The money will fund officers to train to a nationally accredited standard to deal with Domestic Abuse, provide an extra Sergeant for the Public Protection Team and pay for joined-up IT to allow investigators to cross-check databases for information on offenders.
But Commissioner Holloway was keen to reassure the public that the Force is already working hard for vulnerable victims – defined in the report as those who have suffered domestic abuse and young people running away from local authority care homes – and remains optimistic about future inspections.
“The HMIC report makes it quite clear that Bedfordshire Police has made real progress since its first critical inspection in 2015 and, in fact, it contains some 36 points noting progress to 16 criticisms, outnumbering them more than two to one. While police must never, ever be complacent over their work for the vulnerable, the Inspector, Zoe Billingham, is strongly supportive of what the Force is trying to achieve and told me herself that ‘no force could be trying harder than Bedfordshire to implement recommendations’ and that Bedfordshire Police is ‘a long way down the road it needs to travel’,” she said.
“The problem is that any report is a snapshot in time. This one came after a re-visit by HMIC and the Public Protection Unit tell me it’s such a great shame as so much has been implemented to make improvements since then. The Inspector comes back in the autumn and the team is hoping she will acknowledge the changes and improvements over training, staffing and the Force’s approach made since the last time.
“I genuinely see and hear evidence every day that the issue of protecting victims of domestic violence and young people who abscond from places of local authority care, who are at risk from exploitation, is at the very heart of the way officers on the frontline think and react. For example, the diligence of our officers led to the identification of a young girl at risk when they recently stopped a car in Toddington. Immediately their antennae were engaged. Really good police work meant that the Force is now investigating the man involved in relation to child sex offences,” she said.
Commissioner Holloway pointed to the particular challenges to Bedfordshire Police over “looked after children” who live in homes run on behalf of the county’s local authorities. These children must be designated as either “missing” or “absent” if they fail to return. Those who are held to be “absent” are not back when expected but there is no reason for staff to believe they are at extra risk. Those who must be classified as “missing” – producing an immediate police search – are considered to have extra vulnerabilities such as previous exposure to drugs, a risk of child sexual exploitation or less maturity than their actual age.
“The HMIC report makes it clear that, in Bedfordshire, an experienced Inspector in the Control Room makes the decision about whether a young person is considered missing or absent, so seriously does the Force take this matter, but there is a very large number of young people in homes in Bedford and Central Bedfordshire who come from elsewhere, including London which is not that far away. They often don’t want to be here and frequently run away creating a significant problem. On one day last week there were 20 young people being looked for by Bedfordshire Police as a result so I need people to be fully aware of the scale of the challenge they face.,” said Commissioner Holloway.
“This is why I have backed the need to invest an extra £224,000 immediately in policing such vulnerable groups and am determined to work ever more closely with local authorities so we see this as a joint problem to tackle and not just one for the police.”