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Go back to basics on burglary to re-connect with public, says HMI

Prioritising theft and burglary is crucial to improving trust and confidence, HM Chief Inspector Andy Cooke tells Police Oracle

The review by HM Inspectorate of how forces investigate burglary and theft cases made for yet more dismal reading for Chiefs – and more bad headlines.

There were familiar themes; standards varying across the country and over-stretched teams struggling to make an impact.

The advice from HMI was for “forces to go back to basics to ensure they are conducting investigations effectively”.

Inspectors found that:

But talking directly to HM Chief Inspector Andy Cooke, he reveals he wants forces to see the review as an opportunity to regain the initiative.

Too many officers see the offences as unlikely to get a result unless there’s CCTV evidence is his view. 

Mr Cooke’s response is that forces should take a crime that is hugely personal to the victim and rethink attitudes so they deliver a response that restores credibility.

And that begins with the moment the homeowner reports the offence.

He tells Police Oracle: “It should start at the source with the call handler giving proper forensic advice over the phone and the police hopefully attending.”

Mr Cooke says it’s a critical moment as the new generation of officers want to make a mark in their communities.

He echoes the view of the College of Policing’s leader Andy Marsh who says he wants the Uplift cohort of officers to be given work that will prove to established officers they are capable.

Mr Cooke argues they’re good enough but they need support from people who know who local offenders are and have the experience that goes beyond what is taught on courses.

“What we have got is a lot of young officers who need good supervision. What we found is that level of supervision wasn’t there. And that means the level of practical knowledge isn’t being passed on,” Mr Cooke says.

“It’s a really challenging environment. There’s now 30% of officers with less than five years’ experience. That means new officers are being supervised by officers with not much more experience.”

Mr Cooke adds: “They’re doing a great job, but they are under significant pressure to investigate other offences.”

As always, tasking is critical – and that can only be resolved by leadership.

He says: “Chief Constables and their forces need to make sure they take this on. We should be seeing a better charge rate than we are.”

His frustration becomes even more clear. Policing will stay in the current reputation crisis unless it gets results that are rooted in neighbourhoods, he warns.

HMI is well aware that officer morale is taking a hit too; people become cops to get results not to send ‘no further action’ emails. And those officers know they’re letting the public down.  

Mr Cooke says: “It does affect reputation. Let’s be honest. There’s a lot of police and staff working hard on these offences. We just need to ensure the system works and those that are learning to be beat cops are supported.”

There’s also a job to get Uplift recruits to focus on an offence that isn’t going to land them a quick win.

He says it’s a perception issue: they need to see the value of taking on theft and burglary cases: “Officers need to understand why it’s important. When they go back before their communities, they need their confidence and trust. And it is about getting their officers out there. Neighbourhood policing is vital; you can’t beat having that confidence in policing.”

He’s also clearly tired of hearing the defences for poor outcomes or blame shifting – even though he accepts the criminal justice system isn’t helping. If you’re not even getting offenders onto the charge sheet, court waiting times are irrelevant.

And there are enough people getting it right.

He says: “There’s plenty of good practice.”

The Chief Inspector name checks some of the forces named in the report: Durham for its check system and Hertfordshire’s control room.

One of the crux problems has been a shift during austerity for investigating teams to prioritise cases where there is supporting evidence such as images from doorbell cameras and CCTV.

The images can be referenced against databases -generating a result the CPS are more likely to accept.

But that’s less likely in shed burglary cases or in areas where people are unable to afford the tech.

And there are likely to be more of those victims as thieves traditionally target people in less affluent areas for these kinds of crimes.

So what’s the solution?

Revert back to local intelligence and techniques such as matching methods of known offenders with offences. It’s not just the offence where there are opportunities; the proceeds of crime will often be passed on locally or online.

Bike and phone thefts increasingly come with tracking data but knowledge of local offending can close the case.

Mr Cooke says: “Making the best use of technology is important but some of the preventative work is being forgotten. It’s also about using intelligence. And that comes from the community.”

That’s what behind the back-to-basics message. Have a process and aim for right first time.

He says: “I understand fully the demand right across policing but whatever the resources, mistakes are being made and things are being lost. The result is a low charge rate.”

Alongside HMI is the insurance industry which is picking up the tab. There are clear signals that brokers believe premiums have reached the limit of affordability.

“Policing needs to get this right,” Mr Cooke says. “There is a massive cost; most of the offences are carried out by prolific offenders.”

In short, policing has no choice but to take the issue on.

He sums up: “There’s offences happening every day in the community and we need to increase trust and confidence.”

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