Police forces accused of poor performance on violent crime

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

Four police forces were warned yesterday about their poor performances in dealing with violent crimes, by the Government's independent inspector of constabulary.

The forces considered least effective in dealing with all forms of violent crime were Merseyside, the Metropolitan Police, West Midlands and Greater Manchester.

The annual report of the Chief Inspector of Constabulary also suggested that some forces in England and Wales had very low standards for the time taken to answering 999 calls. There was also a wide difference in the level of public satisfaction with foot and mobile patrols, which varied from a low point of about 30 per cent up to nearly two-thirds.

This was the first time that the Chief Inspectorate of Constabulary, which assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of all 43 forces in England and Wales, has published performance indicators. The report, which covers the 15 months ending in March 1995, stressed howeverthe difficulty in comparing forces because of the statistical analyses used, and the huge differences in the forces, especially between those operating in urban and rural regions. The most common type of violent crime - from mugging to murder - also varied from region area to area.

All four police forces pinpointed by the performance indicators have high levels of reported crime set against low levels of detection.

Merseyside came in at the bottom, with about 110 violent crimes detected for every 100 officers, compared to the average of 181. Trefor Morris, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said of the four forces: "They need to look very carefully at their performance." Dyfed-Powys in Wales came top in the study, followed by Wiltshire. Suffolk and Gwent were joint third and North Wales was fifth.

The Inspectorate of Constabulary stressed that this was a crude method of assessing how effective a force is in dealing with violent crime. However, Mr Morris defended the use of performance indicators, and said they provided a powerful incentive for forces to improve their efficiency. He added that they also made chief constables more accountable.

His report said that, nationally, the detection rate for violent crime was high, at 76 per cent, but that individual forces' rates varied between 48 per cent to nearly 100 per cent.

In criticising the target times set by some police forces to answer 999 calls, Mr Morris said: "There are some that seem far too lax." The South Yorkshire force plans to respond in 30 seconds - which it does in about 87 per cent of cases. This compares with the Gwent force which meets its target of six seconds almost every time, and South Yorkshire's neighbour, West Yorkshire, which has a bench-mark of five seconds.

Setting universal targets for indicators such as 999 calls is just one idea among several currently being considered by chief constables.

The report also reveals that despite repeated Government claims that the number of police officers has increased, it has in fact declined. In March 1995, there were 127,222 officers compared to a high of 128,045 in 1992. The Home Office argues that the number of civilians attached to the force has increased to about 50,000 which frees officers for other duties.

Mr Morris said that the gap between public demand and police resources was continuing to grow, and that while resources had risen by 8 per cent, the number of 999 calls that needed police action had gone up by 15 per cent to 6 million a year.