Victims have given up reporting some crimes because the public has “rumbled” that the police do not have the capacity to investigate, inspectors have said.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found people around the country face a postcode lottery with “stark differences” in the way forces carry out investigations.
A report published on Friday said the public are losing faith in the criminal justice system because the chances of offenders being brought to justice are so slim.
A suspect was charged in just 7.8% of crimes recorded in England and Wales in the year to March 2019, down from 9.1% the previous year, while the proportion of crimes closed because the victim did not support a prosecution rose to 22.6% from 20%.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said the public has “rumbled” that the police do not have the capacity to deal with volume crimes, such as burglaries, and have given up reporting incidents to police.
“I think these levels of volume crime resolution are corrosive for the long-term relationship between the public and police,” he said.
“If you are the victim of a minor burglary or minor assault or car crime, I think people have now got to the stage where their expectations are low and the police live down to those expectations because they simply don’t have the capacity to deal with it.
“There are some worrying trends – victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, where victims are no longer supporting the prosecution – is a more complex and worrying issue.
“But I think particularly in the volume crime area the public has rumbled that the police capacity to deal with this is extremely limited.
“There are some strikingly low figures about car crime resolution meaning most of the public simply give up reporting it because the chances of anything positive happening are so slim.”
Mr Parr said inspectors can only judge whether a force is “doing all that can reasonably expected of it” and it is a separate question “whether we, as a society, are prepared to tolerate a situation where so much volume crime isn’t properly investigated”.
Following an inspection of all 43 forces in England and Wales, HMICFRS identified Cleveland, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and West Mercia as the worst performing forces for investigating crimes, with Northumbria improving and Merseyside very good.
The report, entitled Divergence Under Pressure, also highlighted differences with investigating digital evidence from victims’ mobile phones, computers and other devices, which cannot by used while awaiting examination.
It said the best-performing forces have a queue a few months long but it can take 18 months for victims to get their phones back from the worst-performing Northamptonshire force.
Mr Parr said: “Our assessments show that policing across England and Wales is largely in good shape.
“But we cannot ignore that forces are providing services under the twin pressures of rising demand and falling resources.
“And these pressures have not fallen equally across police forces.
“Some forces have risen exceptionally well to the challenge. But this generalisation misses some noticeable differences between police forces and the service they provide.
“This has resulted in some members of the public receiving very different services provided by their local force, depending where they live.”
The report also warns the Government’s plans to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers will not solve all of the problems facing forces.
It said increased numbers are likely to benefit more efficient forces which know what skills they need.
“But gaining more officers will only mask poor performance if forces fail to solve long-standing problems or are unable to effectively match resources to demand,” the report said.
“On its own, the increase in police numbers will not bring about the transformation in service and performance that some forces need to achieve.”