Suffolk/Essex: Police improvements required for vulnerable victims

POLICE in Suffolk have pledged to better identify vulnerable victims of anti-social behaviour after a report described a disappointing service for those most at risk of harm.

The constabulary measured up well against national levels of satisfaction by victims of anti-social behaviour, and compared to an equivalent report carried out in 2010.

The proportion of people reporting they were satisfied was significantly above the national average, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).

But the force faced some criticism of its response to callers who were most at risk of harm, such as repeat and vulnerable victims like older or disabled people.

A total of 35,067 reports of anti-social behaviour (ASB) were made to police in 2011/12 - down by more than a quarter on 2007/08, when 44,002 incidents were reported, and considered a medium level in comparison with the rest of England and Wales.

The report found that police regularly gathered and analysed information on ASB, that neighbourhood teams had the right tools to tackle incidents, and that staff were regularly and thoroughly briefed on local issues.

However, it also found that repeat and vulnerable victims were sometimes less than effectively dealt with at the time of incidents being reported.

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Suffolk Police has introduced a new IT system for officers and has developed a mapping system to identify “hotspots” across the county. But the force has still been unable to consistently identify callers who are most at risk of harm, meaning some victims may not be getting the extra support they need.

Only during about a third of the 100 calls reviewed by HMIC did the receiver ask targeted questions to establish if the caller was vulnerable, while questions to establish whether the caller was a repeat victim were asked in less than half of the cases.

Suffolk Police said it welcomed the findings, pointing out that 86% of victims reported being satisfied with treatment - 6% above the national average.

But it admitted a need to improve the service for repeat and vulnerable victims. Assistant Chief Constable Paul Marshall said: “We are aware that there are areas that require improvement and we have already implemented new systems and procedures to help improve our service. Earlier this year we introduced an innovative computer system, which helps police and partners tackle ASB more efficiently.

“Our call handling has also been reviewed with new processes put in place to help identify if an ASB victim is particularly vulnerable.

“Although not assessed at the time of the review HMIC stated it was a positive step which should provide the force with a much better basis to manage and respond to ASB.”

Suffolk Police performed generally better than the national average in dealing with ASB. Across England and Wales, one in three victims reported feeling let down while one in seven made more than ten calls to police for help.

The review of 43 forces showed 55% of those surveyed were satisfied with the way police in their local area dealt with a report of ASB, but that some 32% were dissatisfied.

In Essex, the report found there has been a deterioration in the use of police intelligence to address anti-social problems, while officers were similarly not identifying vulnerable victims who need extra support.

The force said ASB had reduced by 14.5% in the county in the last year despite budget cuts of �42million.

In the report, HMIC acknowledged the fall but added it could mean ASB was not being treated as a priority in the same way as other crimes.

Assistant Chief Constable Maurice Mason said: “The answer to reducing ASB is not for the police alone and Essex Police will work with key partners such as the county and district councils to ensure this reduction continues.

“According to local residents Essex Police have made progress in three of the four areas examined in the report.

“Increased satisfaction with their treatment by the police, increased numbers who feel we made a difference to the problem, and increased satisfaction with the information police provided after they called us have all improved since the 2010 report. However, we recognise that further work is required.”

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