Damning report into Essex Police paints picture of chaos, confusion and incompetence

AN INSPECTION by a government watchdog has rated Essex Police as Inadequate when it comes to handing cases of child protection.

And the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate paints a picture of chaos and confusion when it comes to dealing with anti-social behaviour.

The report, published today (Feb 18th) has made the following criticisms:

ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR

1. The force has a strong commitment to preventing crime but anti-social behaviour is not a priority.

2.The quality of the force’s crime investigation is poor for cases involving some vulnerable people, although investigations are improving generally.

3.There is confusion among officers and partners as to who should manage some anti-social behaviour incidents.

This change in policy has confused officers and partner organisations as to what types of anti-social behaviour the force will deal with. The resulting lack of direction being provided to local policing teams is leading to an inconsistent approach to tackling anti-social behaviour across the force.

However, the force does not routinely review unattended medium and low risk anti-social behaviour incidents to check for any hidden vulnerability. Nor does it use information from partners to build a more complete picture of the victim. This means that the force may not identify and support vulnerable victims suffering medium and low-risk anti-social behaviour, leaving them at potential risk of that harm escalating.

4. The force does not yet fully understand the impact of the change to its anti-social behaviour policy as regards attendance at medium and low risk anti-social behaviour incidents.

Where anti-social behaviour is identified by the force, we found a strong commitment and good evidence of attempts by neighbourhood policing teams to tackle it. However, these officers and staff are confused about what their role is and what their objectives are. Some think their role is primarily to provide support to other policing teams, such as response teams who provide the emergency blue light response.

5. In HMIC’s crime inspection in 2014, we commented that the force had two systems to record problem-solving and anti-social behaviour activity, with no clear guidelines on which one should be used and when. As a result, the force missed opportunities to learn and share good practice and neither system was effective as a database to assist in problem-solving.

CHILD PROTECTION

4. The force struggles to provide consistent high-quality investigations of crimes. While its investigations of volume crimes are improving, the poor standard of some child protection investigations remains a significant concern.

5.The force has worked hard to improve its detective capacity and capability but it remains short of accredited detectives with some detective posts being filled by unqualified officers.

6.HMIC has significant concerns about the capability of Essex Police to protect vulnerable people from harm and support victims. There are serious weaknesses in the force’s arrangements to safeguard and investigate cases involving vulnerable people

7. However, neighbourhood officers have limited knowledge and understanding of serious and organised crime and undertake very little work designed to disrupt this type of dangerous criminality.

NEIGHBOURHOOD TEAMS

9. Local policing areas have dedicated and knowledgeable neighbourhood teams, with a mixture of police officers and police community support officers. However, the teams lack direction and they do not understand fully what they are meant to be focusing on day-to-day. They have only limited support, training and access to partner information.

This hampers their ability to adopt the most effective policing tactics designed to stop crime happening in the first place. There is very little sharing of good practice.

10.The force has made some difficult decisions over the previous year but some partners feel they have not been fully consulted in these decisions, which may reduce the effectiveness of partnership relationships in the future.

BACKLOG OF OFFENDERS AWAITING ARREST

11. A large number of identified offenders await arrest and, while forensic and digital specialists are used effectively to support investigations, there are some backlogs.

PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE

12.HMIC has significant concerns about the capability of Essex Police to protect vulnerable people from harm and support victims. There are serious weaknesses in the force’s arrangements to safeguard and investigate cases involving vulnerable people.

13.The force’s response to victims of domestic abuse is poor. There is confusion as to roles and responsibilities amongst officers in medium and standard risk cases resulting in safeguarding opportunities being missed.

Not all officers charged with investigating high risk cases are appropriately trained and experienced. These shortcomings were highlighted in HMIC’s crime inspection in 2014. The force is not always assessing or responding to the needs of and risk to children from households where there is domestic abuse.

14.The supervision and quality of investigations into missing people have improved. However, we found confusion among officers, including supervisors, about the use of the categories missing and absent

15. However, these processes are leading to inappropriate risk assessments that are leaving vulnerable children at risk. It was clear that officers do not always understand the link between missing children and child sexual exploitation.

POOR UNDERSTANDING OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION

16.The force is unprepared to tackle child sexual exploitation. The force has a poor understanding of the nature and scale of child sexual exploitation and knowledge and awareness among frontline staff are limited which adversely affects their ability to identify and respond to cases.

CHAOS IN THE CONTROL

Essex Police is struggling to provide an effective service to victims who make contact with the force via the control room. In the force control room we found significant backlogs of unresolved open incidents.

HMIC is especially concerned that the backlog contains a high number of domestic abuse incidents. The force is working hard to reduce this backlog, which is now fewer than 1,000, but it needs to do more as the delays mean some victims receive a poor response from the outset and the force cannot offer them the level of service that they need.

The force’s crime allocation policy is leading to some confusion and delay in the allocation of crimes.

Delays in allocation may be up to several days and this means that the force is not always providing victims with the appropriate level of service.

TWO WEEKS TO ALLOCATE A BURGLARY

HMIC found examples of delays in attendance at dwelling burglaries; one case took two weeks to be allocated and another three days. There are also cases where the detective allocated to investigate the crime was the first officer to attend the scene some days after the crime had been reported. This means the force may be losing valuable opportunities to gather the best evidence, especially potential forensic opportunities, to solve the crime and bring an offender to justice.

The method of allocating crimes to officers on the local policing teams varies across the force. Some officers reported a reduction in workloads whereas others reported coming back on duty after a period of rest days to find a large batch of investigations waiting for them, with little consideration of their current workload. Some officers were carrying workloads in excess of 35 investigations which can cause delays in them completing their investigations.

The force has a large number of identified offenders awaiting arrest.

The majority of these are for offences being investigated by local policing team officers. Some of these offenders had been wanted for over six months, and we found some investigation files that dated back several years with an apparent lack of activity on the part of the police.

The force has been working for over a year to resolve a large number of outstanding open incidents; these are incidents where the force has been unable to complete enquiries and close.

Over the summer, the pressure to manage these incidents within the force led to a chief officer decision to suspend neighbourhood policing completely in the largest local policing area for six weeks, and direct all neighbourhood officers and staff to work on resolving the outstanding open incidents. As a result, officers and partners reported major increases in crime and anti-social behaviour in communities and an increase in public and partners’ frustration about the lack of police presence.

This response did not secure an effective service to the public. The force needs to ensure it manages the expectations of its communities in this area by effective communication.

PUBLIC DIS-SATISFACTION

The results of surveys of Essex communities that the force has carried out show declining levels of public satisfaction with police services. As the force introduces a new model for neighbourhood policing it will need to ensure that it works effectively with partners and the community to achieve these changes in a manner that keeps people safe.

NO JOINED-UP THINKING

We found very limited evidence of any structured approach to local problem-solving within neighbourhood teams. We also found the force does only limited assessment of problems in advance of new initiatives being set up to tackle the problems; after the initiatives have run their course, there is little evaluation of the benefits achieved. We also saw examples of problem-solving operations running for several years without any evaluation.

Neighbourhood and response teams are working in isolation from each other. For example, a neighbourhood team and a response team from the same police station were working on the same problem but without any knowledge of what the other team was doing.

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