continue without risk of sanction because nothing has been done.”
She said the issue was not simply one of resources. “It’s also an understanding of the issues, the lack of specialism. If you look at response to domestic violence, there are issues about responding to callouts but what’s much more critical is how they respond.”
Wiltshire police is another force in special measures along with Britain’s biggest, the scandal-engulfed Metropolitan police, which was recently judged inadequate at responding to the public and requiring improvement at investigating crime. The Wiltshire force was judged inadequate at responding to the public and requiring improvement at investigating crime. HMIC found it to be substandard in every area of policing it assessed.
In some cases, victims’ accounts were not taken for several weeks, and CCTV evidence was lost due to delays in collection. Wiltshire police says it is improving training and changing its approach to investigating crime across neighbourhoods and keeping victims better informed.
Another force in special measures is Staffordshire police, which was judged inadequate at investigating crime and responding to the public. “We found that Staffordshire police has a willing workforce, and officers are trying their best to meet response times,” the HMIC report said. “However, we found that sometimes there aren’t enough officers available to meet demand. As a result, the force doesn’t consistently respond to calls for service within its own target times, and our inspection found backlogs of calls needing police attendance.”
“We found that due to these delays, golden hour principles [that early action can secure material that would otherwise be lost] and the gathering or preservation of forensic evidence are being compromised. This can hamper any subsequent investigation.”
Chris Noble, chief constable of Staffordshire police, said: “We have specific and clear plans to deliver the standard of service our communities expect and deserve and we have already put in place a number of plans to improve our performance.”
He said the force had recruited extra staff to reduce wait times for 999 and 101 calls, and deployed more officers in local communities.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our priority will always be to keep our citizens safe and we will not compromise on this.
“This year police will receive up to £16.9bn in funding, a boost of £1.1bn on last year, to ensure forces in England and Wales have the resources they need to protect the public.”
The two Welsh police forces so far assessed under the new regime were rated adequate or good at responding to the public and investigating crime.