A scandal-hit police force which became the first to be branded failing in all areas is improving but “still has work to do”, according to a watchdog.
Cleveland Police has made “notable improvements” in how it protects vulnerable people but inspectors still have concerns over its handling of cases involving children and how it records domestic abuse.
While the force is providing a better service overall to victims of domestic abuse, it “still needs to improve how it records violent crime, particularly those crimes that relate to domestic abuse”, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said.
The force is now correctly identifying 81% of vulnerable victims, and 64% of repeat victims.
But it needs to improve how it investigates missing children, domestic abuse against children, child abuse and exploitation, according to inspectors.
They also called for the force to make sure children are not held in custody overnight unnecessarily because of delays in finding suitable representation.
Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said: “I am pleased that the force is starting to show progress in tackling these issues, and it has made significant improvements in some areas.
“However, there has been limited improvement in other areas – particularly in how the force protects children, and how it records violent crimes such as domestic abuse.
“The force still has work to do to respond to the areas of concern we have identified in the past.
“We will continue to monitor Cleveland Police on its progress, and I am confident that the commitment shown by the force’s leadership, police officers and staff will continue to drive progress in these areas.”
The results of the latest inspection, carried out in November, were published on Friday after three others between 2017 and 2019 raised serious concerns about how the force kept people safe and reduced crime.
In September 2019 Cleveland, which covers covering Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton and Middlesbrough in the north east of England, became the first force in the country to be described by watchdogs as failing in all areas.
According to a report at the time, the force saw a more than 17% rise in crime in a year and 12 killings, making it the third highest for crime in the country in comparison to its relatively small population area which was thought to be around half a million people.
HMICFRS rated it inadequate overall, and in three key areas, effectively plunging the force into special measures amid calls for the Government to step in and intervene.
This came after the force had been plagued by a string of scandals and had seen six chief constables in almost as many years.
Former chief constable Sean Price was sacked for gross misconduct in 2012; seven officers were under investigation after journalists’ phones were unlawfully monitored, and there had been long-standing claims of racism within the ranks.
Richard Lewis, who joined as chief constable in April 2019 just months before the findings, called for the force to be given time to tackle the problems as he pledged to resolve them.
Since then the force’s police and crime commissioner Barry Coppinger resigned citing ill health, having announced he was retiring after feeling under pressure from the “damning report”.
Responding to the latest findings, Mr Lewis said officers and staff had been “so invested” in making improvements and “positive steps forward are down to their hard work”.
He said he had a “solid plan and have set a clear direction on the work that we still need to do”, adding: “We have reached the first checkpoint on the marathon that is our improvement journey, and we are at a steady pace.
“Change takes time.
“This isn’t about ticking boxes.
“We’re not trying to make surface level improvements, we’re making real, lasting changes that reset how we think and operate.”