Cleveland Police becomes first force branded ‘failing’ in all areas
Scandal-hit Cleveland Police has become the first force to be branded “failing” in all areas by inspectors.
It has been rated inadequate overall and in three key areas by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), which scrutinised its ability to reduce crime and keep people safe, operate efficiently, as well as the way it treats the public and its workforce.
The findings mean the force is effectively plunged into special measures, where the chief constable and police and crime commissioner are called before a national board and questioned about their plans to ensure “critical improvements” are made.
The Home Secretary could then step in to tackle the problem if no progress is made.
A string of scandals has plagued the force, covering Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton and Middlesbrough in the north east of England.
It has seen six chief constables in almost as many years.
Former chief constable Sean Price was sacked for gross misconduct in 2012; seven officers were under investigation after journalists’ phones were unlawfully monitored, and there have been long-standing claims of racism within the ranks.
Work practices were recently described by the chief inspector of constabulary as being about as “inefficient as you can possibly imagine”, with officers having to share laptops and bodyworn cameras.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Phil Gormley said it was a “failing force” where there had been “significant” deterioration in the last two years.
Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen said the report described the “worst findings ever into any police force in the country” which was “finally the official validation” that the force is “broken” and said the Home Office needed to intervene now.
He added: “It’s no longer in dispute. It is a fact described in black and white in this report.
“The findings are some of the most distressing and shocking I have ever read.”
Cleveland is one of 15 forces that has been recently inspected by HMICFRS inspectors, and the only one rated inadequate in all areas.
The Metropolitan, Northamptonshire and Northumbria police are among other forces which were assessed as requiring improvement or inadequate in some areas.
Mr Gormley added: “Cleveland Police’s performance has declined considerably since our last inspection. This is extremely worrying.
“The force doesn’t appropriately prioritise crime prevention. There is a lack of strategic direction, and the force doesn’t allocate enough resources to prevention work.
“Staff who carry out prevention work lack an understanding of the priorities they should be tackling.
“It is failing to respond appropriately to vulnerable people, including children. It is missing opportunities to safeguard them and exposing them to risk.
“Cleveland Police doesn’t adequately understand the demand it faces.
“This failure means it doesn’t have coherent workforce and financial plans to meet demand and deliver the necessary outcomes for the public.”
He said senior leaders were not consistently demonstrating “ethical behaviour”, and the “inappropriate behaviour of senior leaders within Cleveland is so profound that it is affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of the force”.
He added: “It doesn’t consistently treat its workforce with fairness and respect and it doesn’t effectively communicate with or engage its workforce; its processes aren’t perceived to be fair and it doesn’t understand its workforce well enough to support them.”
Despite the findings, the force did receive a small amount of praise for the way it tackles serious and organised crime but was told it must improve the way it investigates crimes.
The force’s police and crime commissioner Barry Coppinger said: “I am deeply concerned at the worrying contents of this report.
“The force’s recent performance is simply not good enough.”
He said he had received assurances from the current chief constable Richard Lewis that “swift action” was taken as soon as he became aware of the failings.
Mr Coppinger has been ordered by the Home Office to respond to the report within 56 days.
Mr Lewis said the report would act “as a line in the sand” for the force, adding: “Improvements have already been made and I take full responsibility for driving through the changes that are so obviously needed.
“In the five months I’ve been here I have met some exceptional police officers and staff, at all levels, and have seen lives saved and vulnerable people protected by the efforts and determination of frontline officers.
“However, I know this is never the full picture of an organisation and, through my own observations, speaking to people in our communities, and local leaders, and with the insight given by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, I am well aware that we are not at the level we need to be.
“There are some basic but crucial areas in which we need to make urgent improvements.
“We have already started to make the rapid and decisive improvements necessary to become a more public service-focused organisation with prevention at its heart.”
If drastic improvements are not made quickly enough, the Government could step in, as it can when prisons are failing.
But so far politicians have never had to resort to this measure with police forces, inspectors said.
Minister for crime, policing and fire Kit Malthouse said he welcomed the chief constable’s “swift action to address these failings and will be monitoring the position closely”, adding: “Transparency and accountability are vital for public trust in policing.