Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson says in his annual report out today (Tuesday 23 August) that he remains positive about the state of policing and community safety in Wiltshire and Swindon, but warns of serious challenges ahead.
Looking back over 2015-16, Mr Macpherson notes that policing, like all public services, is continuing to undergo rapid change.
The Commissioner, who was re-elected for a second term in May, is accountable to the people of Wiltshire and Swindon. He in turn holds Chief Constable Mike Veale to account for delivering the priorities set out in Mr Macpherson’s Police and Crime Plan.
The Commissioner writes: “The changing and increasingly complex demand on services, the need for better care of vulnerable victims and continued financial restrictions present a real challenge to how services are resourced, structured and delivered”.
“Overall,” he goes on, “I believe we are making good progress in delivering my Police and Crime Plan, delivering an effective and efficient police service and beginning to make improvements to the criminal justice system in Wiltshire and Swindon.”
Mr Macpherson says that, during the year under review, he and Mr Veale overhauled the performance culture of Wiltshire Police after agreeing that arbitrary targets introduced “perverse incentives and distrust of police services”.
The Commissioner goes on: “The police must record all crime as accurately as possible.” He says recording crime accurately is fundamental to police officers’ understanding of crime and their response to it, adding: “I want all victims of all crime to have confidence that the police will listen and record crimes accurately.”
He says it is also important to be able to trust that the crimes recorded by police reflect the reality of what is going on in our communities.
Mr Macpherson anticipates that crimes recorded by police will continue to rise in 2016-17, but at a slower rate in the year under review, as compliance with Home Office crime recording policy continues to improve. The Commissioner says he will continue to seek assurance from the Chief Constable that recording compliance is improving.
Reviewing specific crime types, Mr Macpherson says the increase in sexual offences of 14.1 per cent in the year under review is partly due to increased confidence among victims in both crime reporting and police services once such a crime has been reported.
He writes: “The improved quality of crime recording has influenced the recording of sexual offences. The increased awareness and confidence to report following the Jimmy Savile scandal, numerous public inquiries and shocking evidence of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale and Oxford has also empowered more victims to come forward.”
Turning to the eventual outcome of various crimes – be it charge, caution or community resolution – the Commissioner says the outcomes for some offences are not at the level he expects. In 2015-16 the outcome rate for house burglaries in Wiltshire was 6.1 per cent which equates to 80 in 1,318 crimes. “This is significantly lower than the peer group average of 13.8 per cent and lower than the national rate of 9.5 per cent.
“Using targets to increase outcome rates has led to incorrect crime recording, inappropriate use of community resolutions and inappropriate police targeting of crime types. I have asked the Chief Constable to review this area and … improve outcome rates without distorting performance”.
Turning to diversity, Mr Macpherson says: “Wiltshire Police must do more to reflect the community it serves.” He warns that failure to do so undermines the principles set out by Sir Robert Peel, the founder of modern policing, under which officers are regarded as citizens in uniform wo operate by consent.
He goes on: “I have approved investment to deliver a range of improvements to recruitment, policy and staff training and development. The Chief Constable is working with staff associations and independent experts to ensure that police policies, procedures and culture support this aim.”
The Commissioner says that, during the year under review, a community policing team (CPT) pilot has been trialling a more decentralised and collaborative policing model. It brings together police community support officers, neighbourhood officers, response officers and local crime investigators in one team. The CPT is responsible for managing crime in a particular community from beginning to end.
Mr Macpherson writes: “Initial results are encouraging with evidence of the pilot streamlining the police response to crime, providing continuity for the public with fewer handovers between departments and increasing staff morale and productivity.”
He goes on: “This model will continue to be refined to make sure that we are listening to your views and that the policy is tailored to the needs of local communities, both urban and rural.”
The Commissioner believes that Wiltshire Police is in a good financial position with strong financial management, but he is clear that financial pressures will continue.
He notes that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has rated Wiltshire Police as “good” for efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy for the second year running.
Mr Macpherson writes: “This strong external and independent validation of the quality of services supports my own assessment that Wiltshire Police is a well-led organisation.”
But he adds: “The HMIC and I have highlighted areas where Wiltshire Police and its partners can improve, including protecting vulnerable and missing children; compliance with the best use of stop and search; ensuring the Force meets its public expectations and ensuring that Wiltshire and Swindon has a police service that reflects the community it serves.”
Turning to future challenges, Mr Macpherson observes: “The threats from crime … are changing and Wiltshire Police needs to balance the complex demands that are placed on it.
“Protecting people from fraud, violence and cyber crime is presenting new challenges in how public agencies prevent, investigate and prosecute. I need to be assured that my priorities and resources are matched against the threats and risks we face.
“During 2016-17 when I refresh my Police and Crime Plan I will take advice from the Chief Constable on the priorities that require focus and I will balance resources accordingly.”
On central government funding Mr Macpherson notes: “Wiltshire receives the second lowest share of Home Office funding for police per head of population. This is unfair and is reinforced by a police funding formula that does not recognise that areas with low crime still require adequate resource to police.
“The formula is due to be reviewed in 2016-17. I will be lobbying MPs and ministers to address this unfairness and for a more reliable funding that takes the needs of Wiltshire and Swindon into account.”
The Commissioner pays this tribute to the Force: “I am inspired and humbled by the commitment of Wiltshire Police officers and staff to public service and the risks they take to protect our communities.”