Wiltshire Police: Crime Data Integrity inspection 2017

Please note: This inspection was carried out before 19 July 2017, when HMIC also took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. The methodology underpinning our inspection findings is unaffected by this change.

References to HMICFRS in this report may relate to an event that happened before 19 July 2017 when HMICFRS was HMIC.

Overall judgment

graded good

Wiltshire Police has made concerted efforts to improve crime-recording accuracy since HMICFRS’ 2014 Crime Data Integrity inspection report. Importantly, we found a commitment to ethical crime recording that is free from performance pressures of any kind. We found that the force:

  • recorded nearly all reports of crime reported directly to its public protection teams;
  • achieves high levels of recording accuracy for reported sexual offences;
  • has implemented all of the recommendations set out in our 2014 report; and
  • has made good progress against a national action plan developed to improve crime recording by police forces.

Despite these advances the force is still failing some victims of crime. Based on the findings of our examination of crime reports for the period 1 August 2016 to 31 March 2017, we estimate that the force fails to record over 4,100 reported crimes each year. This represents a recording rate of 90.9 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.62 percent). The 9.1 percent of reported crimes that go unrecorded are particularly affected by the under-recording of violent crime, including offences of stalking and harassment. We also found that the force had not recorded all reported crimes of rape when connected with modern slavery crimes. Improvements are therefore required in some areas.

We consider that these failures are due to an insufficient understanding of crime-recording requirements by officers and staff, compounded by limited supervision to correct these decisions at the earliest opportunity.

Summary of inspection findings

The force has improved its crime-recording processes since HMICFRS’ 2014 report. In particular, we found that the force has:

  • set up a crime and incident validation unit responsible for the review and validation of all recorded crime and of incidents containing reports of crime, to ensure that these reports are recorded and that all victims receive the service and support they deserve;
  • improved knowledge and understanding of crime-recording requirements among officers and staff within the force’s public protection teams;
  • improved the supervision of its use of out-of-court disposals to ensure that they are being used appropriately and ethically;
  • an effective process for providing feedback to staff and officers who make poor crime-recording decisions;
  • developed and provided training to address those areas where officers and staff regularly make the same crime-recording mistakes;
  • implemented all of the recommendations set out in our 2014 report; and
  • has made good progress against a national action plan developed to improve crime recording by police forces.

We also found that the force crime registrar (FCR) – responsible for oversight and audit of crime-recording requirements – has completed a national College of Policing course for FCRs and is now fully accredited for the role. Her work is supported by the crime and incident validation unit and a small audit team.

Despite those advances, the force’s performance in respect of crime-recording could be better in the following areas:

  • The force is currently under-recording:
    • violent crimes (in particular those arising from domestic abuse incidents); and
    • crimes of rape when connected with modern slavery crimes.

The force must improve the accuracy of the recording of these reports.

  • The force is incorrectly cancelling some recorded sexual offences and offences of violence.
  • The force must improve the extent to which it collects information regarding the effect of criminality on identifiable groups within communities.

Those failings are a consequence of officers and staff not always understanding their responsibilities for crime recording. They are, in addition, underpinned by limited supervision by the force of crime-recording decisions. Improvements are required in these areas.

Areas for improvement

The force should

  • immediately take steps to put in place arrangements to ensure that it identifies, records and investigates all crimes of rape when connected with modern slavery crimes.
  • improve its approach to the cancellation of recorded crimes and immediately take steps to ensure that when it cancels a recorded crime, it always informs the victim of this decision.
  • immediately improve the understanding and use by its officers and staff of the N100 classification, for those reports of rape which are not recorded as a crime.
  • immediately improve how it collects diversity information from victims of crime and how it uses this to inform its compliance with its equality duty.

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

graded requires improvement

Overall crime-recording rate

90.9% of reported crimes 
were recorded

Over 4,100 reports of crime a year 
are not recorded

The force has further work to do in order to ensure it records all reports of crime in accordance with the Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR). We examined reports of crime which the force received, and for which an auditable record was created. The force informed HMICFRS that 97.7 percent of crime that is recorded (excluding fraud) came through an auditable crime-reporting route.

We found that the force recorded 90.9 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.62 percent). We estimate that this means the force is not recording over 4,100 reports of crime each year. Those failings are depriving many victims of the services to which they are entitled.

