Improvements, but concerns remain about Surrey Police’s response to the public, says HMICFRS

Surrey Police needs to improve how it responds to the public, including how quickly it answers emergency and non-emergency calls, the police inspectorate has said.

Dec 6, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Chief Constable Tim De Meyer

Since the previous inspection in 2021, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) concluded that while Surrey Police is performing well in some areas, it has seen a decline in performance across a few key areas.

The inspectorate said it shares the force’s view that further improvement is required in its response to calls, the recording of crime and the support given to officers and staff within the organisation.

Its latest PEEL inspection found the force was good in two areas, adequate in four areas, requires improvement in two areas and inadequate in one area.

HMICFRS said that the force was effective at preventing and deterring crime and was making improvements in its management of registered sex offenders. It also praised the force’s early safeguarding measures in its investigations into child abuse images.

However, the inspectorate said it was concerned about how quickly Surrey Police answers calls. It found that the force answered 77 per cent of 999 calls within ten seconds, below the expected standard of 90 per cent.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Roy Wilsher said: “I have concerns about the performance of Surrey Police in keeping people safe, reducing crime and providing victims with an effective service.

“The force doesn’t always answer emergency and non-emergency calls in a timely manner, and some callers simply give up. This means crime will go unreported and vulnerable people will not be safeguarded. This was highlighted in our last inspection, but performance has since deteriorated.

“However, we were pleased to see that since our last inspection, the force has worked well to improve its management of registered sex offenders. It has also put safeguarding measures in place early in its investigations into child abuse images.

“There was a change in leadership at the force during our inspection, with the appointment of a new chief constable. He has made changes to the performance management structure and set out his priorities for the force.

“In view of these findings, I have been in contact with the new chief constable and I will be monitoring the force’s progress closely.”

Chief Constable Tim De Meyer commented: “As the new chief constable of Surrey Police I, along with my senior leadership team, welcome the report published today (December 6) by HMICFRS.

“We must fight crime and protect people, earn the trust and confidence of all our communities, and ensure that we are here for everyone who needs us. This is what the Surrey public rightly expect of the police. We should never take for granted the trust of our communities. Instead, we should assume that in every issue, incident and investigation, trust must be earned. And when people need us, we must be there for them.”

Inspectors noted several areas of good work, promising practices, and industry leading activity within its report.

In particular, 93.4 per cent of all reported crime (excluding fraud which is recorded differently by Action Fraud) is correctly recorded against Home Office standards.

Investment in the contact centre relating to technology, recruitment and leadership is improving performance, while the public have the option to contact the force through appropriate and accessible channels – social, live chat, website or telephone.

Excellent use of protective orders was also highlighted, with Surrey Police recording the highest number of full stalking prevention orders granted at court across England and Wales, demonstrating the force’s commitment to tackling violence against women and girls.

Checkpoint, the force’s deferred prosecution scheme, has an average reoffending rate of 6.3 per cent versus 25 per cent for those not going through the scheme.

HMICFRS also said the force uses stop and search powers “fairly and respectfully” – with a 33.3 per cent decrease in searches since from the previous year (2021).

Public forums and independent scrutiny on stop search were highlighted as promising practice, with the force acting upon this scrutiny, while innovative training with magistrates is improving their understanding on police approaches.

A newly-introduced senior police staff leader for anti-social behaviour (ASB) brings together partners across the county to improve consistency when tackling ASB issues.

Pioneering technology is also being used in the prevention and detection of serious acquisitive crime.

The force said it has a long-term commitment to problem solving, demonstrated by multiple award wins.

It has “positively improved engagement” with communities who traditionally interact less often with, or may have lower levels of trust with police, through a new community engagement strategy.

Mr De Meyer said: “It is encouraging that the Inspectorate notes examples of where dedicated officers, staff and volunteers provide exceptional service to victims and witnesses.

“This is represented in positive gradings for our ability to prevent and deter crime, reduce vulnerability within our communities, and manage offenders and suspects. It is evident that we make arrests swiftly, and we make effective use of our powers, including bail conditions and protective orders to protect vulnerable people.

“Our focus on long-term problem solving, together with our partners, is also recognised as being at the heart of every investigation; evidenced by projects such as Op Spearhead, our suspicious activity public portal, Op Surfer, where we tackled repeated sexual exposure on the Basingstoke Canal and Checkpoint, our deferred prosecution scheme, all being specifically noted within the report as having a positive impact on our communities.

“However, today’s report demonstrates that since the last inspection there are areas that we still need to improve and are of concern. These are areas of which we were already aware through our own internal reviews, and we take the issues raised by the HMICFRS very seriously.”

