Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s (HMIC) latest report (entitled ‘Core Business: An Inspection into Crime Prevention, Police Attendance and the Use of Police Time’) reveals that victims of criminality receive a different response from the police for the same kind of incident depending on where they live.
The report – dubbed the ‘Policing Postcode Lottery’ – examines all 43 police forces in England and Wales. It looks at three principal aspects of day-to-day policing: the prevention of crime, how crime is investigated (and offenders brought to justice) and freeing up and using police time more efficiently (which includes the use of modern technology). The report merges three complementary inspections into a single assessment.
The document states that criminal damage and car crime are on the verge of being decriminalised because some forces had given up. In some cases, victims were asked to check for CCTV or fingerprints.
It also notes that partnerships are crucial for supporting crime victims and preventing further offences, highlighting the work that Victim Support pursues with victims and witnesses of crime in England and Wales.
‘Policing postcode lottery’ must stop
HMI Roger Baker, who led the inspection, said: “Police forces have done a good job in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, in turn leading to long-term reductions over the last ten years. However, we were concerned to find that a member of the public will receive a different response from the police for the same type of crime or incident, depending on where they live. This sort of ‘postcode lottery’ has to stop and a consistent approach applied across England and Wales.”
Baker added: “It’s only by fully understanding how they use their staff that police forces can ensure they’re both efficient and responsive. We found that this vital element of evaluation and analysis is still lacking in the majority of forces, with fewer than a quarter investigating demand in order to prioritise and organise their workforce. In this age of austerity, it’s more important than ever that forces understand how to prioritise their resources.”
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Thomas Winsor commented: “The oxygen of effective policing is intelligence. Information is useless if it cannot be found and used at the time and in the circumstances in which it is needed. In policing, if it’s inaccessible to those who need it, great harm may occur which could and should have been prevented. Despite this, in too many respects police forces have failed to embrace and exploit the capacities of modern technology. They’ve established information systems which, even now, lack necessary standards of interoperability. Steps are now being taken in this respect – and they are to be welcomed – but progress until now has been too slow, insular and isolationist. This must change urgently. As long as these material shortcomings persist then lives are at risk.”
Winsor also stated: “England and Wales has 43 police forces. There are not, and never have been, 43 best ways of doing something. While the roots and much of the practice of policing are local, and will remain so, police forces must collectively recognise that it’s in the public interest that every force must understand and adopt Best Practice to be applied in the most efficient and effective way in each police force area.”
Placing victims at risk of further harm
Responding to the report, Adam Pemberton (assistant CEO of Victim Support) explained: “As a charity that has supported millions of crime victims, we know how important it is that they get the help they need from the police. It’s critical that victims can trust officers to investigate their case thoroughly and keep them informed of progress and the outcome. It is totally unacceptable for victims to have to investigate their own case as it could put them at risk of further harm and they may miss vital evidence which could allow offenders to evade justice.”
Pemberton added: “We know from supporting children and young people, victims of domestic and sexual violence and those with mental health problems how devastating crime can be for their well-being and sense of security. They are also some of the people most likely to suffer repeated crimes.”
In conclusion, Pemberton said: “These are not the standards we should expect from the police and improvements must be made. We will make sure crime victims and witnesses receive the support they need and the respect they deserve.”