Of a total of 1,149 reports of crime that we audited, we found 314 that we assessed to be crimes related to domestic abuse. Of these 314 crimes, the force had recorded 260. The 54 offences not recorded included offences involving violence, harassment and stalking and malicious communications.

We found that many of these reports involved the reporting of a crime at the first point of contact with the force, but these crime reports went unrecorded with little rationale to explain why. As domestic abuse often involves victims who are particularly vulnerable to further offences being committed against them, the importance of recording reported crimes of domestic abuse cannot be overstated.

However, we also found that when crimes had not been recorded, safeguarding requirements had been considered in the majority of cases, and an investigation undertaken on some but not every occasion. Not all officers understand the circumstances under which a safeguarding risk assessment must be completed and we also found that on occasion risk assessments are poorly completed despite the fact that they should be reviewed by first line supervisors.

The absence of understanding of the extent of domestic abuse crime, the under-recording of crimes related to domestic abuse, and the failure to provide safeguarding and a satisfactory service to some of these victims is an area for improvement.

Factors contributing to the force’s under-recording of crimes are its crime-recording processes, the crime-recording knowledge of its workforce and the limited capacity of supervision to oversee crime-recording decisions.

  • Deficiencies in the crime-recording processes need to be addressed. In particular, we found that on occasion:
    • call handlers do not always record on the incident log full details of the conversation they have had with the person reporting a crime and where they do record this information it is not always passed on to officers attending the crime. This means the attending officer does not always have the full information on which to base a crime-recording decision;
    • where officers attended reports of crime they sometimes failed to record additional crimes disclosed during the investigation; and
    • officers did not always record a good or valid explanation for why a crime should not be recorded.

We note, in concluding this section, that the force responded immediately to our findings and is already taking action to address these concerns.

Violence against the person

87.7% of reported violent crimes 
were recorded

Over 1,800 reports of violent crime a year 
are not recorded

We found that 87.7 percent of violent crimes reported to the force are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.85 percent). This is lower than the overall crime-recording rate noted above. By our estimate, this means the force fails to record over 1,800 violent crimes that are reported to it each year. As violent crime can be particularly distressing for the victim, this is an area in which the need for better recording of reported crime is particularly important.

In the majority of cases, where violent crimes were not recorded, we found the principal causes to be:

  • the processes for the recording of a reported crime (described earlier);
  • officers and staff not understanding adequately the crime-recording rules, particularly around the complexities of some violence offences such as harassment and stalking, malicious communications and the more straightforward offence of common assault. This results in the failure to record many such reports of crime; and
  • an absence of adequate supervision of crime-recording decisions.

Victims of violent crime and, in particular, victims of more serious violence, often require substantial support. This support should come not only from the police, but from other appropriate agencies such as the force’s victim support service known as Horizon. In those circumstances, crime-recording takes on a heightened importance. Failing to properly record a violent crime can result in Horizon receiving no notification that a person has become a victim of violent crime. That in turn, may deprive victims of the support they need and deserve.

Sexual offences

97.8% of reported sex offences 
were recorded

We found that the force records 97.8 percent of sexual offence crimes (including rape) that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.45 percent). We estimate that this still means the force is not recording over 30 reported sexual offence crimes each year.

This recording rate is very good and is indicative of the effort made by the force to improve crime-recording since our 2014 report. This is particularly important in respect of sexual offence crimes, many of which are very serious in nature and cause significant harm to their victims. However, we note that the force failed to record a small number of offences committed against children including offences of making, taking or distributing indecent images of a child, sexual activity with a child and incitement of a child to commit a sexual act.

Where crimes are not recorded we found that, on occasion, this was due to officers and staff not understanding adequately the crime-recording rules, particularly around sexual offences involving young people and how the rules should be applied.

Rape

74 of 81 audited rape reports were accurately recorded

Rape is one of the most serious sexual offence crimes a victim can experience. Therefore, the accurate recording of such reports is especially important. It helps to ensure the victim receives the service they have a right to expect and deserve, and it allows the police to identify the nature and extent of sexual violence in their local area. In turn, this enables the police to operate with the highest practicable levels of efficiency to identify and deal effectively with perpetrators.

In Wiltshire Police we found 81 reports of rape that should have been recorded, but only 74 of these had been recorded. Six of these missed records of rape were multiple allegations connected with two modern slavery crimes, and one was from a review of N100 records (see below).

