Cambridgeshire force back to its best following government criticism, says Deputy Chief Constable
Government says force needed to improve its effectiveness
The deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire police insists that the region’s force is back to its best despite being told to improve its effectiveness following a government inspection.
Alan Baldwin admits the findings of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), were “disappointing” but says his officers have worked tirelessly to improve their service since the inspection was carried out in September last year.
They are also committed to putting more officers on front line duty with 100 expected to swell the ranks within the next 12 months.
The HMICFRS judged the constabulary as ‘requiring improvement’ for its effectiveness after being assessed on its ability to investigate crime and reduce re-offending, protect vulnerable people and carry out specialist capabilities.
Inspectors found that while the force made good use of intelligence to support investigations, and regularly updated victims as investigations progressed, there was some inconsistency in the level of supervision and direction to officers investigating crimes.
In their defence, DCC Baldwin says the inspection was carried out at a time when demand on the region’s force was 10 per cent higher than normal as a result of terrorist attacks in the UK,which had put the public on high alert.
Mr Baldwin told Cambridge Independent: “HMICFRS inspected the force on effectiveness in the autumn last year largely around the time that demand was 10 per cent higher than it had been.
“At times we were finding it difficult to meet the standards we set ourselves to respond to incidents, particularly domestic abuse incidents.
“I think everyone in policing knew that last summer was particularly challenging, and not least because of the terrorism incidents which the country faced and the heightened state of vigilance that the public who were therefore reporting more things.
“HMICFRS have been very clear that it was a time of significant demand and 10 per cent up, and that’s when they conducted their inspection. Since then, our response times have got back to normal and demand has reduced slightly but we have taken steps to improve our service which includes making more officers available on the front line to respond to these incidents and we are seeking 100 more officers on the front line this year.
“So, we have freed up capacity for existing front line officers by reducing some of the structure of the organisation. It is incumbent on us to meet the challenge and we are recruiting additional numbers as well, which means our capacity is greater.
“We are one of the few forces that has not reduced our front line. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Cambridgeshire Constabulary are not meeting the standards we set around our emergency calls, which are responded to within 15 minutes.
“HMICFRS identified that we were doing that to a satisfactory level. So when the public dial 999 that goes through a call handler who, based on vulnerability, threat, risk and the ability to investigate, takes a decision whether it is an immediate response within 15 minutes, which we are good at or a prompt response within four hours.
“That is the point HMICFRS were making: it was demand versus our capacity, we were not able to meet the standards we set ourselves. But we are back meeting those standards now.
“It is disappointing. But during that period officers and staff worked tirelessly. They worked extra hours, much of which they didn’t get paid for, they were working on their days off and regularly had day’s off cancelled to try and meet demand because they are proud to serve their communities, as we all are. So we acknowledge and accept what HMICFRS found because it is accurate.
“Policing is much more complex these days, not least because of the advent of social media and the information superhighway, where information travels very quickly.
“The crimes we deal with now are much more complex in terms of child abuse, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, cyber-crime and modern slavery. But I think policing is in a much better place now because it is much more transparent than it was years ago. Everybody is entitled to have a view and we would want them to have one because it means they are interested in policing.”
The new recruits will take time to train before they can get out onto the streets of Cambridge but added to the woes of many forces throughout the UK is the shortage of detectives.
Mr Baldwin added: “We have just opened our recruiting, the intakes will come on incrementally. It takes time to become a cop but they will get all the support and supervision and guidance they need.
“The new officers will be uniform officers out on the beat responding to crime and being visible. But there is a national shortage of detectives which HMICFRS found in their report and that is a shortage in Cambridgeshire as it is across the country. The new people will be out on the street but over time we need to increase our investigative capacity and capability as well.”
The region’s police and crime commissioner, Jason Ablewhite, has the support of the public in the county to increase council tax by £12 per year, which will be used to recruit 55 new warranted officers.
The inspectors, while pinpointing the force’s shortcomings, also heaped praise on some areas of their work. They were more than happy with the well-developed relationships it has with partner organisations, which is helping support vulnerable people and address the needs of victims.
The force’s mental health triage scheme was also highlighted, which involves mental health professionals being located in the force control room to provide real-time clinical advice to police officers on patrol to help them identify and support people with mental health conditions.
While the service is not available 24/7, it has not only meant that fewer people have been taken to A&E – reducing pressure on hospital emergency staff, more importantly, it has improved the service provided by the police to people in crisis when at their most vulnerable.
The force’s limited use of Domestic Violence Protection Orders was identified in the report: however, the use of Clare’s Law has improved and the rate at which force charges domestic abuse offenders with a crime is above the rate for England and Wales.
Mr Baldwin added: “We are still proud of the good work we are doing and will use the areas of improvement identified by HMICFRS to ensure we continue to improve our service for the people of Cambridgeshire.”