Durham Constabulary is outstanding at tackling organised crime and achieving value for money for the people of County Durham and Darlington, inspectors have found.
In one of the first reports to be published since the Covid-19 pandemic, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has today praised Durham for its innovative work taking on Organised Criminal Groups (OCGs), awarding it an Outstanding rating for its work at managing and disrupting serious and organised crime across the force area.
The report also judged the force to be Outstanding at efficiency and achieving value for money, highlighting how it had “a firm grip on costs” and that its plans were “both ambitious and sustainable.”
Two forces – Durham and Gloucestershire – are the first to be assessed under the new-style PEEL inspections, which no longer give individual forces an overall grading, but instead assess 10 different strands of police work.
Over the last year, officers from Durham’s OCG disruption team have broken up or seriously disrupted 20 gangs – seizing drugs, weapons and cash from criminals and protecting victims from their activities.
In particular, the force was praised for its work to prevent vulnerable people from falling into the hands of criminal gangs where they can be exploited by others.
The HMICFRS report found: “The force has the right systems, processes, people, and skills to tackle serious and organised crime.”
In particular, inspectors praised Durham’s use of specialist investigators including digital intelligence officers, surveillance teams, forensics and financial investigators to put the squeeze on organised crime from all directions, including confiscating cash to disrupt the OCGs.
Inspectors praised Durham’s use of emergency legislation during the pandemic to tackle and disrupt OCGs and the work done with neighbours and partners to dismantle criminal gangs.
The report found: “The force has the capacity and capability to meet the demand it faces in terms of serious and organised crime. The leadership and culture is evident throughout the organisation.”
And,after seeing the disruption team in action, inspectors concluded: “The passion to reduce the impact of this type of criminality is exceptional.”
The report also found Durham manages current demand well, ensuring that “it tackles what is important locally and nationally”, highlighting money-saving partnerships such as joint premises with the fire service and shared IT functions with neighbours Cumbria Police, when discussing the force’s ability to deliver good value for money.
Additionally,inspectors also highlighted a number of areas of innovative practice, including management of registered sex offenders, the digital leadership programme which develops learning on digital topics among officers of all ranks and the force’s response to cyber threats.
They also praised the force’s commitment to fairness and inclusion, paying particular attention to the work of BUS Panel (BAME arrest, Use of Force and Stop and Search) – an independent panel to scrutinise the arrests and stop and searches of people from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds, which identifies any training or development gaps or problems.
Chief Constable Jo Farrell said: “This has been one of the most challenging years in recent memory and to have achieved these results while policing the pandemic demonstrates the outstanding dedication and commitment of our officers and staff to protect the communities we serve.
“We are constantly trying to deliver a better service and we will make improvements whenever and wherever we can. But, despite the unique difficulties of last year, the inspection shows we are tackling the things that matter most to our communities and are delivering on our values to ensure we provide the very best value for money for the people of County Durham and Darlington.”
Peel inspections no longer give individual forces an overall grading, but instead assess 10 different strands of police work. They have also expanded the previous four-tier system of judgements to five tiers to include a new category of ‘adequate’ (outstanding, good, adequate, requires improvement and inadequate).
This means it is not possible to make direct comparisons between the grades awarded this year with those from previous PEEL inspections – a reduction in grade does not necessarily mean a reduction in performance, unless specifically stated within a report.
Durham was graded:
Joy Allen, Durham Police and Crime Commissioner said: “I am delighted the Inspectorate has decided to rate Durham Constabulary as ‘outstanding’ for tackling organised crime and efficiency. As Police and Crime Commissioner I have the mandate for ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of policing services across County Durham and Darlington and the inspection has showed the force is delivering on good value for money.
“The force was found to have made best use of finances to meet and manage demands efficiently through identifying opportunities for savings including allocating officers tasks via mobile devices and working with Cumbria Police on joint information technology systems. The results are tribute to the hard work of all the police officers and staff of the force, in challenging circumstances throughout the pandemic.
“Inspectors have also recognised the force using problem solving and partnership approaches to prevent crime, anti-social behaviour and vulnerability. Tackling anti-social behaviour is a priority the local people of County Durham and Darlington have raised so we need to continue to prevent and deter anti-social behaviour and work with local area action partnerships to resolve local concerns. Innovative practice has also been recognised including the integrated offender management programme which was designed to prevent and reduce re-offending and external scrutiny of the force through the BUS Panel which is an independent panel to scrutinise arrests of people from BAME backgrounds, and its use of force and stop and search.
“The Inspectorate has however highlighted areas for improvement, in particular grading the force ‘adequate’ for providing a service for victims of crime. I will work with the force to ensure victims of crime are updated regularly and notified promptly of changes to response times. We need to put victims at the centre of everything we do, hence I have recently appointed a Victims’ Champion to ensure the needs of victims are being met and that they get the support and justice they deserve.
“Local people can be assured that I will be holding the Constabulary to account and I will continue to work with them to understand the issues they face, and to deal with them effectively.”
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Andy Cooke said: “I congratulate Durham Constabulary on its overall good performance in keeping people safe and reducing crime, although it needs to improve in some areas to provide a consistently good service.
“I am impressed by the well-established approach to disrupting the threat posed by serious and organised crime. A dedicated team is supported by very effective partnerships with other organisations, such as local authorities, the Health and Safety Executive, the NHS, and HMRC.
“The force works hard to break the cycle of repeated offending. It is willing to try new ideas and offenders have been encouraged to turn their lives around by addressing the causes of their offending.
“Established with the police and crime commissioner, an independent panel reviews arrests of people from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic backgrounds, the use of force, and the use of stop and search.
“The force promotes an ethical and inclusive culture, and equips its supervisors with leadership, wellbeing and inclusion training. I am encouraged to hear how participants have since put this learning to practical benefit in the work place, improving their own leadership.
“During the pandemic, the force moved quickly to change police staff contracts, taking advantage of the benefits of home working and making best use of its finances.
“The force should improve its compliance with the requirements of the Code of Practice for Victims. The Code sets out 12 rights that victims can expect from the criminal justice system. While the force has provided training to staff,work is needed to ensure that it is applied more consistently – in particular,by ensuring that it identifies and meets the needs of individual victims.
“While I congratulate the officers and staff of Durham Constabulary for their efforts in keeping the public safe, I will monitor the progress towards addressing the areas I have identified where the force can improve further.”
College bars at Durham University have been praised by PCC for meeting strict standards of safety as part of a national accreditation scheme.
Four outstanding Community Peer Mentor volunteers have been invited to Royal celebration events to mark King Charles III’s Coronation.
PCC has praised the swift roll-out of a free security scheme helping former victims of crime and their neighbours to feel safer in their homes.