South Yorkshire Police must make ‘substantial’ improvements to keep people safe, according to national inspectors.
A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into performance during 2016 judged the force as ‘requires improvement’ in three areas - crime prevention, investigation and protecting the vulnerable.
The inspection found the force was ‘good’ at tackling serious and organised crime.
Inspector of constabulary Mike Cunningham said: “I am disappointed that since our inspection in 2015, South Yorkshire Police still has substantial improvements to make to how effectively it keeps people safe and reduces crime.”
Insp Cunningham said the force needed to improve the way it prevents crime and anti-social behaviour, adding he was ‘disappointed’ changes to neighbourhood policing had weakened its effectiveness in a ‘step backwards’.
He raised concerns about crime investigation and the reduction of reoffending, saying supervision of cases was inconsistent and there were ‘significant’ backlogs for examination of digital devices recovered during investigations.
“This backlog must be reduced in order to reduce further delays to ongoing investigations,” he said.
And the inspector said South Yorkshire Police ‘routinely’ failed to complete risk assessments for victims of domestic abuse, meaning it may not have the information ‘necessary to protect people from harm’.
The report did find the force to have a good understanding of the risks posed by serious and organised crime in South Yorkshire.
South Yorkshire’s deputy chief constable Dawn Copley said the force understood where it needed to improve.
She added: “It is of great concern to us that HMIC were critical of our safeguarding of vulnerable people; specifically the victims of domestic abuse.
"We are working urgently to address this and have introduced a process to improve the accountability of our safeguarding arrangements to victims. We are also working with victims and their feedback is invaluable in helping to improve the service we provide.
“We have also conducted an extensive campaign both within the force and in local communities, to ensure everyone recognises the signs of domestic abuse, proactively seeks out evidence of abuse and then reports this to us.
"This has led to praise from victims who have recognised a change in our approach. We are concerned that the report may affect the confidence of victims to contact us and we want to take this opportunity to encourage people to keep coming forward and reporting what is happening to them so that we can provide help and support.
“The report also highlighted that our current approach to neighbourhood policing has weakened our ability to be effective in preventing and tackling crime. We are acutely aware of this, and are working hard to gather together best practice and learning to ensure we introduce a renewed, targeted and reinvigorated approach to neighbourhood policing.
"Public consultation on a number of models is due to begin in the coming weeks. Whilst we accept this can’t come quickly enough, it’s important that we take time to listen to the public and make changes that are better able to meet the needs of local people.
“We are pleased that HMIC have recognised some good work by the force. They have reported that since last year we have made good progress in a number of areas.
"For example, they have praised the force for its effective efforts to use a range of tactics and interventions to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour, and cited the positive example of our close working with the council and community groups in Barnsley to engage and support troubled families before they reach crisis point.
“The report also rated us as ‘good’ for tackling serious and organised crime, recognising that we have effective measures in place to deter people from becoming involved in organised crime, and that local officers proactively disrupt the activities of criminals through the use of a range of tactics.”
South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings said the report gave new chief constable Stephen Watson ‘a very clear idea’ of what he needed to do.
He added: “The most worrying comments are those around vulnerability.
"The force has already begun to take steps to ensure that officers understand the seriousness of domestic abuse and the need to care for victims. I shall be asking the Chief Constable to update me on progress regularly throughout the coming year.
"This is an area where progress only comes with confidence in the force.
“At the heart of the report is the recognition that neighbourhood policing has been allowed to deteriorate and must be re-established.
"Good neighbourhood policing helps communities to feel safe as well as be safe, and is the source of the local intelligence that will make the force more effective in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.
“One area of effective practice is the way South Yorkshire Police tackle serious and organised crime, including those offenders who pose a risk to the community.
"This is important to note since recent incidents involving firearms have caused some anxieties. The report indicates that this is something that the force is on top of.
“I shall be asking the chief constable for regular updates on progress as the year goes on.”
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