West Mercia PEEL 2016
How effective is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?
West Mercia Police is good at keeping people safe and reducing crime. This is an improvement on last year’s assessment, when we judged the force to require improvement. In particular, the standard of investigations has improved and vulnerable victims receive a better service. The force has also made improvements in the way it tackles serious and organised crime, although its approach to crime prevention requires improvement.
West Mercia Police is good at keeping people safe and reducing crime.
The force operates on a solid foundation of local policing from which safer neighbourhood teams work well with local communities. As part of their day-to-day activity, officers and police community support officers (PCSOs) take time to find out what matters to local people; however, there remain areas where local policing could be improved. If the force knew more about local demographics and population trends, then it would be in a better position to prioritise resources and plan for the future. Also, while there is no doubt that the force is committed to addressing problems in local communities, it does not evaluate its problem-solving initiatives properly. These are highlighted in this report as areas for improvement.
The force is changing operational practices for criminal investigations. Considerable investment is being made to accredit more of the workforce to specialist investigator standard in order to both increase its capacity to investigate crime and provide a better service to vulnerable victims. Standards of investigations are good and, following concerns we raised in 2015, the force has increased its ability to download evidence from smartphones, tablets and other devices. More investigations are reliant on digital evidence and the force has done well to make the retrieval of this evidence part of routine investigative practice.
The public can feel confident that West Mercia Police protects vulnerable people and supports victims well. Since HMIC last examined this area in 2015, the force has improved the service it provides to domestic abuse victims and missing children.
HMIC also found some improvements in how the force tackles serious and organised crime. Local profiles of organised crime groups have been developed alongside structured action plans to limit the harm caused by organised criminals and reflect national good practice.
In addition, this inspection examined the force’s specialist capabilities and found that West Mercia Police has good arrangements in place to respond to the national threats set out in the Strategic Policing Requirement. It is well prepared to respond to an attack requiring an armed response, and regularly tests its firearms capability.
How effective is the force at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe?
The manner in which West Mercia Police prevents crime, tackles anti-social behaviour and keeps people safe requires improvement.
Community policing is the foundation of the force’s operating model; safer neighbourhood teams generally engage well with local people and listen to their concerns and priorities. However, the force must do more to understand the changing nature of its local communities. This would help support future planning, assist with resourcing decisions and lead to better communication with communities which have less trust and confidence in the police.
Working alongside partner organisations, West Mercia Police is committed to helping find solutions to problems in local communities. However, its problem-solving initiatives would benefit from better evaluation. This would help ensure best use of resources and identify whether these tactics could address similar problems elsewhere.
Areas for improvement
- The force should work with local people and partner organisations to improve its understanding of local communities, including those which are less likely to take part in traditional forms of engagement, such as migrant communities or elderly people.
- The force should evaluate and share effective practice routinely, both internally and with partner organisations, to continually improve its problem-solving approach to the prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour.
How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?
West Mercia Police concludes more investigations successfully than many other forces in England and Wales. In particular, it makes more use of its facilities to conclude cases without taking the offenders to court.
The force’s initial assessment of allegations of crime is good. Call handlers accurately assess the level of harm that callers may be exposed to and the service provided aligns well to each caller’s individual needs.
The standard of crime investigation is also good. Investigators routinely pursue all lines of enquiry and supervision is supportive and effective. The force has responded well to comments made by HMIC in 2015 regarding the retrieval of digital evidence to support investigations. Delays in the examination of SIM cards had slowed down the conclusion of enquiries and undermined the service provided to victims. Effective measures have been put in place to rectify this.
HMIC considers the new investigative model to be well founded. It is designed to increase the force’s capacity to investigate crime and provide a better service to victims. Many officers and staff were positive about its development. By contrast, a number of representatives from other organisations and some of the workforce expressed reservations. It would be advisable for the force to increase its efforts to assess and communicate the benefits of the model to those who are affected by the change.
Offender management is one of the force’s strengths. HMIC found evidence of the force’s belief that this should be ‘everyone’s business’. There are clear signs that it is becoming part of the force’s operational activities.
How effective is the force at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, and supporting victims?
The force has a good understanding of the scale and nature of vulnerability in the communities it serves. It has analysed extensively areas of strategic risk, and its profiles of such areas, for example child sexual exploitation and human trafficking, are informative and influence its operational policing.
