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Lack of experienced detectives impacting on theft and burglary cases, says HMI

Screening processes for burglary and theft reports are missing critical intelligence. And the detective shortage is impacting on arrests, HMI has warned.

Forces are under renewed pressure from the Inspectorate to rethink their approach to serious acquisitive crime (SAC).

Inexperienced officers who are poorly supported are missing opportunities to catch offenders engaged in burglary and property theft.

From the moment a member of the public reports the crime to the point where a case is finalised, best practice is not being followed – and chances to increase detection rates are being missed.

When a crime is reported, advice on how to preserve a crime scene is not being given.

Forces lack investigative capacity and capability because of the national detective shortage.

And the screening processes for assessing reports means critical intelligence – including the potential for other offences – is being missed.

The risk of more serious offences is also being ignored.

HMI said: “Some forces are also failing to recognise repeat victims or conduct a good enough vulnerability risk assessment.”

Specifically, HMI concluded: “Very few SAC offences result in either an offender being identified or the case reaching charge or summons. We found that at all stages, from call management to the eventual closure of a crime, many forces lack the capacity to properly record, investigate and manage SAC.

“In some instances, the capability of police personnel was also called into question. This was either due to a lack of practical skills or a lack of access to joint tasking or problem-solving processes that would help them get better results. In some forces, where frontline uniformed response officers investigate SAC, many of those officers told us administration and competing demands delay investigations.

“Too often, forces’ digital forensic, technological and analytical capability isn’t good enough to let them carry out thorough investigations, and capacity is frequently limited.”

The Inspectorate has called for forces to “go back to basics” to ensure they are conducting investigations effectively.

HMI has recommended that by March 2023, all police forces should ensure that: "Their crime-scene management practices adhere to the authorised professional practice on managing investigations for burglary, robbery and theft; and these investigations are subject to effective supervision and direction."

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Andy Cooke said: “Burglary, robbery and theft are not minor crimes. They are crimes that strike at the heart of how safe people feel in their own homes or communities.

“The current low charge rates for these crimes are unacceptable and unsustainable – there needs to be a concerted drive to address this issue because it directly affects the public’s confidence in the police’s ability to keep them safe.”

He added that it’s now a reputational issue for forces – as well as a mark that should deter offenders.

Mr Cooke said: “At the moment, depending on where in England and Wales they live, some victims are more likely than others to get a thorough investigation from their force. This postcode lottery can’t be justified. We found that from the moment a victim reports a crime until that case is finalised, forces are missing opportunities to gather vital evidence and bring offenders to justice.”

It’s a critical issue as most forces are expecting an increase in offending as the cost of living crisis takes hold in the autumn.

Home Office guidance issued earlier this summer argued illegal drug use is the main driver – an estimated the cost to society is close to £20bn.

It said: “Heroin and crack cocaine addiction are linked to almost half of all acquisitive crime, including burglary, robbery and theft.”

And it’s not just urban areas.

The National Farmer’s Union reveal crime in rural areas for the first quarter of 2022 is more than 40% higher than the same period last year. The cost of rural theft was an estimated £40.5m across the UK last year with thieves targeting fuel, livestock and kit.

NFU Vice President David Exwood said: “Rural crime has huge financial implications for farm businesses and it also leaves farming families feeling vulnerable, intimidated, and in some cases directly threatened.”

Official data is already showing a spike in offending.

Cambridgeshire has reported increase on last year – against previous years including the COVID-19 lockdown.

Sergeant James Rabbett, of the force’s Acquisitive Crime Team in the south of the county, said: “While the number of burglaries reported to us so far this year currently shows an increase on last year, when compared with previous years, there are significantly less."

Forces like Cambridge have emphasised preventative measures to deter offenders or support prosecutions such as video doorbells.

But the inspectorate said too many forces are relying too heavily on CCTV in their decisions about investigations.

HMI said: “A lack of experienced officers means that too often, these crimes are being investigated poorly and are not adequately supervised – often because supervisors themselves are inexperienced and overstretched.”

The forces highlighted for best practice include Hertfordshire, Durham and Humberside.

Pressure groups said policing alone couldn’t deal with the problems alone and called for the new ministerial team to improve the response to offending at national level.

NFU Vice President David Exwood said: “Taking a joined-up approach and establishing a cross-governmental task force – including Defra, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the National Police Chiefs Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners – will be crucial if we are to prevent further impacts from crime on farm businesses, both financially and emotionally.”

But directly, the improvement points for forces are based on the offence being seen across the organisation as a shared priority.

HMI said: "To tackle Serious Acquisitive Crime (SAC), a focus on crime prevention needs to be a cultural imperative that permeates throughout the force. Officers need to consider why a crime took place, what can be done to prevent it reoccurring, and how they can minimise risk to prevent future victimisation.

"It is crucial that police personnel have the training to understand how this applies to their roles, regardless of what capacity or specialism they work in.

"And they need the skills to carry out effective problem-solving. In some forces there is an ethos of problem-solving and putting preventative solutions in place. But in other forces we found prevention and problem-solving are seen as neighbourhood policing activities.

"In these instances, investigators don’t understand the relationship between crime investigation and crime prevention well enough, or how they can make an impact on prevention."

Forces were encouraged to share best practice.

Mr Cooke said: “We found that some police forces are working hard to tackle these crimes and uncovered some excellent examples of innovative and effective practice. We hope that other forces will follow these examples.”

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