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Essex PEEL 2015

Effectiveness

How effective is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?

Last updated 18/02/2016
Requires improvement

HMIC judges that Essex Police requires improvement at keeping people safe and reducing crime. The force has a strong commitment to preventing crime but anti-social behaviour is not a priority, analysis is not routinely completed and knowledge of wider anti-social behaviour is limited. The quality of the force’s crime investigation is poor for cases involving some vulnerable people, although investigations are improving generally. The force is successful at disrupting high-level organised crime groups but involvement in tackling serious and organised crime at the local policing level is limited. This is the first year HMIC has graded forces on their overall effectiveness so comparison of their year-on-year progress is not possible.

HMIC judges that overall Essex Police requires improvement in the way that it keeps people safe and reduces crime.

Essex Police’s overall plan for reducing crime demonstrates a commitment to prevention and supporting victims, working with partners, and keeping people safe from crime and anti-social behaviour. However there is confusion among officers and partners as to who should manage some anti-social behaviour incidents.

The force struggles to provide consistent high-quality investigations of crimes. While its investigations of volume crimes are improving, the poor standard of some child protection investigations remains a significant concern. The force has worked hard to improve its detective capacity and capability but it remains short of accredited detectives with some detective posts being filled by unqualified officers.

HMIC has significant concerns about the capability of Essex Police to protect vulnerable people from harm and support victims. There are serious weaknesses in the force’s arrangements to safeguard and investigate cases involving vulnerable people.

The force has established methods to manage repeat and dangerous offenders to stop them re-offending. However, the large number of identified offenders awaiting arrest and forensic backlogs means that the force is not dealing with many offenders expeditiously or effectively.

The force has a good understanding of the threat posed by high-level serious and organised crime, and it is good at disrupting organised crime groups. However, neighbourhood officers have limited knowledge and understanding of serious and organised crime and undertake very little work designed to disrupt this type of dangerous criminality. The leadership has oversight of the force’s ability to respond to national threats, such as terrorism, serious cyber-crime incidents and child sexual abuse. Its own arrangements for ensuring if can meet its national obligations in this regard (such as planning, testing and exercising) are good.

 

Questions for Effectiveness

1

How effective is the force at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour, and keeping people safe?

Essex Police requires improvement in the way it approaches preventing crime and anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe. In contrast, HMIC’s crime inspection in 2014 found the force to be good at reducing crime and preventing offending.

The force’s overall plan for reducing crime demonstrates a commitment to prevention and supporting victims, working with partners, and keeping people safe from crime and anti-social behaviour. However, anti-social behaviour is not identified as a standalone priority for the force, and as a result analysis of anti-social behaviour is not routinely completed and knowledge of wider anti-social behaviour issues is limited.

Local policing areas have dedicated and knowledgeable neighbourhood teams, with a mixture of police officers and police community support officers. However the teams lack direction and they do not understand fully what they are meant to be focusing on day-to-day. They have only limited support, training and access to partner information. This hampers their ability to adopt the most effective policing tactics designed to stop crime happening in the first place. There is very little sharing of good practice.

The force works well with partner organisations, and we found examples of operational working with partners to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. The force has made some difficult decisions over the previous year but some partners feel they have not been fully consulted in these decisions, which may reduce the effectiveness of partnership relationships in the future.

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The force should ensure that it identifies, supports properly and provides an effective level of service to victims of anti-social behaviour. Officers and staff need to have a consistently good understanding of the importance of preventing and tackling anti-social behaviour.
  • The force should ensure that the prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour is a routine part of neighbourhood policing activity.
  • The force should adopt a structured and consistent problem-solving process to enable it to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour more effectively.
  • The force should use evidence of ‘what works’ drawn from other forces, academics and partners to continually improve its approach to the prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour. The force should routinely evaluate its tactics and its sharing of effective practice.
2

How effective is the force at investigating crime and managing offenders?

Essex Police’s investigation of crime and management of offenders requires improvement. HMIC’s crime inspection in 2014 also judges the force to require improvement in investigating offending.

