HMIC inspection finds Beds Police officers are ‘very overstretched’ and force ‘requires improvement’

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Bedfordshire Police has been told it ‘requires improvement’ after a first of its kind inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Following its first PEEL assessment the county force was told that it needs to make a raft of improvements to the effectiveness and efficiency of its policing,

HMIC inspectors issued concern over the force’s investigation of offending and work to reduce and prevent crime, all of which were found to fall in the ‘requires improvement’ category.

The police watchdog said it had “specific concerns” on how Beds Police handles domestic abuse, though “there are now very early signs of improvement”.

In a blow for Beds police and crime commissioner Olly Martins the report added that the force requires improvement if it is to “provide affordable

policing in the longer term while keeping the public safe.”

HM Inspector of Constabulary for the eastern region, Zoë Billingham, said: “I am concerned that over the last two years police officer numbers have been cut to such a low level that the ability of Bedfordshire Police to provide an effective policing service to the public has been put at risk.

“The new Chief Constable has recognised this.

“She is increasing officer numbers and reorganising the force so it is better placed to meet the policing challenges in Bedfordshire.

“However all this takes time and the changes have yet to take effect.

“Currently, I have serious concerns about the force’s ability to reduce crime, investigate offending and provide an effective service to victims. “Hardworking frontline police officers and staff are doing their best to keep the public safe but they are very overstretched.”

Ms Billingham added that there are “fundamental weaknesses” to the way in which Beds Police responds to victims of crime, while there were also concerns over policing of domestic violence.

She said: “Staff working in neighbourhoods are often too busy responding to emergencies to be able to do effective preventative work.

“I have also had serious concerns about the service to victims of domestic abuse.

“My team of inspectors has returned to the force to assess progress a number of times this year.

“Our further inspection in October 2014 identified very early signs of an improved approach, but organisational changes need to translate rapidly into a better service to victims of domestic abuse.”

Chief constable Colette Paul registered her disappointment at the HMIC findings.

She said: “The assessment is not unreasonable given that we are in the early stages of delivering against our 2014-2019 five year plan.

“That said I am rather disappointed to see that the report does not acknowledge sufficiently the progress and improvements to-date during the past 12 months.

“It will take time to realise all of our ambitions, but we are committed to delivering this during the next five years and we are already making significant progress.”

HMIC will revisit the force for a full inspection by April 2015.