Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner -  
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Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway has answered last week’s critical report from the police watchdog by highlighting the significant changes which have already been made to protect the most vulnerable young people in the county.

The report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) was critical of Bedfordshire Police's handling of 'missing' young people, including those looked after by a local authority who abscond from care or foster homes. Those who are not where they are supposed to me should be designated as 'absent' by police but those who have a history of previous risk factors, such as older individuals associated with them who may represent a threat of sexual exploitation or drug use, should be categorised as 'missing', resulting in an immediate police search.

Commissioner Holloway pointed to the following changes in the way the force deals with such cases, which have already been introduced:

• In September, a specialist Child Sexual Exploitation and Missing Investigation Team (CMIT) was created taking responsibility for cases of 'missing' youngsters from the wider Community Policing Teams
• A team of 10 Detective Constables replaced two Child Sexual Exploitation Coordinators
• 16 Police Constables replaced two Missing Persons’ Coordinators
• Time taken to find 'missing' young people has been reduced from an average of 71 hours to 29 (according to the latest data from February 2017)
• The repeat cases of young people going 'missing' has fallen from 47 to 31 per cent
• There is greater scrutiny of missing and absent incidents, with each discussed at both a daily Public Protection Meeting and the Force Daily Management Meeting chaired by the Assistant Chief Constable, also involving senior Control Room Inspectors who have responsibility for categorising each case
• The force has produced a 'missing' persons toolkit to advise frontline officers within an hour of a report
• Control Room technology has been changed within the last fortnight to allow call handlers to more easily access information held about a young person in the past to allow a proper risk assessment
• All care homes where young people are looked after by a local authority have a named police contact who will meet with them at least monthly
• A template form is now available for frontline officers to collect data essential to find a young person as quickly as possible eg a mobile phone number, photograph and home address (and to show where this is not available.)
• Return interviews within 24 hours have been introduced to try to get to the bottom of why they went missing in the first place and to create an 'action plan' for the future
• A protocol is being developed with all three local authorities with police updating them on all the assessments and liaising over information which could help locate 'missing' youngsters

“The real shame about the HMIC report is that it could not include work which had just started, or is being introduced, in its assessment. The facts speak for themselves that the team which started in September is working and producing real results, when you look at the dramatic drop in time taken to find those who have been categorised as 'missing'," said Commissioner Holloway.

“My own office is helping the force to improve our protection of these vulnerable young people, shoulder to shoulder. I brought in a Director of Policy, Anna Ackerman, who is the author of the College of Policing’s recent report on vulnerability who can advise on best practice when dealing with missing and absent youngsters. It is my intention that Anna will help to train both officers and partners, particularly stressing why the return interviews are so vital and what should be included to try to make sure a young person is safe and to understand why they left without notice in the first place.

“One particularly important thing to note is that many of these cases involve young people housed in our county who come from elsewhere, usually London. They often don’t want to be here and want to return to family and friends who are relatively close by. This shows what a challenge this whole issue is for the force to deal with at the same time as 999 calls in life-threatening emergencies," she said.

 High risk cases of 'missing' young people are given urgent attention by 999 response officers and a crime team led by a senior investigator, who is usually a Detective Inspector. Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire has also produced a booklet on vulnerability advising on the relevant checks and legislation which stresses the importance of the issue in the force’s Control Strategy. Some 10 examples of 'missing' cases a month are being examined for the lessons to be learned. In addition, the former Children’s Commissioner, Maggie Atkinson, has been invited to review how the force deals with vulnerability illustrating openness to improvement and advice.

“I hold the Chief Constable and force to account as your Commissioner and all this activity shows exactly what is being done proactively, around the clock, to protect these young people. It is something of a tragedy that this was not part of the recent HMIC report as it was such a blow to public confidence in Bedfordshire Police when the reality proves that this issue is an absolute priority," said Commissioner Holloway.