Law & Order: Police do worse as funding rises

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Some police forces are solving fewer crimes despite getting more funding. Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, analyses the results of a report out today which shows that more is not necessarily better.

Placing extra police on the beat can lead to a drop in the number of offences cleared up, results from the Audit Commission, the public spending watchdog, reveal.

The study of police performances in England and Wales during the past four years shows wide differences in forces throughout the country, with the West Midlands standing out as one the worst.

Forces with small or a slight drops in funding, such as Devon and Cornwall, have shown improvements, while others with large increases in their income, such as Durham have got worse.

The report shows that despite high-profile anti-burglary campaigns, such as Operation Bumblebee in London, less than one in six house break-ins are followed by a conviction.

As chief constables cry out for more money - their forces received pounds 7bn last year - the Audit Commission questions the link between funding and performance. "What is worrying is that in a small number of forces, performance has dropped in their key areas over the same four-year period during which these forces have spent significantly more money," it says.

It adds: "Nor is there any correlation between changes in numbers of police officers and changes in the numbers of recorded crimes. Some forces with the biggest reductions in police officer numbers showed the biggest improvements in percentage of crimes cleared up."

The report says that what matters is how resources are managed. Some forces were found to provide extra beat officers in response to public demand, but give them few if any tasks, effectively letting them wander around aimlessly.

Big differences in performance were found between similar forces. For example the percentage of violent crimes solved varies from 44 per cent in the West Midlands to 71 per cent in West Yorkshire.

The West Midlands force came bottom in several categories despite a 10 per cent real-terms increase in funding in the past four years.

The number of crimes solved by each detective also varied significantly between similar forces. In the Home Counties it ranged from 5.6 in Surrey to 12 in Kent.

The Devon and Cornwall force had a 2 per cent budget cut yet showed improvements in detection rates for violent offences, burglary and crime overall. Emergency response times had also improved.

In contrast Durham had received an 18 per cent funding rise but showed declines in the number of crimes detected per officer and the proportion of violent crimes solved. The total number of crimes detected was virtually unchanged.

On the positive side the report found that two-thirds of forces had improved the speed at which they responded to emergencies.

The overall clear-up rate for violent crime showed a 2 per cent increase to 76 per cent while the detection rate for burglaries remained static at 15 per cent.

Most of the public was satisfied with the police, though about 60 per cent want more officers on patrol.