Nick Alston responds to HMIC report into “core business”
Today’s HMIC report into the ‘core business’ of police forces is important. There is much in the report, and it deserves to spark a considered and thoughtful debate to ensure that our police forces are providing the best possible service to victims of crime.
I am therefore disappointed that the media releases and some of the statements made by HMIC have, in my judgement, trivialised this important subject matter.
The main press release is entitled “Policing “postcode lottery”’. In press reports, the HMIC Inspector responsible for the report is quoted as saying “a number of crimes are on the verge of being decriminalised”. Frankly this is superficial language, and potentially misleading. High volume crimes such as criminal damage, car crime and burglary are not in danger of being decriminalised. The national debate that I have seen and heard playing out through our newspapers and airwaves today has been neither insightful nor particularly informed.
The report itself is 165 pages long plus appendices. Other recent HMIC reports into important subjects such as domestic abuse and assessing police forces on a ‘value for money’ basis have included reports with detailed and specific findings for individual police forces, such as Essex. I will always welcome supportive challenge to the work of Essex Police. The HMIC ‘core business’ report contains appendices with tick boxes but little specific commentary or context which would help inform residents about the policing service they receive in their county.
From my reading of the report, Essex Police scores highly in several important areas. However, through a tick box, HMIC has identified the force as one of those that was ‘unable to provide details of the reported crimes that they had attended’ and described this as ‘unacceptable’.
I do not accept that.
I explored this matter with the force, and it is our shared judgement that the tick box assessment is overly simplistic. The HMIC asked for data in a restricted manner and they themselves recognised that not all forces would be able to respond in the format that they had set out. Essex Police has assured me that it has a good understanding of demand in relation to reported crime, it can state how many crimes are dealt with by way of crime assessment and how many crimes are forwarded for investigation by officers in local policing areas. Crime is reported in a number of ways from police attending emergency calls, telephone calls to police, visits to the police station and third party reporting to name a few. Essex Police assesses all these reports and applies a quality response based on the needs of the victim. An HMIC report released only the week before acknowledged the strong victim focus of the force.
So, sometimes, a member of the public is reporting a crime which happened a few hours or a few days earlier, such as damage to a fence or the theft of a mobile phone. In such circumstances, my judgement is that Essex Police should make a professional decision as to whether an officer should attend immediately or whether a statement can be obtained through other means. Indeed, members of the public may not always want an officer to attend when they are reporting a minor incident. Many people that I meet and talk with have a sophisticated understanding of the demands on our police. And I know that occasionally and regrettably there will be failures of service.
Fundamentally, I will reassure the people of our county that Essex Police will always respond to incidents as a priority when someone is at imminent risk of harm or for some other kind of emergency.
I also feel that HMIC is in danger of straying into locally accountable decision making. Based on the extensive contact I have with the people of Essex, I have ensured that the Police and Crime Plan is informed by the need to meet local challenges. In our county, with densely populated and diverse urban areas, vast areas of rural countryside, several major roads, two airports and huge stretches of coastline, we need local solutions for local challenges. This means a locally tailored approach to policing to meet the many challenges of our county.
We surely know that a uniform, one size fits all, nationally and centrally determined straightjacket for policing is not appropriate for the diverse challenges of the Twenty-First Century.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex