Lancashire Police will form an extra major investigation team in response to what the force’s chief constable described as the “massive hike in murders” last year.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, there were 26 homicides in the county in the twelve months to September 2019. The number of murders during 2017/18 was 14.
Ch Con Andy Rhodes said that the unit would be funded for the next year while the force established whether the numbers were a one-off spike or “the new normal”.
A meeting of the county’s police and crime panel heard that an extra 30 detectives were also being added to Lancashire’s investigation hubs, focusing on exploitation offences and safeguarding.
Half a dozen detectives and one sergeant are also bound for the child abuse investigation team, a near-doubling of the force’s capacity.
“Sexual offences and child protection investigations are now the bread and butter of the detective world. It’s no longer armed robbery, it’s all sexual offences - whether historic or current,” Ch Con Rhodes said.
“The more money you put into the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP), the more [child abuse images] they generate. It’s almost like it’s endless - the more people you look for, the more crimes you find.
“Millions of indecent images are being shared and behind every image is a child who is being abused.”
Other investments being made in 2020/21 include twelve case-builders, along with two managers to oversee them. The team will use its expertise in putting together files for consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service in order to help the number of less experienced officers who will be joining the force as part of nationwide recruitment plans.
The cyber and asset recovery teams will also see extra resources and there will be more “proactive targeting” of the crimes that “get on local communities’ nerves”, Ch Con Rhodes said.
However, he warned that further investment was needed in the force’s capacity for carrying out the most complex investigations.
The top cop added that more effective engagement with the community would also be prioritised in the coming year, because of recent instances where “quite a small, low impact crime has been blown massively out of proportion, because we haven’t got in quickly enough to tell people what’s happening - and they get frightened”.
The meeting heard that another 15 sergeants will be installed in the county’s policing hubs to reduce the number of constables for which each of them is responsible. Meanwhile, nine inspectors will provide new leadership in the "place" areas into which the force is divided.
Last year’s investment in a several dozen task group officers was deemed a success for having provided additional operational capabilities for the likes of drugs jobs.
Meanwhile, the increasing use of drones rather than the shared police helicopter was credited with saving the force about £300,000.
“It launches quicker, there aren’t as many reasons why it can’t fly around and they get some great images,” Ch Con Rhodes said.
THE THIN BLUE (PHONE) LINE
A quarter of a million calls to Lancashire Police each year are seeking basic updates that could more efficiently be provided by digital methods, a meeting of the county’s police and crime panel has heard.
Ch Con Andy Rhodes said that the force should be aiming for a 50/50 split between digital and voice responses to the total 1.2 million calls it receives on an annual basis.
Panel members heard that updates on investigations could be provided using the existing mobile technology to which officers have access.
But the force is also investigating ways of providing a digital response, when appropriate, to some of the calls which originate from the 101 service. It is estimated that £5m worth of call-handler time could be saved.
A digital point of contact via 101 was introduced last year, but Supt Ian Dawson said that people “do not forage” for it, because there is greater recognition of the phone service.
Ch Con Rhodes also warned that the force was dealing with complex issues which meant that it could not afford to slip up - and that the non-standard nature of its work meant that the public should not expect a digital service akin to a global corporation.
“If you get something wrong on Amazon, you get the wrong book delivered. If we get an email saying someone has seen a woman’s ex-husband going round the back of her house - and if that doesn’t get dealt with - it’s potentially a murder.
“It might be something, or it might be nothing. But you’ve always got the ‘what if?’"