Crime victims face a postcode lottery governing the response by police after years of budget cuts, a watchdog has found.
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said people were “losing faith” in the criminal justice system because officers were not catching criminals or responding to their complaints. A report found that regional forces across England and Wales had been responding differently to years of rising demand and falling resources.
HM inspector of constabulary Matt Parr said the quality of policing was increasingly diverging across England and Wales as a consequence of “efficiencies”.
“The service you get and how your crime is likely to be investigated and resolved depends too much across the country,” he added. “There are noticeable differences between police forces and the service they provide. This has resulted in members of the public receiving very different services provided by their local force, depending where they live.”
HMICFRS said forces were increasingly “prioritising” reports according to local plans that often put high-harm offences like sexual assault and domestic abuse above more common offences like car crime and burglary.
Neighbourhood patrols have been set up in some towns and cities by residents who feel that police are not adequately responding to local crime or protecting their property.
“If you’re the subject of a minor burglary or assault or car crime, people have now got to the stage where their expectations are low and the police live down to those expectations because they simply don’t have the capacity to deal with it,” Mr Parr said. “The police would be entirely justified on talking about those most at risk and most vulnerable, but a consequence is that people who are not vulnerable and experience volume crime are getting a much less satisfactory service.”
He warned that the public could “simply give up” contacting the police if they believe nothing will be done. Mr Parr said inspectors can only judge whether a force is “doing all that can reasonably be expected of it” and it is a separate question “whether we, as a society, are prepared to tolerate a situation where so much volume crime isn’t properly investigated”.
The report found that some police forces were taking too long to analyse digital evidence, including from victims’ phones, or failing to allocate crimes to investigators with the experience and skills required.
HMICFRS said delays to forensic services and outdated technology were also having an impact. It called for improvements with the supervision of staff, “unmanageable workloads” and delays that have been blamed on causing victims to drop out of investigations.
“There are significant differences between forces in too many areas of investigation,” Mr Parr said. “All victims of crime have the right to expect that forces will allocate their crime to someone with the appropriate skills to investigate it.”
The latest HMICFRS report, which examined 14 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, raised concerns about the quality of investigations in Cleveland, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and West Mercia, but said they had action plans to improve.
The watchdog called for the overall consistency of service across the country to be addressed. It warned that the likelihood of police bringing someone to justice following a criminal investigation was falling, after prosecution rates for all reported crimes plummeted to just 7.3 per cent.
Mr Parr said the poor outcomes were “corrosive for the long-term relationship between police and the public”.
He warned that while the government’s pledge to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers over the next three years could help ease pressure, many forces were bad at understanding the skills and expertise needed for the future. “The uplift is going to be most efficient in those forces that are already good at workforce planning and identifying the people they need,” he added. “It will be less effective in forces that are doing less well in that area ... policing will take quite a long while to dig itself out of the slump.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council is currently running a programme attempting to ensure there are enough detectives and supervisors to handle the expected influx of fresh constables and the crimes they will detect.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “HMICFRS has found that many forces are performing well and we welcome the improvements in support for vulnerable people and victims. In areas where services are not up to scratch, we expect police to take action and implement the inspectorate’s recommendations at pace.
“We are giving police the resources they need, providing the biggest funding increase in a decade and recruiting 20,000 new officers – forces must now deliver the service our communities deserve.”