A force once branded the worst in the country has shed that badge of shame after four years of hard work and soul searching.

Cleveland Police was given a cleaner bill of health when His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) took the force out of special measures.

The force is in a radically different position to one it found itself following a severely critical inspection report in 2019.

However, the driving forces behind the improvements, Chief Constable Mark Webster and Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner, are refusing to rest on their laurels and are challenging officers and staff to continue the progress.

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Mr Webster said: “This was a real boost to the confidence of the work force and hopefully and importantly to the public as well, so that they know that the quality of the policing service they get is far better than it was in the past.”

The Northern Echo: Chief Constable Mark WebsterChief Constable Mark Webster (Image: Cleveland Police)

Mr Turner added: “It has been too easy for people to point the finger and say we were the worst force in the country but over the last two years we have been able to say ‘no we’re not’ but it is really difficult to show the public that we’re not.

“This gives us a tangible piece of evidence that says actually while we know we still have a lot of things to improve, you can’t hold that over us anymore and that changes the narrative.

“It allows us to proper conversations about what we want to do next.”

Significant improvements

The force now has the second highest rate of arrests nationally and crime has fallen over the summer this year compared to the previous 12 months.

Mr Webster said: “We need to recognise that some of the stuff this force does is as good as anywhere. The 999-call answering we were the best in the country and we are consistently in the top five still.

“What really counts is what happens on the ground and there is some really good stuff that is drowned out by negative messaging.”

Now the force is back on an even keel it is more determined and focussed on tackling the issues that are causing serious concern in local communities – anti-social behaviour and off-road bikes.

Mr Turner said: “We crushed more bikes in two months than most forces crush in a full year but because every time you see a bike, in your mind that is still a huge problem, but it is nowhere near the scale of a problem that it was six-months ago.

“That’s just one example but we could give you a dozen that shows that we are really challenging the issues we are getting into.”

Root causes

However, Mr Webster accepts there is more to be done and is calling on other organisations to get on board and help to tackle the root causes of crime and winning the confidence of the public.

He said: “The drivers of crime are often outside our control, so what I really want is to see as much effort as possible to target the drivers of crime in the first place.

“The answer isn’t to arrest as many people as you can, it’s to actually stop what is driving the problem in the first place.”

The Northern Echo: Cleveland PCC Steve TurnerCleveland PCC Steve Turner (Image: The Northern Echo)

And Mr Turner wants the force to continue its progress by delivering early intervention initiatives to help divert people away from a life of crime before they set off down that path.

He added: “An awful lot of the work we (the PCC’s office) do is support the force from the other end, so are we doing educational programmes, are we doing diversion programmes.

“If I look at some of the funding we give to groups, for example MFC Kicks, on the nights they go into certain areas you see crime reports drop and it is the same with some of the other programmes we do.

“If we people two or three thousands kids three knife crime intervention this year, we might not see that benefit this year or even the year after but if ten years from now something we did stops somebody from being stabbed to death then that is a great intervention.”

Extra funding

The PCC office has also been able to attract additional funding from the government to tackle violent crime and anti-social behaviour.

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Mr Turner added: “The Safer Streets programme where we have put in street lighting, CCTV, and burglary packs that we have put into some of the areas around Middlesbrough, Stockton, and Hartlepool, they have seen massive drops in crimes committed in those areas.

“Being able to see those programmes and show how they work has been invaluable and that will help us in the long term.”

Looking towards the future, Mr Webster said: “We have to celebrate our achievements and feel proud about it but it is 2,500 people who have delivered this but equally, what you won’t get is a deep sigh and everybody relaxes.

“Every day this place gets better and better and we will keep improving this force and continue pushing it on.”