Kent police chief Ian Learmonth admits stats 'distortion'

Chief Constable Ian Learmonth said Kent Police had been "chasing numbers"

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Kent's police chief has admitted there was a "distortion of activity" by the force in some areas of the county to achieve crime statistic targets.

Ian Learmonth was facing questions from the police and crime commissioner (PCC) after a report found one in 10 crimes had been inaccurately recorded.

The chief constable said the force was taking Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) report seriously.

He was attending a public meeting earlier with PCC Ann Barnes.

'Performance culture'

She expressed her anger after the report found an "institutional bias" towards chasing crime targets.

It found 25% of crimes recorded as "no-crimes" were wrongly classified, among them rapes and robberies.

Start Quote

We are one of very few forces who send an officer to every crime”

End Quote Chief Constable Ian Learmonth Kent Police

Mr Learmonth told Ms Barnes: "There was a distortion of activity in some areas around the county to achieve the numerical targets that they've been set.

"Is that against the law or are they doing something that's breaking or breaching the law? No, it isn't, because these are offences that are taking place so we're investigating the offences.

"Is that the activity that we would want them to focus their attention on? No, it isn't."

The meeting at Kent Police headquarters in Maidstone heard how there had been a historic culture of chasing targets, and a tendency of officers to want to "paint the force in the best light".

"Every victim of crime deserves a first class service," says Ann Barnes.

Ms Barnes asked Zoe Billingham of the HMIC if the public could now be confident the "right performance culture" was now in place following the critical report.

Ms Billingham replied: "I think it is too early for me to say.

"The chief constable has given very clear messages from the top about the type of organisation he expects to lead.

"We need, as an inspectorate, to stand back now and see if that actually happens and that's why we are going to come back in December."

Ms Barnes told Mr Learmonth that the message she took from the report "was that the victims in Kent were not placed at the heart of the policing service".

She said: "I can't tolerate that. I won't tolerate that, so I need to be assured that will never ever happen again."

Analysis

Ann Barnes has said she is very angry at the issues and failings identified in the HMIC report.

What is unclear is if any single person can be held to account for allowing a performance driven culture to take hold at Kent Police.

Ian Learmonth took over as chief constable of the force in 2010.

While some suggest the performance culture, which has been blamed for the under reporting of crime, developed in a relatively short period of time, others say it became ingrained much earlier.

Ann Barnes was the chair of the Kent Police Authority for six years before becoming Kent's police commissioner.

As chair she was one of 17 people responsible for keeping an eye on Kent Police crime figures and regularly scrutinised the statistics at Kent Police Authority meetings.

With that involvement it may make it very hard for her to use her new found powers and sack the chief constable if she considers he is in any way culpable.

Mr Learmonth said victims were at the heart of everything the force did.

He told Ms Barnes the force would acknowledge all recommendations in the report, and look at its processes and procedures to get them right.

And he said: "We are one of very few forces who send an officer to every crime.

"If there's any indication there could be a crime, an officer will attend every crime."

'Questions to answer'

Kent MP Mark Reckless, who sits on the home affairs select committee, said it was another blow to Ann Barnes following the appointment of youth commissioner Paris Brown.

He said Ms Barnes had referred to a historical target-driven culture but said she had been chair of the former Kent Police Authority (KPA).

Mr Reckless said: "It was before we even appointed Ian Learmonth. So I really think it's Ann who has got the questions to answer here."

The former member of KPA said he would be raising the issues with policing minister and Ashford MP Damian Green at a meeting of the home affairs select committee later.

He added: "I don't think it's right to blame the chief constable. I think it dates back to a target-driven culture both under the previous Labour government but also when Ann was chair of the authority.

"I really think she needs to take responsibility here."

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