Avon and Somerset PEEL 2015
How effective is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?
Overall, Avon and Somerset Constabulary is judged to require improvement at keeping people safe and reducing crime. The constabulary is good at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour but the standards of victim care and the quality of investigations lack consistency. The constabulary is generally good at identifying vulnerability but an accurate assessment of the risks presented to domestic abuse victims and persons reported as missing is not always evident. There are good arrangements in place to tackle serious and organised crime. This is the first year HMIC has graded forces on their overall effectiveness so comparison of their year-on-year effectiveness is not possible.
HMIC judges overall that Avon and Somerset Constabulary requires improvement in the way that it keeps people safe and reduces crime.
It is good at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour and these priorities are understood by frontline staff that we spoke to. The constabulary places a firm emphasis on problem-solving; it works carefully with partners to put in place early interventions for those who are at risk of slipping into crime or anti-social behaviour.
The constabulary works with five local councils and adapts its services well to different working practices within each of them. This can bring challenges at times and may limit some of the constabulary’s ambitions. For example, a multi-agency safeguarding hub which provides support to victims has been established in one council area whereas different arrangements exist elsewhere.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary requires improvement in the way it investigates crime. HMIC found examples of crime being assigned to investigators who lack the requisite skills and experience and standards of investigation are inconsistent. Furthermore, the constabulary’s responsibility to update victims about the progress of crime enquiries is not understood and accepted by all as routine practice. This is of particular concern as both of these shortcomings were pointed out to the constabulary in inspections over the last two years.
HMIC acknowledges that these difficulties are exacerbated both by the introduction of an updated crime reporting system and the implementation of a new operating model.
The constabulary’s ability to protect the vulnerable also requires improvement. It is generally good at identifying vulnerable people but more needs to be done to accurately assess the risk presented to domestic abuse victims and people who are reported as missing.
More positively, the constabulary responds well to the harm that organised crime groups can cause in communities.
How effective is the force at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour, and keeping people safe?
Avon and Somerset Constabulary prioritises the reduction of crime and anti-social behaviour and is committed to supporting vulnerable people. The constabulary places a firm emphasis on problem-solving; it makes a number of resources available to frontline staff and partners to tackle community problems.
Partnership working is mainstream activity at a constabulary-wide level, in local areas as well as in individual neighbourhoods. The constabulary has had to adjust its service to conform to different working practices in five council areas. This can be challenging and may limit some of the constabulary’s ambitions; for example a multi-agency safeguarding hub which works well in providing full-time support to vulnerable victims operates in one council area only.
The constabulary is a strong supporter of the government’s Troubled Families programme; good working arrangements exist with the local service providers where the programme, known locally as Think Family, operates.
Community safety partnerships are the operational platform where the constabulary comes together with other public services to address local problems. Good examples were seen in Filton and in the Bath and North East Somerset area to address neighbourhoods blighted with anti-social problems.
The constabulary and the police and crime commissioner have also worked hard to bring victim and witness care service providers closer together. They now work in joint hubs as part of the programme known as the Lighthouse; this ensures that a seamless, comprehensive service is provided to individuals who may otherwise feel intimidated by the criminal justice system.
How effective is the force at investigating crime and managing offenders?
Avon and Somerset Constabulary requires improvement in the way it investigates crime. The constabulary has a policy to determine how crime should be allocated to investigators and measures are in place to ensure compliance with it. However, HMIC found examples of crime being assigned to investigators who lack the requisite skills and experience. This was also highlighted as a shortcoming in HMIC’s inspection of crime in 2014.
The standards of investigations are inconsistent; of particular concern are offences of child abuse where HMIC found officers found officers reporting excessive workloads, poor supervision and uncertainty about the support plans in place for victims.
HMIC also found deficiencies in the standards of service provided to victims; the constabulary’s responsibility to update victims about the progress of enquiries is not well understood. This is disappointing because HMIC highlighted this as an area for improvement in an inspection of vulnerability in 2015.
At the time of inspection, officers and staff were adjusting to a new IT system to report crime. This was proving disruptive. Some supervisors were unable to make entries onto crime reports and procedures to keep track of wanted offenders had been adversely affected.
The constabulary is well acquainted with the problems mentioned in this section. They come in the wake of significant organisational change and established programmes, led by chief officers, are in place to guide the organisation through this period of transition.
More positively, the constabulary manages offenders effectively. The integrated offender management programme brings the constabulary together with other service providers to curb the offending behaviour of prolific and harmful criminals. Dangerous and sex offenders are subject to robust supervision and risk management plans are informed by national best practice.
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure that all crimes are allocated promptly to investigators with the appropriate skills, accreditation and support to investigate them to a good standard.
- The force should ensure that all investigations are completed to a consistently good standard, and in a timely manner.
- The force should ensure that there is regular and active supervision of investigations to check quality and progress.
- 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 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 are arrested swiftly.
How effective is the force at protecting from harm those who are vulnerable, and supporting victims?
Avon and Somerset Constabulary is prioritising resources to protect vulnerable people. However, there are several areas where improvement is needed to ensure that the service is consistent and that vulnerable people are kept safe. Given the scale of the challenge in this area and the risk that is posed to some of the most vulnerable people overall, the constabulary requires improvement.
HMIC acknowledges that the constabulary has committed significant effort and resource to offer a high quality service to vulnerable people and to support victims.