Importantly, however, we found that although these rape crimes may not have been recorded, the force provided support and safeguarding and carried out an investigation in one of these cases and the Metropolitan Police Service is providing safeguarding and conducting an investigation in the others.

There are, in addition, some issues surrounding the force’s use of the Home Office classification N100. Introduced in April 2015, the N100 is a record created to explain why reported incidents of rape or attempted rapes, whether from victims, witnesses or third parties, have not been immediately recorded as a confirmed crime. This can include instances where additional information confirms the rape did not occur, or where the rape occurred in another force area and was therefore transferred to the relevant force to record and investigate.

We found nine incident reports for which the force should have applied an N100 classification. However, it was only applied on five occasions.

Separately we also reviewed 20 sample records where an N100 classification had been applied. Among these, we found six reports of rape, the force had recorded five of these and missed one (as mentioned above).

We found that frontline officers, including some investigators and staff in the crime and communications centre had very little knowledge of the purpose and use of this classification. The force must ensure that it consistently uses classification N100 on all relevant occasions in order to minimise the delay in recording an offence of rape. This is, therefore, an area for improvement.

As with other sexual offences, the recording of a report of rape is important. Victims generally require significant support from the outset and any delay in providing support can be detrimental to both the recovery of the victim and to any investigation. This, in turn, can negatively influence future judicial proceedings.

How efficiently do the systems and processes in the force support accurate crime-recording?

graded good

Crime reports held on other systems

99 of 104 vulnerable victim crimes were recorded

In order to be confident that vulnerable victims always receive the support they need, it is important that crimes reported directly to its public protection teams are always recorded. We were pleased to find that the force works hard to ensure that this is the case.

We examined 99 vulnerable victim records on the force’s vulnerable victim recording system (called Niche). Of these, we found that 90 crimes should have been recorded, of which 86 had been. The missing four crimes included three assaults and one minor public order offence. Moreover, we looked at 20 referrals received by email into the multi-agency referral units from third party professionals (such as health professionals and social services) and found that 14 crimes should have been recorded, of which 13 had been. The missing crime was a report of theft.

This level of recording accuracy is encouraging. We note, with approval, that the force has worked hard in making improvements to the knowledge and understanding of crime-recording requirements among officers and staff within its public protection teams.

The force has also developed multi-agency safeguarding hubs that work in partnership with other organisations to support vulnerable adults and children. We found that staff working within these hubs had a clear understanding of their responsibilities with regards to crime-recording, including those reports of crime disclosed to them during meetings, case conferences and investigations. In addition, we found that supervisors provided oversight to ensure that all disclosed crimes were recorded. This is good practice.

Modern slavery

Offences relating to modern slavery are an important and recent addition to the crimes that forces must record and investigate. We therefore reviewed the recording of reports of modern slavery offences. We also examined the force’s understanding of the origin of such reports.

We examined seven recorded crimes of modern slavery and found that all were correctly recorded. This is good. However, we also found that nine additional offences related to these crimes should have been recorded, yet only three of them were. As described earlier in this report, the six missed crimes were multiple allegations of rape connected with two of these modern slavery crimes.

We also looked at 14 reports of modern slavery, derived from various sources. We found one crime that should have been recorded, this was correctly recorded.

The force has an improving understanding of the origins of reports of modern slavery and has an identified lead working locally and regionally to tackle this type of crime. There is also a comprehensive intelligence requirement and associated collection plan. However, the force acknowledges that further work is necessary to co-ordinate the effectiveness of its response alongside other agencies. Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined but still need to be made part of everyday practice.

We found that officers and staff have a good, basic knowledge of modern slavery offences. We also found that they have a good, basic knowledge of their respective responsibilities in relation to the recording of such offences and where they can find further information.

Timeliness

The HOCR require that reports of crime are recorded within 24 hours of the receipt of the report. We found that, of the reports of crime that had been recorded by Wiltshire Police, 59 out of 69 reports of rape, 387 out of 420 reports of violent crime and 180 out of 195 sexual offences (excluding rape) had been recorded within 24 hours of the receipt of the report.

This means that generally, when the force makes correct crime-recording decisions, its recording procedures are effective at ensuring the crime is recorded within 24 hours, as permitted by the rules. This timely recording enables the force to make early referrals to its victim support hub for those victims in need of the support that is available. This is welcome.

Cancelled crimes

Where additional verifiable information (AVI) is obtained to show that a recorded crime did not occur, the crime record can be cancelled. In this respect we found the force’s performance could be improved.

