South Yorkshire Police has been criticised for the way it handles domestic abuse victims.
The force has been told Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that it must improve following a recent inspection.
The watchdog looked at how the force supports and protects vulnerable people, including victims of domestic abuse.
It found that, while there is still significant work to do, police leaders, officers and PCSOs and staff have acted on the results of its last analysis 18 months ago.
In grading the police’s overall effectiveness at protecting vulnerable people, HMIC judged 12 forces to be good, 27 forces to require improvement and four forces to be inadequate.
Mike Cunningham, from HMI, said: “South Yorkshire Police identifies vulnerable people effectively.
“It has good systems in place to respond to children who go missing. It is ensuring that it is well-prepared to tackle child sexual exploitation.
“The force’s response to victims of domestic abuse is a cause of concern to HMIC due to the lack of consistent and thorough processes.
“South Yorkshire Police needs to improve its understanding of the nature and scale of domestic abuse.
“HMIC will be closely monitoring how South Yorkshire Police responds to our recommendations.”
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Detective Superintendent Matthew Fenwick, from South Yorkshire Police, said: “The poor support victims of child sexual exploitation received in South Yorkshire is part of our history and we’re working hard to ensure it’s not part of our future.
“We cannot undo what happened in the past, but we can affect what happens now in preventing and uncovering these awful crimes and ensure we’re doing everything we can to protect those at risk. We do this by continuing to come up with new and innovative ways of ensuring victims are safe, and by ensuring that offenders are made to pay for what they’ve done.
“We have dedicated officers who are absolutely committed to keeping our most vulnerable people safe from harm, and I am encouraged that HMIC have recognised the strenuous efforts our officers and staff, who work every day to protect those they serve.”
Detective Superintendent Fenwick added: “The report highlighted that we can improve how we protect victims of domestic abuse and will ensure the recommendations made by HMIC are put in place.
“We have already put a number of improvements in place. We now have safeguarding adult teams who deal with high risk domestic abuse cases and officers now work side-by-side with partners to ensure we’re working effectively and quickly.
“Our officers also now make a record of observations relating to children at a domestic abuse incident. They record the conditions they’re living in and their behaviour; making these simple checks will tell us which children need to be protected further. Our call handlers are also receiving further training in dealing with domestic abuse incidents to make sure victims are identified and given the appropriate response to ensure they are protected from harm and so that we can secure the best evidence to deal with offenders.
“We will continue to invest in further training for staff and ensure the most vulnerable people who contact us are protected and supported.”
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, was pleased the report recognised the work the force had done in protecting children at risk of sexual exploitation but was disappointed its reponse to victims of domestic abuse is not as good as it should be.
He said: “The inspectors have concentrated on two areas of vulnerability – children at risk of sexual exploitation, where the force is making good progress, and domestic abuse, where there is room for
“In January I committed an additional £2.3m to create further posts within the Public Protection unit to tackle these issues, in part because, as the report points out, the number of crimes with vulnerable victims is far higher in south Yorkshire than many other places. So I am pleased that the inspectors found that South Yorkshire Police have effective systems in place to identify vulnerable people.
“As far as child exploitation is concerned, I am especially pleased that the report recognises the difference these extra resources have made. The force is now well prepared to identify children at risk; they have good procedures for dealing with children who go missing; and they work well with partner agencies in each local authority area - Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley.
“As a result, the inspectors believe that due to ‘strong leadership’ the force is well prepared to respond to child sexual exploitation locally and is leading the police response to this nationally.
“However, I am disappointed that the response to victims of domestic abuse is not as good as it might be. I have, therefore, spoken to the Chief Constable and his senior leadership group about how the force needs to be more aware of the nature and scale of domestic abuse and more sensitive in their approach to victims, especially in their initial contact.”