NOTE – Please joint byline this story if used to Emily Craigie and Stuart Arnold
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has claimed that Cleveland Police need “chucking in the bin” and should be rebuilt from scratch.
Mr Houchen made the comments at the launch of a new development corporation for Middlesbrough, where concerns were raised that high crime rates in the town could put off potential investors.
The Conservative mayor hasn’t been backwards in coming forwards previously with strong opinions on Cleveland Police, having criticised a “failure of leadership” after several scandals which rocked the force and labelled it as “broken”.
Mr Houchen said: “Everybody knows my views on Cleveland Police and they haven’t changed much in the last few years.
“They are recruiting more police officers, but because of the time it takes they are not going to recruit the 150 planned for the next couple of years.
“I still think it’s a failed force, it’s the worst force in the country, it needs chucking in the bin and starting again.”
Mr Houchen also said that he had heard “horror stories” about the way the police respond to calls about crimes being committed and said he wanted to send a “very, very clear message to Cleveland Police that something has to change”.
He added: “The only thing I have ever asked Cleveland Police to do is their job and at the moment they are not doing their job.
“They are not just failing local people, they are failing local businesses.
“It’s potentially, if we are not careful, limiting investment as investors won’t look to an area that could be perceived as being high crime, which could push investment elsewhere, so it’s a real problem.
“They need to start doing their job, I’ve been saying it for the last five years, people continue to push me out of the conversation, but what we are doing now with Middlesbrough, I am going to be getting a lot more involved in that conversation.”
In 2019 a Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspection report ranked Cleveland Police as inadequate in every area, although progress has been made with a number of recommendations aimed at improvements since.
There have also been continuing concerns over anti-social behaviour in many communities and criticism of how non-emergency calls to the force are being responded to.
New Chief Constable Mark Webster and Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner have both refused to be drawn into a war of words.
Mr Webster said: “After only a few weeks as Cleveland’s chief constable, I have been deeply impressed by the hundreds of people who I have met so far.
“Teams are working incredibly hard in difficult circumstances and it’s important that we work together as senior leaders to support the frontline policing response.
“I have set a clear direction for Cleveland Police to tackle crime and protect communities and I share a vision to see Teesside succeed.
“I look forward to discussing this with Mr Houchen when I get to meet him for the first time.”
Mr Turner said the mayor “passionately believes in Teesside and has never shied away from saying what he thinks”.
He said: “One year ago I was elected to the role of police and crime commissioner to scrutinise and turn around a struggling police force, much as Ben was originally elected four years ago to transform the Tees Valley into a thriving place to work, live and visit.
“Since taking up office I have never shied away from comments like this and neither myself, or anyone else within the force, believe that Cleveland Police is where it needs to be.
“On that much Ben and I agree.
“What we mustn’t lose sight of is that Cleveland Police has moved forward in recent years and continues to do so.
“On a daily basis I meet exceptional officers and staff who are committed to serving and protecting the communities of Cleveland.
“I am dedicated to supporting Cleveland Police to become one of the best forces in the country and believe that under the leadership of our new Chief Constable Mark Webster this is a goal well within our grasp.”
Mr Turner said there were challenges with police office recruitment in Cleveland – the same as faced by any other force – but “we remain on track”.
He said: “Just last week I received a letter from Policing Minister Kit Malthouse recognising that Cleveland has recruited over and above its national recruitment targets for the last two years.
“The announcement of a new Middlesbrough Development Corporation was a red letter day for Middlesbrough and I look forward to working with it to ensure that we all realise the potential the area has to offer.
“I will continue to work with Mayor Houchen in delivering the priorities of my Police and Crime Plan, so that all of Cleveland’s residents have a police force they can be proud of.”
In February Mr Turner said extra cash being generated by a police precept rise in 2022-23 meant a “significantly better chance of delivering a more effective and efficient force”.
Officer numbers are expected to reach more than 1,460 by March next year, a 20% increase since April 2019.
But despite the increase this will still be up to between 250 and 300 officers less than the force had back in 2010.
The Home Office recently announced that it would fund a violence reduction unit in Cleveland which aims to reduce high rates of crime and violence, which Mr Turner recently said was “desperately needed”.
A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said that the force was monitored by HMICFRS and its chief constable was held to account by Police and Crime Commissioner Mr Turner, as an elected official.
She also said Mr Malthouse had praised the rate at which officers were being recruited as being at a “phenomenal pace”.