Bedfordshire PEEL 2015
How effective is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?
HMIC judges that Bedfordshire Police requires improvement in its approach to keeping people safe and reducing crime. The force needs to improve how it prevents crime and anti-social behaviour. The force’s crime investigation is good and it works well to stop some re-offending. The force has good arrangements in place to ensure that it can fulfil its national policing responsibilities, but needs to improve the way it tackles serious and organised crime which is a significant threat in parts of Bedfordshire. Of concern is the force’s inadequate approach to protecting vulnerable victims as detailed in our vulnerability report in December 2015. This is the first year HMIC has graded forces on their overall effectiveness so comparison of their year-on-year effectiveness is not possible.
Bedfordshire Police requires improvement in its approach to keeping people safe and reducing crime. The force is committed to preventing crime and anti-social behaviour. Generally, police officers understand this but the force has not yet assigned the right number of appropriately skilled staff to local neighbourhoods so that there can be a focus on preventing problems from occurring in the first place, or from escalating. The force needs to do more to learn from what works and share these lessons throughout the force, so that it can use its limited resources to maximum effect.
When a crime has occurred, the force acts quickly and its subsequent investigations are mostly good. The force works well to identify, investigate and bring to justice repeat and dangerous offenders and stop them re-offending. The force has improved its approach to investigating crime since HMIC’s last inspection in 2014 which is extremely positive given the extensive challenges the force faces, not least its funding challenge.
The force’s approach to tackling domestic abuse has improved since HMIC’s last inspection in 2014, although the force still needs to improve its services dedicated to supporting victims and protecting the most vulnerable people. HMIC has serious concerns about how Bedfordshire Police deals with missing children, particularly looked-after children, who are among the most vulnerable and need to be properly protected. We found gaps in the training and awareness of frontline staff about how they should identify risk and vulnerability and the steps they should take to safeguard vulnerable people, particularly children. Following our inspection the force took immediate steps to address the areas of serious concern. The force has made a good start in preparing to tackle child sexual exploitation.
Bedfordshire Police deals with a range of complex policing challenges and serious criminality on a scale not normally experienced by a force of its size. The force, together with its partners, needs to improve its understanding of the threat posed by serious and organised crime, and improve its multi-agency response to it, including work to prevent people from becoming involved in organised crime.
The leadership of the force has strong oversight of its ability to respond to national threats, such as terrorism, serious cyber-crime incidents and child sexual abuse. Its own arrangements for ensuring it can meet its national obligations in this regard (such as planning, testing and exercising) are good.
How effective is the force at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour, and keeping people safe?
Bedfordshire Police requires improvement in its approach to crime and anti-social behaviour prevention, and keeping people safe. This is a deterioration since our last inspection in 2014 when HMIC judged the force to be good at reducing crime and preventing offending. However, HMIC recognises that at the point in time of this inspection the force is implementing a new policing model, designed to increase its capacity and capability to focus on crime and anti-social behaviour prevention. It will take some time for these changes to take effect. The force needs to address a number of areas for improvement as it implements the new policing model, and it is working hard to improve.
Force priorities reflect a commitment to prevention, partnership working and keeping people safe. This commitment is generally understood throughout the force. The force recognises that it has not yet assigned the right number of appropriately skilled police officers and staff to local neighbourhoods to focus on preventing problems from occurring or from escalating.
The force is improving its systems and processes at force and neighbourhood level, and uses a range of powers and tactics to work with partner organisations to tackle anti-social behaviour and keep people safe. It needs to do more to learn from what works and share these lessons throughout the force, so that it can use its limited resources to maximum effect.
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure that its community teams are adequately resourced and skilled to provide an effective policing service to their communities.
- 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. There should be routine evaluation of tactics and sharing of effective practice.
How effective is the force at investigating crime and managing offenders?
Bedfordshire Police’s approach to investigating crime and managing offenders is good. This is an improvement on the 2014 crime inspection, in which the force was judged as requiring improvement.
Force processes for the initial investigation and allocation of crime work well. The quality of subsequent investigations is mostly good. We found that staff in the new community teams are not fully trained, but they are being supported by qualified investigators as part of the transition to the new policing model. While this area needs improving, the force is aware of the risk and provides additional training to community officers and staff. Investigation plans are thorough and well-documented, following approved practice, and we saw evidence of effective support and review by supervisors. Forensic and digital specialists are used effectively to support investigations, with backlogs promptly addressed.
The force generally keeps victims well-informed as investigations progress and contacts them after seven days to ensure that they are happy with the police service and have been updated with the progress of their investigation.
The force identifies vulnerable offenders and makes efforts to divert them from further offending. While we found a few areas for improvement, the force’s processes for working with partner organisations to identify, monitor and work with repeat and dangerous offenders to stop them re-offending generally work well.
