Staffordshire Police has been placed in special measures by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services.
Inspectors usually conduct a “root-and-branch” review of forces every few years, but the watchdog can escalate a force into the “engage” stage, also known as special measures, on the basis of “significant or enduring concerns” about its ability to address underperformance.
Staffordshire Police was placed in special measures for two reasons – how it handles calls from the public and the quality of its investigations (writes local democracy reporter Richard Price).
As we report this week (see page 40), crime commissioner Ben Adams told a Staffordshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel session recently that police call answering times needed to improve. He was told that a person who dialled 999 was kept waiting for 10 minutes before they hung up.
Another call to the non-emergency 101 service went unanswered for 90 minutes, the meeting heard last Monday, while Mr Adams himself said he had twice been left waiting for a response for more than half an hour.
Panel member Keith Walker told Mr Adams: “The Achilles’ heel in the force seems to be the contact centre and performance in answering 101 and 999 calls. It was a priority in your report for last year. It still remains a priority, but it doesn’t seem to be improving. When can the public expect to see some improvement?”
The inspectorate also said there were issues with how the force identified vulnerable people, and its ability to flag up individuals already known to them through previous contact with it.
Ch Cons Chris Noble, who only took on the role in December, said: “We have recently been made aware by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate that it intended to place Staffordshire Police under closer scrutiny, particularly in relation to concerns it had already communicated to us about how we manage public contact and how we carry out effective investigations.
“We have already developed plans to address the most significant areas of concern and will continue to subject them to the scrutiny of our police, fire and crime commissioner.”
He added: “We will actively and positively engage with this process, and we are confident that our new policing model, launched on Monday, will be critical in helping us deliver a police service Staffordshire residents can be proud of.”
An inspectorate spokesperson said: “We can confirm that we are monitoring Staffordshire Police through our Engage process, which provides additional scrutiny and support to help it make improvements.”
The inspectorate’s website said: “If a force is not responding to a cause of concern, or if it is not succeeding in managing, mitigating or eradicating the cause of concern, it is probable it will be moved to the Engage phase.
“In the Engage phase, forces will develop an improvement plan to address the specific cause(s) of concern that has caused them to be placed in the advanced phase of the monitoring process.
“The force may receive support from external organisations such as the College of Policing or the National Police Chiefs’ Council, brokered by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.”
It said Engage was one of two stages in its monitoring process – the other was Scan, which was the default. It’s understood improvement is usually required within three to six months.
Mr Adams said: “The new chief constable and I were already working on some of these issues, and it came as no surprise that we could’ve been doing better in these areas – that’s why they’re up front in my police and crime plan.”
He said that to see improvement, officers needed more time to investigate complaints and cited the force’s new model of local response teams (which began this week) as a way of helping to achieve that.
Mr Adams said the announcement did not mean that inspectors would be seeking to come in and take over the running of the force.
He said: “It is not the inspectorate saying it will monitor our plans. It’s quite a supportive process. It’s support from them and support from the College of Policing.
“They are very comfortable with the plans and they like the new operating model. As soon as we can move beyond the monitoring then we will – it’s a case of let’s get to a point where we don’t need that any more.”
He said other police forces hadn’t been “as self-aware” as Staffordshire about the problems that needed tackling.
He also said the force had sufficient resources and staffing in place and did not require any additional support from central Government.
Mr Adams said he was confident the service would be able to demonstrate the required improvement – and that the additional scrutiny was helpful to provide an extra layer of feedback.
He commented: “I couldn’t be more confident at the moment – it’s something I discuss every week within the service.
“Having someone from outside is very useful to me. You have to recognise your problem. You have got to face up to it and solve it.”
He added: “The new chief constable has put in a substantial plan and we want to get back to being one of the best forces in the country.”
The force is one of five other police forces across the country now in special measures – the others are the Metropolitan Police (London), Greater Manchester, Cleveland, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
The Met decision followed the uncovering of a “litany” of failings by Scotland Yard in “fighting crime and serving victims”, The Guardian’s police and crime correspondent Vikram Dodd reported.
The watchdog pointed to misconduct scandals, a failure to stamp out corruption, and “barely adequate standard of crime-recording accuracy”, with an estimated 69,000 crimes going unrecorded each year.
Matt Parr, who led a recent inspection, said other concerns included a lack of victim engagement, a “vast backlog” of online child abuse referrals, and a “lack of detailed understanding” of capability across all policing.
The Met was also found to be failing to meet national standards, and to be making errors on stop and search. The grounds for a quarter of stops were not recorded, “thus thwarting scrutiny of whether they were justifiable”, said Mr Dodd.
Greater Manchester Police was put in special measures in 2020 for failing to record 80,000 crimes. Inspectors took the action after a report published in December that year found the force’s service to victims of crime was also a “serious cause of concern”.
The latest inspection report by the inspectorate found the force was also rated as “requires improvement” in five other areas while only being rated adequate in one. Inspectors found the force had made some progress and improvement and was now properly recording a “substantial majority” of reported crimes, the BBC reported.