The force has worked hard to improve its detective skills and capacity. Detectives now follow a structured process of professional development which should help to improve the availability of properly skilled and qualified detectives. However, there is still more work to do to ensure that all investigations are undertaken consistently to the right standard by the right people with the right skills.

The quality of investigations of some crimes such, as burglary and assault, is improving. However the poor standard of child protection investigations remains a significant concern. This, coupled with a lack of effective record-keeping and joint working, often results in a poor service to children at risk.

A large number of identified offenders await arrest and, while forensic and digital specialists are used effectively to support investigations, there are some backlogs. The force is not dealing with many offenders expeditiously or effectively.

HMIC accepts that the implementation of the Athena IT system had a significant impact upon the force’s performance and that staff are taking time to get used to the system. It is a situation that the force needs to continue to improve upon, as delays in its allocation and investigation of crime reduce the effectiveness of its service to victims.

The force works well to prevent re-offending among some of the county’s most prolific criminals, with a dedicated team of committed and enthusiastic staff working effectively with partner organisations to intervene and divert offenders away from a life of crime. However, the force could have more impact in this work if it involved local policing teams more in managing repeat offenders in their areas.

The force has processes for identifying and monitoring sexual offenders but, again, local policing team officers’ knowledge of the threats posed by registered sex offenders in their areas is limited, which in turn limits how effectively the force manages the risks to the public from these offenders.

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The force should ensure that it allocates promptly all crimes to investigators with the appropriate skills, accreditation and support to investigate them to a good standard.
  • The force should improve its ability to retrieve digital evidence from mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices quickly enough to ensure that investigations are not delayed.
  • The force should introduce a clear process to ensure that it arrests swiftly those who are circulated as wanted on the police national computer, those who fail to appear on police bail and named suspects identified through forensic evidence.
3

How effective is the force at protecting from harm those who are vulnerable, and supporting victims?

HMIC has significant concerns about the capability of Essex Police to protect vulnerable people from harm and support victims. There are serious weaknesses in the force’s arrangements to safeguard and investigate cases involving vulnerable people.

The force’s response to victims of domestic abuse is poor. There is confusion as to roles and responsibilities amongst officers in medium and standard risk cases resulting in safeguarding opportunities being missed. Not all officers charged with investigating high risk cases are appropriately trained and experienced. These shortcomings were highlighted in HMIC’s crime inspection in 2014. The force is not always assessing or responding to the needs of and risk to children from households where there is domestic abuse.

The supervision and quality of investigations into missing people have improved. However, we found confusion among officers, including supervisors, about the use of the categories missing and absent. These weak processes are leading to inappropriate risk assessments that are leaving vulnerable children at risk. It was clear that officers do not always understand the link between missing children and child sexual exploitation.

The force is unprepared to tackle child sexual exploitation. The force has a poor understanding of the nature and scale of child sexual exploitation and knowledge and awareness among frontline staff are limited which adversely affects their ability to identify and respond to cases.

As a consequence of the causes of concern and areas for improvement set out in our PEEL: Police effectiveness 2015 (Vulnerability) – Essex Police report, HMIC has revisited the force to assess the progress made since the initial inspection in these areas.

PEEL: Police effectiveness 2015 (vulnerability) revisit – Essex Police



Inadequate

Cause of concern

The force’s response to victims of domestic abuse is a cause of concern to HMIC because of a lack of effective and reliable force processes to respond to and safeguard victims. The force needs to improve its processes for the identification of and response to children affected by domestic abuse. There is confusion about responsibility for safeguarding those victims assessed as at medium or standard risk, and a lack of properly recorded safety plans. The force needs to improve its investigation of offences, specifically the quality of handover of investigations and ensuring that staff with appropriate professional skills and expertise carry out investigations. There is a lack of a process to monitor outstanding perpetrators of domestic abuse to ensure they are arrested at the earliest opportunity.

Recommendations

To address this cause of concern HMIC recommends that the force should take immediate steps to ensure that:

  • staff understand how children can be affected by domestic abuse and there is a process to ensure they take safeguarding actions, and make referrals to other organisations who have a role in safeguarding;
  • it clarifies roles and responsibilities of officers and staff for safeguarding victims of domestic abuse who have been assessed as at medium or standard risk, and establishes a process to ensure safety plans are properly recorded on systems;
  • officers with the appropriate professional skills and expertise carry out investigations and that processes are established to supervise the handover of cases to ensure they are of the necessary standard; and
  • it establishes a process to monitor outstanding perpetrators of domestic abuse to ensure action is taken to arrest them at the earliest opportunity.

