Elite team sent in to rescue struggling Nottingham police

The county's force, once the pride of British policing, is to be investigated for failing to stem the tide of crime in 'Shottingham'
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The Independent Online

In the glory days of Captain Athelstan Popkess, the police in Nottingham were the envy of Britain. It was under his innovative leadership that the force became the first to give its officers walkie-talkies, to have a forensic science laboratory and to use police dogs. But the country's police no longer look towards the East Midlands with admiring eyes.

Concerned about the persistent under-performance of Nottinghamshire Police, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has taken the unusual step of sending in an elite squads tomorrow to review the force's leadership and practices.

Nottinghamshire is the only force subject to such measures, although Greater Manchester Police is also causing concern. On the HMIC's scale of performance indicators, GMP is at level two while Nottinghamshire is at level three – level five would trigger Home Office intervention.

Explaining the move, Zoe Billingham, the Inspector for the eastern region, said: "We're concerned about the enduring issue of Nottinghamshire Police's under-performance. There has been improvement in the city, but crime is not falling as fast as in other areas of the county. People in Nottinghamshire don't feel safe in some areas."

The problems began long before Nottinghamshire's Chief Constable, Julia Hodson, arrived 18 months ago. Under-performance was first noticed eight years ago when the city was dubbed Britain's gun capital and earned the nickname "Shottingham".

On the face of it, things seem to have improved since then. Crime has fallen in the county in each of the past seven years. The latest figures, which cover March to December 2009, are down by almost 14 per cent compared with the same period in 2008. Burglary, robbery and violent crime have all fallen.

But the problem, according to the HMIC, is that the figures are not decreasing fast enough. Nottinghamshire has the third-highest crime rate of the 43 forces in England and Wales, despite not being in the top 10 for population. Only London and Greater Manchester have worse crime rates.

Others issues are escalating anti-social behaviour, low crime detection rates, and the suspicion that too many officers are stuck behind desks.

Public satisfaction is also low. Only 66 per cent of people said they were satisfied with the force, lower than last year and below the target of 75 per cent. Only 42 per cent said the force was good or excellent.

"People think the police force is failing," said Mick Murphy, Nottinghamshire County Council's cabinet member for community safety. "The public tell me that the police are not responding when it is required, and when they do respond, it is not fast enough."

The force has seen an increase in alcohol-related violence and accepts it has "an ongoing gun-crime problem". Officer sickness is higher than the national average and, despite setting a target of 7 per cent, only one of the past 71 recruits was from an ethnic minority.

High-profile incidents, appearing to call into question the integrity of the force, have not helped. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating five cases involving Nottinghamshire officers.

One is that of Reece Staples, 19, a former Nottingham Forest footballer, who died in a cell after being arrested on suspicion of criminal damage. The IPCC passed evidence concerning his death to the Crown Prosecution Service last week. The CPS will now decide whether criminal charges should be brought.

Investigators are also examining video footage posted on the internet in June showing four Nottinghamshire Police officers using a taser on a man they were arresting. One of the officers is also seen to punch the man.

Then there was the case of Gail Hdili, who was stabbed by her estranged husband in front of their nine-year-old son. The IPCC is investigating the way the Nottinghamshire force handled the case after Ms Hdili told police she feared for her safety just hours earlier.

Another officer is being investigated after he was alleged to have punched a member of the public. The fifth is the case of a suspect who was run over, after he fled his vehicle, by the police van which was chasing him.