Government inspectors have told Cambridgeshire police they 'require improvement' but the force has hit back.
That was the verdict of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) but force chiefs feel hard done by amid 'unprecedented demand' for their services.
Following the inspectors' report the force has defended its record amid budget cuts.
While other constabularies have seen reductions in the percentage of neighbourhood police officers slashed, the Cambridgeshire force has seen a reduction of just 3.6 per cent – from 528 in 2013 to 509 last year (2017), a loss of 19.
Total officer numbers in Cambridgeshire are down by 38 since 2013 when the force had 1,383 officers – it now has 1,345.
But the force is gearing up to recruit more than 50 new officers – bringing the number up above that of 2013.
However, inspectors said alough the force's crime prevention and how it tackles organised gangs was good they needed to improve investigations, vulnerability and overall performance.
'A time of unprecedented demand'
Deputy Chief Constable Alan Baldwin said: "We accept the findings of HMIC's effectiveness inspection, however, we are disappointed with the judgement of 'requires improvement'.
"Our inspection came at a time of unprecedented demand for the police service, not only in Cambridgeshire, but across the country, and the findings by HMICFRS reflect this.
"While we continue to have peaks in demand, our levels have returned to normal, and we are putting measures in place to reduce the chances of this happening again.
"For example, we are currently implementing the Local Policing Review – a new policing model that will deliver a demand-led and victim-focused service to provide much needed support to the frontline, and our Police and Crime Commissioner has the support of the public in the county to increase council tax by £12 per year, which will be used to recruit 55 new warranted officers.
"While the timing of the HMICFRS inspection demonstrated the strain on the force during the period of exceptional demand, we are still proud of the good work we are doing, as highlighted in the report, and will use the areas of improvement identified by HMICFRS, to ensure we continue to improve our service for the people of Cambridgeshire."
Inspectors gave the force a 'good' mark for how it tackles gangs and organised crime
Inspectors found most police forces are maintaining a good standard of service to the public, despite dramatic increases in demand and ongoing financial pressures, but cracks are beginning to show.
The inspection found that over two thirds of forces in England and Wales continued to be good at keeping people safe and reducing crime and one force is graded as ‘outstanding’ for the third year running.
Cambridgeshire was fifth out of 43 forces for having wanted offenders on the run
Overall slightly more forces improved than deteriorated.
What the inspector found
Her Majesty’s inspector Zoë Billingham, who led the inspection, said: “In the face of substantial increasing pressures, dramatic increases in demand and rising numbers of complex crimes like sexual abuse, child abuse and domestic abuse, most forces continue to do a good job in keeping us safe.
"It is especially commendable that almost all forces are taking effective action in the fight against organised crime. I congratulate officers and staff on the way they have largely kept policing standards high.
“But I have major concerns that policing is under significant stress. On occasions, that stress stretches some forces to such an extent that they risk being unable to keep people safe in some very important areas of policing.
“About a quarter of forces are all too often overwhelmed by the demand they face, resulting in worrying backlogs of emergency jobs, with officers not attending incidents promptly, including those involving vulnerable people.
“Last year, we warned of a national crisis in the shortage of detectives. Measures to address this are taking time to take effect. There is now a shortfall of 5,000 investigators across England and Wales.
"This means one in five detective desks are empty or are filled with unqualified staff. It is not surprising that this often places a very great strain on existing detectives.
“I am pleased that forces continue to prioritise and improve how they keep vulnerable victims safe. But progress is stubbornly slow. Performance is still below standard in nearly half of all forces.
“Police officers, police staff and PCSOs rise to significant challenges every single day. It is vital that police leaders take effective action to stop the problems we have found becoming ever more entrenched and widespread.”
How do other forces fare?
Two of the 43 police forces are ‘outstanding’ at crime prevention and four are ‘outstanding’ in the way they tackle serious and organised crime.
Only one force, Durham Constabulary, was found to be ‘outstanding’ overall, with an additional 30 forces being judged as ‘good’. No forces were found to be ‘inadequate’ overall.