Domestic violence victims were failed and their abusers escaped justice due to Kent Police failings, a damning report has found.
The force ‘requires improvement’ across several key areas, which also include how it manages offenders and investigates crimes.
Although the force performed well in some aspects of the work it does, according to the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, standards fell short when it came to how it responds to the public, how it investigates crimes, and how it manages offenders and suspects.
The Inspectorate graded performance across nine areas of policing and found the force was ‘outstanding’ when it came to recording data about crime with 96.7% of all reported crime being filed.
It was also ranked ‘good’ in four areas including treatment of the public and preventing crime.
And the force’s ability to protect vulnerable people was ranked as ‘adequate’ with the report stating Kent Police was “missing opportunities to protect vulnerable and repeat victims of crime”.
The report found that three areas needed to be improved as soon as possible, with the police’s response to domestic abuse being of particular concern.
It was found that domestic abuse investigation teams aren’t properly resourced with qualified staff.
The report said: “Some victims have received an unacceptable level of service and continued to remain at risk.
“Investigations are often delayed or are of a poor quality. This has caused victims to disengage with the force and abusers to escape justice.
And inspectors said: “Alternatives to prosecution, such as prevention orders, aren’t sufficiently used.”
When it comes to investigating crime, Kent Police have also failed to meet the mark with a lack of perseverance and diligence from officers in collecting evidence.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Roy Wilsher added: “Opportunities to achieve positive results for victims are being missed because investigations are poor, or because officers haven’t collected evidence, or persevered in all cases where the victim no longer wishes to pursue a prosecution.”
The inspectorate will now continue to monitor the performance of Kent Police and ensure the areas of concern are being addressed.
Mr Wilsher said: “I recognise that Kent Police has faced some unique difficulties in relation to Brexit and channel crossings, because of the county’s geographical location.
“But there are some improvements needed, particularly in its service to victims of crime and the way it responds to calls from the public.
“Kent Police needs to improve its ability within local policing to arrest and manage suspects and offenders to protect the public from harm.
“It also needs to review its policy for people released on bail and while under investigation.”
Kent Police’s Deputy Chief Constable Tim Smith attributed the shortfall in crime investigation performance to the challenge in maintaining detectives.
He added: “In common with police forces nationally, we recognise that we have an ongoing challenge to maintain our detective capacity and have developed a clear plan to increase detective numbers moving forward.
“Our officers have a relentless focus on ensuring vulnerable people are safeguarded and supported at every opportunity.
“We have put in place significant measures to further improve how we protect victims and vulnerable people and focus our efforts on the most dangerous offenders and this work is ongoing.”
The force is already looking into the concerns raised in the report and taking steps to improve, especially when it comes to response times for domestic abuse victims.
DCC Smith added: “Repeat domestic abuse offenders are targeted by proactive teams who work closely with partners across a number of agencies to reduce offending and break the cycle of abuse.
“These teams use a range of measures to proactively manage offenders and safeguard victims including regular prison release visits, welfare visits and Domestic Violence Protection Orders.
“In addition to this, the force is recognised as being at the forefront in the use of Stalking Protection Orders.
“This is a sensitive and complex area of policing however we are committed to continuing to improve our service to victims of domestic abuse who are among the most vulnerable in our communities.
“Where this report identifies areas for improvement, we are confident that we will achieve this and continue to put victims and witnesses at the heart of everything we do.”
DCC Smith also said long-term strategic decisions had also been made to improve crime fighting and performance.
He added: “We have made long-term strategic decisions to build our investigative capacity and capability by the creation of our County Lines and Gangs Team and the Chief Constable’s Crime Squad to target those offenders that exploit the most vulnerable in our society and cause long term damage and harm to their victims.
“This focus has resulted in hundreds of criminals being brought to justice, victims being protected and countless criminal networks being dismantled.
“Kent Police is a high performing force, with a strong track record in dealing effectively with major incidents and crime and which is served by officers and staff who do an extraordinary job to keep people safe and bring offenders to justice.
“However, we also acknowledge that there are areas identified in this report where improvements could be made – and are being made.
“We will be looking at all aspects of crime investigation to ensure that we continue to provide a first class service to the people of Kent.”
Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott said: “I commend the outstanding performance in the recording of crime, and for the recognition of the work that has been done to prevent crime from happening in the first place. The Problem Solving Taskforce, which was established from your council tax is an excellent example of how that is happening in practice. The report also shows that resources are being used well.
“And some elements of work, such as the focus on cutting county lines and dealing with burglars is not sufficiently recognised.
“However, where there are good findings, there are some that are disappointing, too. Of concern is the findings in respect of domestic abuse and the investigation of crime. Members of the public will want assurance that these findings are being given the serious attention that they deserve.
“Some actions have already been taken to deal with the points raised, but I await the force’s improvement plan with interest, which I will scrutinise and hold the Chief Constable to account for.”