He added: “Since the inspection earlier this year, much change has been implemented, particularly in the areas of responding to the public, crime recording and supporting our workforce. Significant investments have been made in technology, data, recruitment, and training, particularly within our contact centre.

“This shows our determination to improve and swiftly bring about the change required. We are already seeing the benefits of this, with latest internal data, showing 88 per cent of all 999 call are answered within ten seconds, a declining call abandonment rate on 101 (now 18.2 per cent) and enhanced checking on repeat callers to understand vulnerability and risk1.

“Additionally, while HMICFRS found that over 90 per cent of all reported crimes are recorded correctly, we continue to scrutinise our crime recording practices and support our dedicated teams to ensure that every crime which is reported to us is accurately recorded according to Home Office standards, all reasonable lines of inquiry are followed, and that crime is solved wherever possible.

“We have many challenges including financial pressure, growth in non-crime demand such as mental health, and a highly competitive employment market. But these do not excuse poor performance.

“I know that we have already improved and am confident that we will continue to do so. We will work with partners to improve the response to people with mental health concerns, thereby freeing up valuable police time to respond to crime faster and better.

“Our standards of investigation will improve and with that our rate of charging offenders. I therefore welcome HMICFRS’s continued support and review of Surrey Police.”

Surrey’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) Lisa Townsend says she is confident that the force has already made good progress to address areas of concern.

These included issues around the service residents receive when they contact police on 999, 101 and digital 101.

Ms Townsend said the inspectorate recognised that the force protects vulnerable people in the county, arrests most offenders quickly, and has a strong focus on guiding perpetrators away from crime.

Surrey continues to have the fourth lowest overall crime rate in England and Wales, and remains the safest county in the south east.

The PCC appointed Mr De Meyer as the new chief constable earlier this year, and said that under his leadership, significant improvements to contact are well underway.

Ms Townsend said: “I’m really pleased to see that the force is quick to bring offenders to justice, as well as diverting lower-level offenders away from a life of crime. The innovative ways Surrey Police protects residents and cuts reoffending, particularly through rehabilitation, has also been highlighted.

“The best thing for all potential victims is to prevent crime happening in the first place through the education and rehabilitation of perpetrators, where that is possible.

“That’s why I’m pleased that inspectors noted the vital role of our Checkpoint service, a deferred prosecution scheme that has an average reoffending rate of 6.3 per cent, compared to 25 per cent for those not going through the scheme. I’m very proud to help fund this fantastic initiative.

“The HMICFRS report says improvements are needed when it comes to the public’s contact with Surrey Police, and I’m glad to say that those issues are already well in-hand under the new chief constable.

“In November, we recorded the best performance for answering 101 calls since late 2020. The time taken to answer a non-emergency call to the force has dropped by almost 84 per cent when compared with March this year.

“I have been meeting frequently with the force’s Gold groups established to tackle this particular issue, and we are now at a point where we can begin to move temporary contact staff back into their previous roles as contact centre staffing has improved.

“In addition, 88 per cent of 999 calls are now answered within ten seconds, and call abandonment on 101 has dropped significantly.”

She added: “A key issue we are facing is the volume of calls that aren’t related to crime. Surrey Police figures show that fewer than one in five calls – around 18 per cent – is about a crime, and just under 38 per cent are marked as ‘public safety/welfare’.

“Correspondingly, in August, our officers spent more than 700 hours with people in mental health crisis – the highest number of hours ever recorded.

“Next year, we will roll out Right Care, Right Person in Surrey, which aims to ensure those suffering with their mental health are seen by the best person to support them. In most cases, this will be a medical professional. Across England and Wales, it’s estimated that the initiative will save one million hours of officers’ time a year.”

Inspectors also highlighted improvements that need to be made to the recording of crime, including some reports of serious sexual offences.

And Ms Townsend, who has the reduction of violence against women and girls at the heart of her Police and Crime Plan, said: “Victims of these offences must get all the support they need, and their attackers brought to justice wherever possible.

“Reporting sexual violence to the police is an act of true courage, and the chief constable and I are committed to ensuring these survivors will always get the best from their police.

“Inspectors did confirm that Surrey Police is committed to reducing violence against women and girls, and they highlighted some of the programmes available for survivors that are supported by my office.

“I am reassured, as I hope residents will be, that the chief constable has made a commitment to ensure every crime reported to the force is accurately recorded, that all reasonable lines of inquiry are followed, and that criminals are relentlessly pursued.

“There is work to be done, but I know how hard every officer and member of staff in Surrey Police works every day to keep residents safe. Every single one will be committed to making the improvements needed.”

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