Police in cash row over crime figures

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The Independent Online
Several police forces are criticised today by the public spending watchdog for failing to solve more crimes and improve services despite extra funding.

The Audit Commission study also reveals that although officers are spending more time on the beat this has in some cases resulted in a worse overall crime-fighting record.

There was a decline in 999 response times in about half the 43 forces in England and Wales, and in most forces fewer crimes are being detected per officer than two years ago.

On the positive side, the third year of the publication of police performance indicators show overall improvements in the time taken to arrive at an emergency in response to a 999 call, and two-thirds of forces have increased their clear-up rates.

But the commission highlights the apparent failure of some forces to improve despite extra funding. For example, West Midlands police force received, after inflation, a 4 per cent funding increase in 1995-96 but suffered a significant decline in its crime clear-up rate.

The commission warns: "Forces which have increased funding levels by more than inflation, or have increased the number of officers, should consider carefully the effect this has had on clearing up crimes. Members of the public will expect to see improvements. Where this has not happened, police forces should be prepared to explain the reasons why."

While there was a 3 per cent increase during the past year in the average time a police officer spent in public, this has not always helped solving crimes. The report notes: "The public find the sight of uniformed police constables in public reassuring. Yet research shows that time spent on the beat can do little to prevent serious crime."

It adds: "Having more police officers has not always led to increases in the proportion of crime cleared up - in some cases, it has got worse." And it adds that this shows the importance of deploying officers carefully.

On answering 999 calls to police stations, the study found that although half the forces had improved, some forces' response times had dropped by more than 15 per cent. Leicestershire and Merseyside showed big drops while Humberside and North Yorkshire improved.

"The police force in areas where performance has declined should question why this is so, as getting through quickly with a 999 call is one of the greatest concerns of the public," says the report. However some of the poor results are because forces set different standards - North Yorkshire attempts to answer its calls within five seconds compared to 20 seconds in South Yorkshire.

In response, the Association of Chief Police Officers welcomed the improvements made and argued that some of the increases in budgets had been eaten up by extra pension payments, increased demand and having to cope with new legislation. The association also argued that the report took no account of money and time spent on crime prevention and responding to unexpected major incidents, such as riots.

An Acpo spokesman, Paul Whitehouse, Chief Constable of Sussex police, said: "Indicators only tell part of the story. They cannot portray all the complex web of activities which makes up modern policing or of the full effects of continuing fiscal constraints. The reality is that operational budgets are being cut in real terms."

How the forces compare

Column one is percentage of crimes solved by police catching criminals or "primary" means in 1995/96. Column two shows how this compares with 1993/94 rate

TOP 10

Dyfed Powys 46 + 5.4

Gwent 39 +3.6

Suffolk 30 +3

Cheshire 30 +6.1

Cumbria 29 +1.8

Wiltshire 29 -4.3

North Wales 29 +0.4

Lincolnshire 28 -6

Lancashire 27 +1.3

Durham 26 +0.7

BOTTOM 10

W Midlands 12.5 -4.3

G Manchester 16 -0.8

Cambs 17 -3.7

S Yorkshire 17 +0.4

Derbyshire 17 -1.3

Thames Valley 18 -0.4

Humberside 18 +2.4

Warwickshire 18 -0.2

West Yorkshire 18 +1.8

Met 19 +1

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