The constabulary identifies and responds to vulnerable victims effectively. However, declining levels of expertise and high workloads are affecting adversely the effectiveness of some specialist staff and some high-risk domestic abuse investigations are being investigated by non-specialist staff.
The constabulary has improved its response to missing and absent children. However, improvements are required, in particular in relation to the classification of children as absent rather than missing. Strong and developing partnership arrangements are in place to protect vulnerable people either in a multi-agency safeguarding hub or safeguarding coordination units.
The constabulary has invested in resources to tackle child sexual exploitation. A good range of policy and guidance assists staff with the management of domestic abuse but HMIC is concerned at inconsistencies in the recording of information on vulnerable people and risk assessment.
Cause of concern
The constabulary’s response to missing and absent children, specifically those at risk of sexual exploitation, is a cause of concern to HMIC. The inspection found a number of cases where the use of this absent classification was inappropriate and potentially exposed the child to risk. We found a lack of understanding and recognition of risk and vulnerability factors among frontline staff. The constabulary has more work to do in relation to the culture of some operational supervisors and in addressing their lack of understanding of the risks that child sexual exploitation poses to persistent missing children.
We saw evidence that some operational staff and supervisors regard children who go missing repeatedly as a distraction from other duties and do not appreciate the need to consider the risk and the necessity to take safeguarding action. While we found evidence of trigger or response plans for some missing and absent cases where there was an identified risk of child sexual exploitation, we are concerned that such plans are rarely up-to-date and are held on local non-networked systems, which means not all staff can access them. In some areas of the constabulary there are delays in the sharing of information with partners.
To address this cause of concern the constabulary should review immediately its approach to reports of missing children and take steps to ensure that:
- frontline staff understand and use appropriately the ‘missing’ and ‘absent’ categories, and understand the factors that escalate the risk of harm to children;
- frontline staff have the necessary knowledge to identify risk factors associated with child sexual exploitation and how to respond to such cases;
- supervisors provide the correct oversight of missing person enquiries and make appropriate decisions in accordance with the risk assessment; and
- the response to persistent and repeat missing children is improved through the effective use of information from previous missing episodes to develop co-ordinated and prioritised responses, which includes the sharing of relevant information with partners in a timely manner.
Cause of concern
The constabulary’s response to victims of domestic abuse is a cause of concern to HMIC. Discretionary use of formal domestic abuse, stalking, harassment and honour-based violence (DASH) risk assessments increases the chance that the constabulary will provide victims with inconsistent levels of support and safeguarding. The variance in domestic abuse risk assessments also presents challenges for staff in applying consistency and proportionality to common needs assessments for vulnerable victims.
We found that investigation and safeguarding plans are recorded on the force systems inconsistently. In addition, we found limited evidence of effective supervision of investigations. Some domestic abuse investigations, including those assessed as high risk, are allocated to non-specialist staff. A new influx of supervisors into specialist roles, many without previous specialist experience, has left investigative and safeguarding staff with limited opportunities for advice and direction. It is more likely that decisions on risk and safeguarding are being taken by staff with lower levels of training or experience. A backlog in training and development courses compounds the issue.
To address this cause of concern HMIC recommends that the constabulary should take immediate steps to ensure that:
- staff understand clearly when they should complete a DASH risk assessment, with that effective supervision ensuring consistency; and
- sufficient officers and staff with the appropriate professional skills and expertise carry out and supervise investigations and safeguarding activity.
Areas for improvement
- The constabulary should improve its initial assessment of risk to vulnerable people by ensuring staff who work at front counters of police stations are appropriately trained and have access to processes to identify and assess risk and vulnerability.
- The constabulary should improve its protection of vulnerable adults and children by ensuring the safeguarding coordination units share information and agree safeguarding action with partners in an effective and timely manner. This is specifically in relation to the attendance of officers at strategy meetings and the use of achieving best evidence interviews.
- The constabulary should ensure that it complies with its duties under the code of practice for victims of crime, specifically in relation to victim personal statements.
- The constabulary should improve its safeguarding of children by reviewing whether it requires a consistent process through which a child identified as being at risk could be referred to the multi-agency safeguarding hub or safeguarding co-ordination unit to allow the force to assess and consider what further action is required.
How effective is the force at tackling serious and organised crime, including its arrangement for fulfilling its national policing responsibilities?
This is the first year HMIC has graded forces on their effectiveness at tackling serious and organised crime, including a force’s arrangements for fulfilling its national policing responsibilities, so no year-on-year comparison is possible.
Nevertheless, the constabulary is judged to be good at addressing the threat from serious and organised crime. The constabulary’s strategic threat assessment articulates the challenges that Avon and Somerset faces from serious and organised crime. This understanding is strengthened by the development of a serious and organised crime local profile which has been developed in conjunction with partner organisations.
HMIC found that organised crime groups are consistently mapped and scored in line with national guidance. The potential harm that each group poses is frequently assessed through re-scoring exercises; this ensures that the relevant operational response is continually in place to contain their criminal activity.
The constabulary’s approach to serious and organised crime is inclusive and predicated on the belief that it is ‘everyone’s business’. This is borne out by the fact that neighbourhood officers, and increasingly partners, play as an important role in disabling organised crime groups as specialist detectives do.
The constabulary uses its expertise in offender management principles to deter individuals from becoming lifestyle criminals; for example, the constabulary has links with the region’s Think Family programme which provides support for those who may be susceptible to involvement in serious criminality.
Additionally, the constabulary is assessed as being in a good state of readiness to counter the threats faced in The Strategic Policing Requirement.