1. The Commissioner presented a report which outlined the outcome of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services’ (HMICFRS) 2021/22 PEEL Inspection of Kent Police. He explained the purpose of PEEL reports, which among other functions gave Commissioners independent assurance on the performance of their force. The new methodology used for Kent Police’s inspection, which analysed 9 areas of policing were outlined and included: crime data recording; preventing crime; treatment of the public; developing a positive workplace; use of resources; protecting vulnerable people; investigating crime; responding to the public; and managing offenders. A breakdown of the force’s performance against each of the areas was given, with 6 of the 9 areas rated outstanding, good or adequate. He shared his dissatisfaction that investigating crime, responding to the public and managing offenders were judged as requiring improvement. In response to the Inspection’s findings, he outlined his governance and improvement plan, tasked at holding the Chief Constable to account on performance, this included the foundation of a PEEL Oversight Board and an extraordinary meeting of his Performance and Delivery Board, which would be held on 3 November, to scrutinise the effectiveness of the Chief Constable’s Improvement Plan. He shared his initial assessment of the issues which had contributed towards the Inspection’s conclusions, which were the impact high crime data reporting standards had on capacity and the capability to respond to crime, as well as the impact of experienced officer shortages, particularly apparent with a shortage of experienced detectives. Whilst recognising that the Investigate First scheme would provide a long-term solution to the second issue, he noted that it would take time to see measurable results. He affirmed that the issues raised by the Inspection would be factored into the retendering of the My Victims contract. Concluding his report, the Commissioner asserted his belief that the areas requiring improvement would be judged adequate when reassessed by HMICFRS later in the year, based on the initial measures put in place and commitment from the Chief Constable.
2. The Chair expressed his disappointment at the Inspection’s findings. He recognised that Kent Police had received commendable inspections in previous years and asked for an indication of Kent’s performance against other forces. He reminded the Commissioner of the Panel’s support for his council tax precept increases, which had been predicated on the expectation that the quality of policing in Kent would improve. He asked for an explanation of the key problems which had contributed to the poor performance outlined in the report. The Commissioner confirmed that he had reviewed all other HMICFRS inspection reports published since November 2021 and noted that the difficulty of balancing crime response and data integrity were national challenges, with most forces struggling to perform highly in both areas. He reaffirmed that this was attributed to resourcing constraints. He shared examples of individual forces which had performed better in one area over another, linking this trend to the findings of the Kent inspection. It was explained that the VAWG and rural teams, as well as the Chief Constable’s crime squad, had been strengthened as a response to the concerns raised in relation to the protection of vulnerable people, crime investigation and response to the public.
3. In response to a question from a Member, the Commissioner confirmed that police staff vacancy rates stood at 6%, down from a high of 9%. He agreed to share further information on this matter with Members following the meeting.
4. The Commissioner was asked what had been done to ensure that Kent Police were proactive rather than reactive when dealing with cases. He explained that of the 396 cases highlighted by the PEEL report for attention, upon further inspection it was concluded that only 1 case actually required further attention. He confirmed that concerns with the methodology in this area had been shared with the Inspectorate.
5. A Member asked that the Commissioner pressure the Chief Constable to improve communication with victims of hate crime, to include explaining how and why crimes were dealt with in a particular way.
6. The Commissioner explained, following a question from a Member, that victims had rights under the Victims’ Code, which included the right of review. He asked that cases be referred to professional standards within his Office should Members have concerns with the handling of individual cases.
7. A Member asked why Kent Police’s inspection could not reasonably be compared to those of other forces. The Commissioner explained that Kent’s inspection used a new methodology which made it difficult to compare it with previous inspections. He noted that Sussex Police were to be inspected under the same methodology and that it would provide a good comparison. Beyond direct inspection comparisons, the Commissioner recognised the importance of comparing Kent to forces of a similar size, such as Staffordshire or Essex, and stressed the need to understand what had been done well by exemplary forces such as Leicestershire.
8. The Vice Chair shared his concerns that the three key areas highlighted for improvement were core policing functions and vital for ensuring community safety. He asked what had been done to reassure communities. The Commissioner agreed that the areas for improvement were central to Kent Police’s overall impact. He confirmed that the public could be reassured that rape investigations had led to an 18% increase in prosecutions and that Domestic Abuse Hubs had been set up to protect victims, though he acknowledged that communication of these developments could be improved.
9. A Member asked whether there had been a wider impact on Kent Police’s operating capacity as a result of the measures put in place to resolve the issues highlighted by the PEEL report. The Commissioner reassured Members that combating serious crime remained the priority and that key operations had not been negatively impacted. He added that officers were redeployed across the force on an ad hoc basis to improve resilience.
10.Following a request from the Chair, the Commissioner agreed to provide an interim update at the Panel’s next meeting in September.
RESOLVED to note the report and agree to a further update at the Panel’s December 2022 meeting.