INSPECTORS say Avon and Somerset police force “requires improvement” in investigating crimes including rape and serious sexual offences.
Half of all investigations carried out by the short-staffed force end up with no further action being taken, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services said.
The force also needs to improve responding to the public and recording crime data.
The constabulary was graded as “adequate” in protecting vulnerable people and preventing crime and anti-social behaviour, and “good” at treating the public with respect.
A 12-month review of Avon & Somerset Police was carried out by the inspectorate between 2021 and last year.
Inspectors said: “The constabulary’s capacity to conduct timely investigations into rape and other serious sexual offences is exceeded by the number of these offences.
“As a result, such crimes are often left without being allocated to an investigator for a period of time during which evidential opportunities could be lost — as could the confidence of the victim.
“The constabulary told us that, between April and June 2022, the number of such unallocated crimes varied between 125 and 48. Although these crimes are kept under review by supervisors and senior officers, they aren’t actually being actively investigated.”
Avon and Somerset Police has a dire shortage of detectives and investigators, the inspectors said. This means that half of all investigations considered for prosecution result in no further action being taken.
Another area needing improvement is recording data about crime. During the year covered by the inspection, the police force didn’t record an estimated 13,100 crimes, including 420 sexual offences. Particular crimes picked out by inspectors included rapes, crimes involving vulnerable victims, and anti-social behaviour.
They said: “The constabulary should improve its recording practices to make sure that rape crimes and reported incidents of rape are recorded correctly. Some unrecorded crimes were of a serious nature, such as controlling and coercive behaviour, sexual assaults and other assaults.
“When the crime was not recorded there was often limited evidence of investigation or safeguarding the victim. Failure to record these crimes can result in offenders not being identified or brought to justice.”
Police bosses said they had plans in place to address the problems in the inspection, like recruiting new staff, and added that extra demand from people suffering from mental health issues are increasing pressure on the police force.
Chief Constable Sarah Crew said: “Responding to the public more quickly, improving our investigations and better management of offenders are areas of intense focus for us, and we have plans in place to address the shortfalls outlined.
“The report recognises the sheer volume of non-emergency demand coming in the police service, much of which we know is spillover demand from other public services.
“In the last 12 months, we’ve taken more than 385,000 calls for service, with under a third of these relating to crime or anti-social behaviour. The rest are issues which go beyond the policing sphere, including incidents involving people in mental health crises.
Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford said: “I am delighted that Avon and Somerset Police has been graded outstanding for their work in ‘engaging with and treating the public with fairness and respect.’
“However, I’m concerned — as I’m sure local people will be — about the areas highlighted that still require improvement including investigating crime, recording data about crime, responding to the public and managing offenders.”
By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service