CONCERNS have been raised about the use of surveys after the performance of Devon and Cornwall’s police plummeted for no discernible reason.
A decision by the Home Office to sweep away a raft of crime-related targets in favour of a single “public confidence” has been welcomed. However, concerns are spreading within the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Home Office that the figures are unreliable following a number of anomalies.
In September 2008, surveys showed that 53.2 per cent of people agreed that Devon and Cornwall Police and local authorities were “dealing with anti-social behaviour and crime” in their area.
That response ranked Devon and Cornwall second out of the 43 forces in England and Wales.
But by September 2009, that approval rating had slumped to 46.9 per cent — putting the force 35th in the national table.
Acting deputy chief constable Debbie Simpson told a meeting of the Police Authority, which governs the force, that the confidence figures had dipped, despite falling levels of crime and more offenders being brought to justice.
She confirmed that the force had consulted other top-performing forces, but said the reasons for their success weren’t clear.
“If you are asking for a silver bullet,” she told members of the authority, “there isn’t one.”
Chairman of the authority, Mike Bull, said the confidence rating was “being seen as something of an anomaly” given the percentages were declining while the force was improving.
Chief Constable Stephen Otter said the Home Office was carrying out “urgent research” into the issues. Nevertheless, Mr Otter said there were things the force “could do better”.
He added: “It is still important for us to focus on improving the service we give to people.”
Sergeant Steve Tovagliari, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall branch of the Police Federation, was concerned unreliable ratings could lead to wasted time and effort.
“No one wants to return to the bad old days when officers had to waste their precious time recording a plethora of information to meet meaningless targets set by the Home Office,” he said.
“But it is ludicrous to start measuring forces by public confidence, if no one then knows which forces are performing well or poorly, and where improvements need to be made.
“It is demoralising for our officers, who know they are doing a good job, to see these figures. It is equally confusing for the public, who deserve to know that the system being used to rate their force is accurate and reliable.”
A spokesman for the Home Office denied that the confidence measure was being reviewed.
He added: “The public confidence target is measured using the British Crime Survey. The survey is widely acknowledged by independent experts to be a high-quality survey which provides comparable data across forces that is consistent over time.
“We believe the survey provides a robust measure of public confidence.”