How effective is the force at protecting from harm those who are vulnerable, and supporting victims?
Bedfordshire Police needs to address urgently the serious weaknesses in its arrangements for protecting vulnerable people from harm and supporting victims.
There is still more work to do in relation to domestic abuse to ensure victims receive a reliable and effective response. HMIC has serious concerns about the way Bedfordshire Police responds to and protects missing children, particularly looked-after children.
There is a strong commitment within the force to improve the services to protect vulnerable people. The force has invested extra resource in its specialist services that support those who are facing the greatest risks. However, HMIC has serious concerns that there are significant weaknesses in the way the force assesses risks which means that vulnerable people do not always get the response from the police that is needed to keep them safe.
There are also gaps in the training and awareness of frontline staff about how they should identify risk and vulnerability, and the steps they should take to protect and safeguard vulnerable people, particularly children. The force has made a good start in preparing to tackle child sexual exploitation and should now build on this initial approach with partner organisations.
Bedfordshire Police has taken immediate action to address the concerns highlighted during the inspection including stopping the assessment of domestic abuse victims over the phone.
As a consequence of the causes of concern and areas for improvement set out in our PEEL: Police effectiveness 2015 (Vulnerability) – Bedfordshire Police report, HMIC has revisited the force to assess the progress made since the initial inspection in these areas.
Cause of concern
The force’s response to missing and absent children is a cause of concern to HMIC. A high number of children in care who go missing are recorded as absent and categorised as ‘no risk’. This means there the force is taking limited action to understand the reasons behind the absence or to identify if these children are facing any risk while they are absent. Frontline staff lack understanding and recognition of the risk and vulnerability factors, and who is responsible for conducting investigations. We consider the police response to be poor, not only because of a lack of safeguarding and tailored support for vulnerable children and young people, but also in the missed opportunity to obtain information or intelligence to identify potential risks in terms of child sexual exploitation.
Cause of concern
The way the force assesses the level of risk and needs of vulnerable victims is a cause of concern to HMIC. We found that too few staff understand the process to assess risk and vulnerability (known as THRIVE) and have not yet been trained in using it. This means that the force assesses poorly risk and vulnerability and therefore does not always send the right people to deal with the right incidents, or indeed, send them at all.
Cause of concern
The force’s response to victims of domestic abuse is a cause of concern to HMIC. Risk assessments are on occasions being completed over the telephone without an officer seeing the victim in person. While there may be subsequent police attendance at an incident, this is not always the case. This may result in a failure to effectively recognise and assess the risk and a victim of domestic abuse (and other family members) not being appropriately safeguarded with tailored support. In addition, we found inconsistencies in the quality of investigation and handover of domestic abuse cases.
Areas for improvement
- The force should improve its response to cases of children who are at risk of sexual exploitation by ensuring that the staff from the specialist team who have the appropriate professional skills and expertise have the capacity to investigate such cases.
- The force should improve its initial response and investigation of cases involving vulnerable victims, including reports of rape or sexual offences, by ensuring staff with the appropriate skills are available to respond and support victims.
- The force should improve its compliance with the code of practice for victims of crime specifically in relation to victim personal statements.
- The force should improve the way it works with partners to share information and safeguard vulnerable people, specifically in relation to making referrals to other organisations of children at risk.
How effective is the force at tackling serious and organised crime, including its arrangement for fulfilling its national policing responsibilities?
Bedfordshire Police requires improvement in its approach to identifying and tackling serious and organised crime in its area. This is the first year that 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.
The force needs to improve its understanding of the threat posed by serious and organised crime, and improve its multi-agency response to it, including work to prevent people from becoming involved. This includes its approach to identifying, mapping and managing organised crime groups.
It has access to an extensive range of specialist capabilities provided by the Eastern Region Specialist Operations Unit. The force carries out some good early work with schools and universities to identify vulnerable young people who may be at risk of being drawn onto serious and organised crime.
The force has robust arrangements in place to satisfy itself that it is fulfilling its national policing responsibilities.
Areas for improvement
- The force should complete its serious and organised crime local profile including relevant data from partner agencies, and ensure that it has a local partnership structure in place with responsibility for tackling serious and organised crime.
- The force should ensure that it exploits the full range of intelligence sources to provide the best possible understanding of serious and organised crime, including the Government Agency Intelligence Network (GAIN).
- The force should improve its crime and community teams’ awareness of organised crime groups to ensure that they can reliably identify these groups, collect intelligence and disrupt their activity.
- The force should improve its understanding of the impact of its activity on serious and organised crime, and ensure that it learns from experience to maximise the force’s disruptive effect on this activity.