Cause of concern

The force’s response to child sexual exploitation is a cause of concern to HMIC. The force has a poor understanding of the nature and scale of child sexual exploitation, as the problem profiles it uses to assess this are under-developed. Knowledge and awareness among frontline staff are limited which adversely affects their ability to recognise, assess and respond to cases with tailored support, including making links between persistent missing children and the risk of being exploited. Some staff are conducting online investigations into paedophile offences without the necessary skills or experience. Workload is excessive within the police online investigation team, resulting in delays. The force does not make sufficient use of video interviews for vulnerable victims and overall HMIC is concerned that its safeguarding arrangements for children at risk are not robust enough.

Recommendations

To address this cause of concern HMIC recommends that the force should take immediate steps to ensure that:

  • staff understand how children can be affected by domestic abuse and there is a process to ensure they take safeguarding actions, and make referrals to other organisations who have a role in safeguarding;
  • it clarifies roles and responsibilities of officers and staff for safeguarding victims of domestic abuse who have been assessed as at medium or standard risk, and establishes a process to ensure safety plans are properly recorded on systems;
  • officers with the appropriate professional skills and expertise carry out investigations and that processes are established to supervise the handover of cases to ensure they are of the necessary standard; and
  • it establishes a process to monitor outstanding perpetrators of domestic abuse to ensure action is taken to arrest them at the earliest opportunity.

Recommendations

To address this cause of concern the force should immediately take steps to ensure that:

  • it understands the nature and scale of child sexual exploitation by re-assessing available information, including that of partners;
  • it improves frontline staff knowledge and understanding of the factors to identify child sexual exploitation, and how to respond to cases;
  • officers with the appropriate professional skills carry out investigations involving children as victims, specifically in relation to cases of online paedophilia cases and their workloads are supervised to ensure they can do so effectively; and
  • its safeguarding arrangements are robust in relation to children who are victims of child sexual exploitation.

Areas for improvement

  • Essex Police should improve its initial response to reports of incidents, specifically in relation to cases where police have been unable to attend, to ensure it reassesses risks and takes appropriate safeguarding action. This was evident in relation to reported cases of domestic abuse but may apply to other cases.
  • Essex Police should improve its initial investigation of cases involving vulnerable victims, particularly ensuring greater officer access to photographic and video recording equipment. This will provide better evidence of injuries and scenes, and ensure compliant storage and retention of images.
  • Essex Police should improve its response to missing and absent children, specifically in relation to officer and staff understanding and use of the categories missing and absent, and of the factors that escalate the risk of harm to children.
4

How effective is the force at tackling serious and organised crime, including its arrangement for fulfilling its national policing responsibilities?

Essex Police is good at identifying and tackling serious and organised crime groups (OCGs) in its area. This is the first year HMIC has graded forces on their effectiveness at tackling serious and organised crime, including a force’s arrangements for ensuring that it can fulfil its national policing responsibilities, so no year-on-year comparison is possible.

Kent Police and Essex Police tackle high level serious and organised crime in collaboration, through the joint serious crime directorate (SCD). The SCD is good at assessing the threat posed by serious and organised crime and provides well-managed investigations and disruptions of high level OCGs using a range of tactics.

At a local policing level the force is conducting a range of operations with partners to disrupt OCGs, but more could be done to ensure the understanding of serious and organised crime among frontline officers.

The force communicates well with the public about serious and organised crime. Information is published upon the website, social media sites, and within the local press.

The force has the necessary arrangements in place to ensure that it can fulfil its national policing responsibilities.

Good

Areas for improvement

  • The force should improve its neighbourhood teams’ awareness of organised crime groups to ensure that it can reliably identify these groups, collect intelligence and disrupt their activity.
  • The force should ensure that all mapped OCGs are subject to regular scrutiny and oversight, enabling it to routinely identify and pursue opportunities for disruption and investigation.