We reviewed 20 cancelled recorded crimes each of rape, violence and sexual offence crimes (excluding rape) and 14 robbery crimes. Of these, we found that the FCR had correctly cancelled 18 out of 20 crimes of rapes. Other crime cancellation decisions are the responsibility of designated staff, known as designated decision makers (DDMs.) The DDMs had correctly cancelled 15 out of 20 sexual offences, 14 out of 20 violence offences and all 14 robbery offences. The incorrect decisions in respect of sexual and violence offences are unacceptable. The incorrect decisions in respect of rape are particularly concerning as one of these had been cancelled without the oversight or approval of the FCR, as required by the HOCR.

We also found that many officers and staff had a limited understanding of what amounts to AVI for the purpose of cancelling a recorded crime.

Where a crime has been cancelled or transferred to another force for investigation, a victim should always know the status of his or her reported crime. In the case of a decision to cancel a recorded crime, the very least the victim should expect is an explanation of the reason for this decision. We found that the force needs to do better in this respect as only 21 out of 29 victims had been informed of the decision to cancel their reported crime and this included victims of rape, sexual offences and violence.

The force’s understanding of AVI, the decision making to cancel recorded crimes and the sharing of this decision with the victim are therefore all areas for improvement.

Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crimeprovides clear guidance to police forces regarding the service that should be provided to all victims of crime. We have concluded that the force is aware of its responsibilities under this code.

The head of crime standards and justice is the strategic lead, and compliance with the code is overseen through a victim and witness group reporting to the Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board.

All victim referrals are reviewed by the force’s victim support and witness care unit, Horizon. We found good evidence that victims are treated well and provided with appropriate support.

Equality

HMICFRS found that the force must improve in its collection of information regarding crimes affecting identifiable groups within communities.

Protected characteristics, such as gender, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, religion and age do not necessarily increase the vulnerability of an individual to the risk of crime. However, it is important that the force records information regarding the characteristics of victims of crime in order to identify any patterns which may exist between different community groups and their vulnerability to (or their relative likelihood to report) different types of crime.

We found that the force records equality information in relation to the victim such as age and gender on every occasion, but only records other protected characteristics where these are determined to be relevant to the offence.

So long as the force fails to record such information, it will be unable to understand clearly whether its crime-recording decisions are consistent across different community groups. This is, therefore, an area for improvement.

Officer and staff survey

We conducted a survey of officers and staff in Wiltshire Police of their experience in respect of crime-recording. Some 219 respondents completed the survey. We were pleased to find that nearly two thirds of respondents reported that the force’s approach in respect of crime-recording had improved or significantly improved since our 2014 inspection. Furthermore, the vast majority of respondents stated that the chief officer team encourages officers and staff to challenge activities or behaviours that are unethical, unacceptable or unprofessional in respect of the recording of reported crime.

How well does the force demonstrate the leadership and culture necessary to meet the national standards for crime-recording?

graded outstanding

The culture and leadership with regard to crime-recording in the force is outstanding.

Senior officers demonstrate strong leadership with regard to crime-recording expectations. Without exception, we found an approach among officers and staff which places the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions.

We found a clear commitment to get crime recording right, and good evidence that the current structure is supporting crime-recording arrangements. These include good interventions by the crime and incident validation unit, and by the audit team under the FCR’s supervision.

We also found evidence of strong governance. The FCR regularly attends force performance meetings and regularly meets with the chief constable to discuss crime-recording compliance. The force holds monthly crime data recording meetings, which include a review of the crime-recording local plan, HMICFRS crime data integrity inspection recommendations and other relevant crime-recording issues including staffing and training.

The force has made good progress with implementing all of the recommendations made in our 2014 report, and with the national action plan, developed by the national lead on crime statistics following our 2014 report.

Conclusion

Wiltshire Police has made good progress in its crime-recording processes since 2014. However, improvements must continue to be made.

The strong leadership and positive approach among officers and staff toward victims is welcome. However, the force is still failing some victims of crime. It needs to address this by ensuring that its staff and officers fully understand the crime-recording standards expected of them, and that these standards are supervised effectively.

What next?

HMICFRS expects the force to make progress against the areas for improvement we identify in this report. We will monitor this progress.

The force, as with all police forces, may be subject to a further unannounced crime data integrity inspection at any time.