‘Urgent’ improvement needed in Sussex Police response to public and crime recording, says HMICFRS

Sussex Police “urgently needs to improve” how it responds to the public and records crime, according to the latest inspection by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

Apr 13, 2023
By Paul Jacques

Inspectors said the force did not always record reports of violent crime – particularly behavioural crimes (harassment, stalking, controlling and coercive behaviour), rape, domestic abuse and anti-social behaviour.

However, the inspectorate found Sussex Police works well with communities and has progressed involvement with some hard-to-reach communities.

It also praised the force’s work prevention and enforcement, including a focus on reducing serious youth violence and on habitual knife carriers.

Overall, HMICFRS found the force was ‘good’ in two areas, ‘adequate’ in four areas, ‘requires improvement’ in one area, and ‘inadequate’ in two areas – recording data about crime and responding to the public.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Roy Wilsher said: “Sussex Police urgently needs to improve how it responds to the public, and how it records crime.

“Its recording of reports of violent crime is inadequate, and the force is also missing opportunities to safeguard vulnerable people. It needs to improve the way it assesses initial calls to the force so that vulnerable people and repeat callers are routinely identified.

“As a result of my concerns I have already been in contact with the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner.

“I am pleased with the way the force has responded so far and I will continue to check the force’s progress in addressing areas for improvement in the coming months.”

Sussex Police said it is working with HMICFRS to accelerate its improvement plans to deliver the best possible service for the people of Sussex.

A spokesperson for the force said: “The inspection team rated Sussex Police as ‘good’ in two areas, highlighting its proactive approach to engaging its diverse local communities, treating them fairly and with respect, and its partnership approach to crime prevention.

“Four other areas were rated as ‘adequate’ including how it protects vulnerable people, manages suspects and offenders, its business leadership and supporting and protecting its workforce.”

However, they added that the inspection team said the force “must improve” how it answers and attends calls for service, including identifying vulnerable callers consistently, and how it technically records crime – areas graded as inadequate.

In 2022, 999 calls to the police increased by 14 per cent compared with the previous year, equating to an extra 36,810 emergency calls, and reported crimes by 8.9 per cent to 131,583.

Sussex Police said it has established improvement plans in place, including restructuring resources and investing in new technology in the contact centre to improve response times and ensure high volume, non-emergency crime is allocated more swiftly, putting dedicated resource into neighbourhood crime investigations and a full review of how crime recording is managed.

Inspectors said the force must also improve its long-term approach to investigations, noting the volume and complexity of crime “is outweighing the staff trained and available to investigate it”.

Chief Constable Jo Shiner welcomed the report and the opportunity to continue to work with HMICFRS to further improve services for the people of Sussex.

She said: “We acknowledge the recommendations made in the report and take these very seriously. We have worked closely with the inspectorate over the past nine months to accelerate action plans against these, having identified response and investigations as areas requiring intense focus through our own internal review process.

“I remain absolutely committed to delivering the best possible service we can for the people of Sussex and I’m confident that changes already made have already significantly improved our position since last year.

“We are pleased the inspection team recognised our effectiveness at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour and our focus on targeting the most dangerous criminals, highlighting several areas of innovative practice, including our proactive approach to reducing knife crime.

“This important work contributes to Sussex remaining one of the safest places to live in the country despite both a growth in demand and, significantly, remaining one of the lowest funded police forces in the country.”

Ms Shiner added: “In the current context, it is also pleasing to see the force was found to be good at treating people fairly and with respect and to have an open and inclusive culture, where people feel supported to challenge unacceptable behaviour.

“This is critical to delivering an effective and ethical police service and I thank the everyday commitment of my colleagues – officers, staff and volunteers – as well as the incredible support of our local communities, who work with us to keep people safe.

“Inspectors referenced the ‘significant mental health demand’ now placed upon the police which has, out of necessity, become the service of first and last resort for people in crisis.

“I will continue to explore all avenues to enhance our services to ensure that police officers are kept free to police, respond to the public and investigate crime. This is what the public expects and deserves.”

Sussex police and crime commissioner (PCC) Katy Bourne said parts of the report made “sobering” reading and clearly outline areas for which the force must take responsibility.

“In my role as PCC, I value the HMICFRS report because it provides me with an objective and external view of the performance of Sussex Police,” she said.

“This focus is vital in supporting my work to thoroughly scrutinise and robustly challenge the force’s performance overall.

“Disappointingly, parts of the report are sobering and clearly outline areas for which the force must take responsibility. Swift action must be implemented to improve recording processes, identify gaps in protocols and provide specific training to officers and staff.

“This is crucial in order to provide our residents with the best policing service and to maintain and build public confidence.

“It’s reassuring that I have already addressed many of these issues with the chief constable at my monthly Performance and Accountability meetings.

“This inspection was undertaken over six months ago, so I am aware of the extensive work under way to bring about improvements and am reassured that the inadequate areas are already being addressed.”

Ms Bourne added: “While I acknowledge the issues where remedial change is needed, I am pleased that the report outlines areas where Sussex Police are doing really well.

It recognises the immense contribution of Neighbourhood Policing Teams which, as I know from my discussions with the public, are so valued by residents.

“The report also highlights the force’s innovative and important work on using data analytics to properly understand its demand and thus where resources are deployed to greatest effect.

“I will ensure that Sussex Police have the tools and support to make the changes needed to serve our residents in the best way. I will continue to work closely with the chief constable, holding her and her senior team to account at my monthly scrutiny meetings and requesting frequent updates on how improvements are being actioned.”

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