The THRIVE risk assessment principles are now part of routine practice. Call handlers are well trained, committed to their work and can accurately identify vulnerable people at the first point of contact. This provides a strong reference point for later enquiries and aims to ensure that victims are placed at the centre of investigations.
Officers respond well to victims who need urgent help, and understand their responsibilities. They make use of criminal law and put immediate measures in place to protect vulnerable people. For example, Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) are used to prevent abusive partners from contacting victims or returning to their homes. However, we found examples of incidents being downgraded without the rationale for this being recorded. This tended to occur when there were insufficient officers available to respond effectively.
The force’s new investigative model provides greater certainty that highly-trained investigators will manage enquiries relating to vulnerable victims. Furthermore, the force’s harm assessment units provide victims with direct access to third-party service providers, for example housing authorities and victim charities, for further support.
This inspection included a specific focus on the observations concerning domestic abuse that we made in HMIC’s 2015 effectiveness (vulnerability) report. A chief officer has responded to all of these recommendations, particularly in relation to enhanced training, and this has resulted in an improved risk-assessment process that is more closely supervised. HMIC saw several examples where the improved approach has resulted in better services for victims.
Areas for improvement
- The force should take immediate steps to understand the reasons why such a high proportion of crimes (including those related to domestic abuse) fall into the outcome category ‘Evidential difficulties; victim does not support police action’, and rectify this to ensure that it is pursuing justice on behalf of victims. West Mercia Police is one of several forces that have been asked to review its use of this outcome category. It is recommended that by 1 May 2017 the force should produce and submit to HMIC an action plan that sets out how it will:
- undertake a comprehensive analysis of the use of this outcome across the force area to understand fully why the force is an outlier, and produce an accompanying report for scrutiny by HMIC by 1 June 2017;
- review the extent to which the force’s use of this outcome category is appropriate; and
- take steps to reduce the force’s reliance on this outcome category and improve outcomes for victims.
This action plan and subsequent report will be reviewed by HMIC and may prompt additional inspection re-visits during 2017 in order to assess the force’s progress in adopting a more effective response in pursuing justice on behalf of victims.
How effective is the force at tackling serious and organised crime?
Serious and organised crime is another area where the force has responded positively to comments made by HMIC in 2015. Local profiles of organised crime groups have now been completed and operational activity to limit the harm that they cause is both effective and conforms to national best practice guidelines.
HMIC found that a local partnership is in place to support activity against serious and organised crime, but the force is yet to develop a strategic partnership board.
HMIC also noted that there are good processes in place to assign local resources to serious and organised crime within the alliance and across the wider West Midlands region.
The force still has more to do to assess the effects of its efforts to disrupt organised crime group activity and to discourage young people who may be tempted into criminal lifestyles. At present, this is not strategically managed by the chief officer team. In particular, safer neighbourhood teams could be more proactively involved in disrupting organised crime group activity.
Police operations to confront organised crime groups form part of the force’s publicity campaigns. When an investigation ends, the force considers each case to decide whether the police activity is likely to be newsworthy, and which important messages should be made public.
Areas for improvement
- The force should engage routinely with partner agencies at a senior level to enhance intelligence sharing and promote an effective, multi-agency response to serious and organised crime.
- The force should take steps to identify those at risk of being drawn into serious and organised crime, and ensure that preventative initiatives are put in place with partner organisations to deter them from offending.
How effective are the force’s specialist capabilities?
West Mercia Police has a good understanding of how the national threats outlined in the Strategic Policing Requirement relate to the force area. They are central to the force’s strategic assessment of all priorities; this ensures that the force’s capabilities and capacity to address the threats are kept under constant review.
One of the national threats relates specifically to counter terrorism. This inspection specifically examined the force’s state of readiness to manage the type of attacks that took place in Paris in November 2015. The force has studied these attacks carefully and considered their implications for the command, deployment and training of armed officers.
Firearms training in West Mercia Police conforms to national standards, and police weaponry and tactics have been enhanced as a consequence of the nature of modern-day terrorist attacks. The force has also deepened its collaboration agreements with its alliance partner and surrounding forces in preparation for an increase in the numbers of armed officers being urgently required.
The force has an established exercise training regime, and simulated terrorist attacks are used frequently to test the force’s ability to withstand this type of threat.