Domestic abuse victims received 'unacceptable level of service' with Kent Police, report finds

The force was urged to improve how it investigates crime, responds to the public and manages offenders. Credit: ITV Meridian

A watchdog has said some victims of domestic abuse have received an "unacceptable level of service and have continued to remain at risk" after lodging reports with Kent Police.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has published inspection reports looking at the effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy of the force.

The force was rated "outstanding" for its recording of crime and "good" for preventing crime, how it treats the public, developing a positive workplace and use of resources.

But it was urged to improve how it investigates crime, responds to the public and manages offenders.

Outlining the changes needed when investigating crime, the watchdog pointed to domestic abuse cases, saying vulnerability investigation teams "lack capacity and capability".

"This is leading to ineffective and delayed investigations and at times a failure to properly manage the risk to victims," the report said.

"The force has begun to address this by putting more trained detectives into the team and through the timely accreditation to detective level of some existing team members.

"It has also appointed a dedicated chief superintendent for domestic abuse to oversee and deliver improvements."

Other issues that require improvement include how the force prioritises its response to incidents, as well as how quickly it responds.

The report added that arrangements to deliver swift justice "aren't working well enough" and there are often "significant delays" in the progress of cases, especially for suspects who have been released under investigation.

Deputy Chief Constable Tim Smith said the Force "had a strong track record in dealing with major incidents". Credit: ITV Meridian

Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary Roy Wilsher said he was "satisfied" with the force's performance in keeping people safe and reducing crime, but some areas needed improvement.

"I recognise that Kent Police has faced some unique difficulties in relation to Brexit and Channel crossings, because of the county's geographical location," he said.

"Opportunities to achieve positive results for victims are being missed because some investigations are poor, or because officers haven't maximised evidential opportunities. This lets victims down.

"Kent Police's response to domestic abuse is of particular concern. The force is rightly proud of some of its work protecting vulnerable people. However, domestic abuse investigation teams have not been properly resourced with suitably qualified staff.

"As a result, some victims have received an unacceptable level of service and have continued to remain at risk.

"I am pleased to acknowledge that the force recognises these concerns and is already taking steps to improve its response. I acknowledge the good work Kent Police have already undertaken, and I will monitor the force's progress towards addressing the areas where it can improve."

Kent Police Deputy Chief Constable Tim Smith said the force was "high performing with a strong track record in dealing with major incidents" but recognised that improvements could be made.

"In common with police forces nationally, we recognise that we have an ongoing challenge to maintain our detective capacity and have developed a clear plan to increase detective numbers moving forward," he said.

"Repeat domestic abuse offenders are targeted by proactive teams who work closely with partners across a number of agencies to reduce offending and break the cycle of abuse.

"These teams use a range of measures to proactively manage offenders and safeguard victims including regular prison release visits, welfare visits and Domestic Violence Protection Orders.

"We are committed to continuing to improve our service to victims of domestic abuse who are among the most vulnerable in our communities.

"Where this report identifies areas for improvement, we are confident that we will achieve this and continue to put victims and witnesses at the heart of everything we do."

An inspection into Thames Valley Police found it was "struggling to meet some of the demand in a timely way". Credit: ITV Meridian

An inspection was also carried out into Thames Valley Police, which found the force needs to improve how it responds to the public and its use of resources.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services graded Thames Valley Police's performance across nine areas of policing and found the force was "good" in three areas, "adequate" in four areas and "requires improvement" in two.

The inspection found it was "struggling to meet some of the demand in a timely way, as it now records more crime than before".

Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, Roy Wilsher, said: "Thames Valley Police have been through a demanding 18 months. Like all forces, it has been affected by the pandemic. It has dealt with a serious terrorist incident, multiple public protests, and increased levels of homicide.

"Despite these pressures, I am satisfied with some aspects of Thames Valley Police's performance in keeping people safe and reducing crime. Yet, there are areas where the force needs to improve.

"We are encouraged to see the efforts it is making to make sure that it is treating people both inside and outside the force fairly. The work it is doing in communities to attract people from ethnic minority backgrounds to join the force is noteworthy and there is a proactive approach to the wellbeing of the workforce.

"But, despite these positive elements, we found that the force is struggling to meet some of the demand in a timely way. It now records more crime than before. Combined with recent changes to the way cases are prepared, this means officers are busier than they were, while some aspects of policing have become more complex. At the same time, the force is bringing through new, inexperienced staff, who require more training and supervision.

"The force has introduced some notable innovations, looked for more efficient ways of working, and moved additional staff into some areas. However, lack of resource is affecting the timeliness of its response to the public, the investigation of crimes, and the assessment of risk to vulnerable people or by potentially dangerous offenders. The work pressure on some staff is also undermining the steps that the force has taken to improve the wellbeing of its workforce.

"Thames Valley Police isn't blind to this, and it was reassuring to see that it had already identified some of the issues we found during our fieldwork. I look forward to seeing the force addressing these areas."

Thames Valley Police said they will "continually improve in all areas". Credit: ITV Meridian

Deputy Chief Constable Jason Hogg of Thames Valley Police said: "We thank HMICFRS for its feedback, which it’s important to consider in context with two key factors; a change to the grading system and the unprecedented policing landscape in which we have been operating throughout the pandemic.

"At the time of this inspection, Thames Valley Police had been operating during the pandemic for over a year, going on to respond to nearly 65,000 Covid-related incidents in an 18-month period.

"Despite all of these challenges, no areas of Thames Valley Police were considered ‘Inadequate,’ and I am immensely proud of our officers and staff for their tireless work in protecting the public, which has kept our communities safe during these extraordinary times.

"However, to continue to deliver an effective and efficient policing service, we must strive to continually improve in all areas across the force. The findings of this PEEL report enable us to do this, together with learnings taken from national issues that rightly challenge us to reflect on how we best service our communities within the Thames Valley."