Two police forces graded inadequate in areas of working with the public

Surrey Police has been told to speed up how quickly it answers 999 calls and reduce the number of 101 calls that are abandoned (Ben Birchall/PA)
Surrey Police has been told to speed up how quickly it answers 999 calls and reduce the number of 101 calls that are abandoned (Ben Birchall/PA)

Two police forces have been graded inadequate in aspects of how they deal with the public, with Surrey criticised for the speed of answering calls and Thames Valley for failures in protecting vulnerable people.

A watchdog found that Surrey answers 77% of 999 calls within 10 seconds, below the national target of 90%, and nearly half of the 101 calls to the force (47%) are abandoned.

A fault with its public yellow phones, placed outside police stations for use when the front desk is closed, led to the devices making thousands of unprompted 101 calls, with the force receiving 8,000 such calls in June alone.

On average Surrey normally receives 12 genuine calls from the yellow phones per day. They are now set to be decommissioned.

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) told the force to improve within three months.

It was graded as good for preventing crime and managing offenders; adequate for investigating crime, police powers and public treatment, protecting vulnerable people, and leadership and management; requires improvement for recording data about crime and developing a positive workplace; and inadequate for responding to the public.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Roy Wilsher, said: “I have concerns about the performance of Surrey Police in keeping people safe, reducing crime and providing victims with an effective service.

“The force doesn’t always answer emergency and non-emergency calls in a timely manner, and some callers simply give up. This means crime will go unreported and vulnerable people will not be safeguarded.

“This was highlighted in our last inspection, but performance has since deteriorated.

“However, we were pleased to see that since our last inspection, the force has worked well to improve its management of registered sex offenders. It has also put safeguarding measures in place early in its investigations into child abuse images.

“There was a change in leadership at the force during our inspection, with the appointment of a new chief constable. He has made changes to the performance management structure and set out his priorities for the force.

“In view of these findings, I have been in contact with the new chief constable and I will be monitoring the force’s progress closely.”

Surrey’s Police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend said she was “confident” the force has made “good progress”.

“In November, we recorded the best performance for answering 101 calls since late 2020. The time taken to answer a non-emergency call to the force has dropped by almost 84% when compared with March this year.

“I have been meeting frequently with the force’s gold groups established to tackle this particular issue, and we are now at a point where we can begin to move temporary contact staff back into their previous roles as contact centre staffing has improved.

“In addition, 88% of 999 calls are now answered within 10 seconds, and call abandonment on 101 has dropped significantly.”

Thames Valley Police came under fire for how it deals with vulnerable people.

The watchdog found that multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASHs), that meet to discuss vulnerable people, were understaffed and cases beset by delays.

Despite guidelines to deal with cases involving children within 24 hours, and if not in less than 72 hours, inspectors found some cases that were at least two weeks old, and one vulnerable adult who had not been assessed for six weeks.

The number of staff vacancies in the units was at its highest and workers reported feeling overwhelmed by pressure, with no time to check police records for information about cases.

Inspectors said: “We immediately raised our concerns about the safeguarding structure and processes with the force.

“It accepted that there was a need for urgent action.

“The force has immediately taken steps to increase staffing levels within the MASHs to cope with demand.

“We are encouraged by the steps the force has taken to address these concerns and the positive impact these are having.

“The force plans to carry out an in-depth review of how this unit functions and can be improved.”

Thames Valley Police should also reduce the number of 101 calls that are abandoned, with 28% of callers currently hanging up before their call is answered, HMICFRS said.

Overall, it was graded good for police powers and public treatment; adequate for preventing crime and developing a positive workplace; requires improvement for investigating crime, responding to the public, managing offenders and leadership and force management; and inadequate for protecting vulnerable people.

Thames Valley Police headquarters
Inspectors said Thames Valley police had taken immediate action to boost staff numbers in the multi-agency teams who deal with vulnerable people (Tim Ockenden/PA)

Mr Wilsher said: “I am satisfied with some aspects of the performance of Thames Valley Police in keeping people safe, reducing crime and providing victims with an effective service. But there are areas in which the force needs to improve.

“The force has nine multi-agency safeguarding hubs due to the size of the force area, and I am concerned about some of the processes within these hubs.

“It needs to make sure it has effective and consistent processes in place to protect vulnerable victims and share information promptly with other safeguarding agencies.

“The force had a change in leadership in the six months leading up to our inspection, and the new team has a clear purpose that it has communicated well, which focuses on building trust, serving victims, fighting crime and valuing the workforce.

“I am pleased with the way the team has responded to my concerns. The force has already taken steps to make improvements, and I will be monitoring progress closely.”

Thames Valley Police chief constable Jason Hogg said: “We have an incredibly committed workforce who came into policing to protect people from harm and protecting vulnerable people is at the core of what we do. We take safeguarding extremely seriously and have been working closely with HMICFRS since their inspection to make sure we have rigorous processes in place to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. We have already made significant improvements and are confident our new approach is making a difference.”

He added he was pleased the report recognised the force had made improvements in dealing with domestic abuse, safeguarding victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation and a significant decrease in homicide.