Bedfordshire PEEL 2016
How effective is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?
Bedfordshire Police is inadequate in respect of its effectiveness at keeping people safe and reducing crime. The way the force prevents crime, tackles anti-social behaviour, keeps people safe and protects vulnerable people, is inadequate. The force’s initial investigation of crime and how it tackles serious and organised crime need to improve. Our overall judgment is a deterioration on last year, when we judged the force to require improvement.
Overall, Bedfordshire Police’s effectiveness at keeping people safe and reducing crime is inadequate.
Bedfordshire Police’s effectiveness at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe is inadequate. The force introduced a new policing model in 2015, which aimed to improve crime prevention and problem-solving activities through new community teams. However, HMIC found that, beyond isolated pockets of good practice, such as the established community cohesion team, the force still does not have enough police officers and police community support officers (PCSOs) to provide effective community engagement and visible targeted foot patrols across the county, or to work consistently with partner organisations (such as local authorities, or health and education services). As a result, the force cannot take the early intervention activity necessary to help prevent crime and anti-social behaviour happening in the first place.
The context within which the force operates is particularly difficult. Bedfordshire Police faces a more acute financial challenge than most other forces and in Luton the complexity and high volume of crime represent a significant operational challenge for a small force with very stretched resources. The overall inadequate grading should not be seen as a reflection on the commitment and hard work of the police officers and staff in Bedfordshire Police who, day to day, are doing their best, with very limited resources, and often under extreme pressure, to keep the public safe. However, once again HMIC has found that in rightly focusing resources to protect its most vulnerable members of the community, the force has exposed its inability to maintain a preventative policing presence across Bedfordshire. However understandable the reasons for this might be, the consequence is that the people of Bedfordshire are not being well served by their police force. The force does not plan to resource its community teams fully until August 2018, three years after they were initially planned. This is unacceptable.
The force has centralised its intelligence teams to provide more focus on vulnerable people, guns and gangs, serious acquisitive crime, and communities, and has devised a plan to address intelligence gaps, but it is too soon to judge the effectiveness of this work. The force needs to review how it records anti-social behaviour so that it has accurate information on which to base a problem-solving approach. Although the force has improved the way it shares knowledge of ‘what works’ among its workforce, it does not yet routinely record and assess local initiatives and needs to do more to evaluate tactics and share effective practice.
The force lacks a full understanding of the communities it serves, although it is now recruiting more officers to increase engagement with local people. The force is involved in some good work with partner organisations to protect communities, but this needs to be consistent across the force area.
Bedfordshire Police’s effectiveness at investigating crime and reducing re-offending requires improvement. The quality of initial investigations needs to improve, as well as of subsequent investigations in cases of stalking and harassment. This is partly due to the high proportion of new recruits in the force and the lack of sufficient supervisors to provide the support they need.
A significant backlog remains in the forensic examination of digital devices, which means there are unacceptable delays in investigating crime and supporting victims. This was due in part because a number of staff were needed to support a national project. However, the force does ensure that high-risk cases, such as those involving vulnerable children and adults, are prioritised.
The force is good at protecting the public from the most prolific, serious and dangerous offenders. It has a robust and effective system for actively managing and reviewing outstanding suspects, those not yet apprehended, prioritising those who pose the greatest risk. A well-managed integrated offender management scheme now includes a focus on offenders who cause the most harm. We found good work in place to tackle serious youth violence, to reduce re-offending and to divert young people from first-time offending.
Bedfordshire Police’s effectiveness at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm and supporting victims is also inadequate. In particular, HMIC continues to have serious concerns about the force’s overall response to missing children and young people, not just the force control room response. The process of assessing calls about missing children is poor, and the review of the initial risk assessment determining whether the case requires a ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ police response is inconsistent. In addition the force has poor intelligence on those children who repeatedly go missing from care homes, which makes the difficulties in locating them when they go missing, and the time spent doing so, even worse. Some of the most vulnerable children and young people are being left at risk of severe harm as a result of systemic failings in this important area of policing.
The force has made progress in its understanding of vulnerability in its local areas, but gaps remain. It is improving its ability to identify vulnerable people at the first point of contact, people who are vulnerable through their age, disability, or because they have been subjected to repeated offences, or are at high risk of abuse, for example.
On a much more positive note, the force recognises that it is important to respond quickly to victims of domestic abuse and it has a mandatory attendance policy. This means that all domestic abuse incidents will receive an immediate attendance from an officer. The force has worked very hard to improve services and support for victims of domestic abuse and there are some important structural changes that have been put in place over the last year that HMIC would expect, over time, to lead to tangible improvements in the service the force provides to victims of domestic abuse. However, the arrest rate at domestic abuse incidents has fallen by 13 percent, despite an increase in cases identified as domestic abuse. The force also needs to understand why fewer victims support police action than in many other force areas.
Bedfordshire Police requires improvement in its effectiveness at identifying and tackling serious and organised crime. The force does not yet have a clear understanding of the threat and risk across Bedfordshire and it is therefore poorly placed to tackle it effectively. It has identified a very low number of organised crime groups, and HMIC is concerned that it is not identifying and mapping all groups that are active in the force area. With insufficient resources in community policing, early identification of organised crime groups is less likely.
We found examples of the force working effectively with partner organisations to disrupt organised crime groups. The force is doing good work with schools, communities and families to prevent young people from being drawn into organised crime. However, its approach to managing serious and organised criminals is limited; it does not currently have a clearly defined approach to managing offenders to minimise the risk they pose to local communities.
Bedfordshire Police has the necessary arrangements to ensure that it can fulfil its national policing responsibilities. The force is well prepared to respond to an attack requiring an armed response and is part of a strategic alliance with other forces, which regularly conducts terrorist firearms exercises.
In summary, Bedfordshire Police faces significant challenges because it has low levels of funding compared with other forces, but unusually high levels of serious threats and criminality that are not normally dealt with by a force of its size. The force has had to change its plans over the last year to address risk in the area of vulnerability and has therefore lost its promised focus on crime prevention. However, the force acknowledges the problems that exist and is determined to improve. HMIC is hopeful that the commitment of the new police and crime commissioner to a focus on community policing and crime prevention, and the determination of chief officers and the continued hard work of frontline officers and staff to make improvements, will lead to the changes needed.
How effective is the force at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe?
Bedfordshire Police is inadequate in its approach to the prevention of crime, tackling anti-social behaviour, and keeping people safe. In HMIC’s 2015 effectiveness report, we recognised that the force was implementing a new policing model, designed to increase its capacity and capability to focus on the prevention of crime and to tackle anti-social behaviour. Insufficient progress has been made and the force needs to address a number of areas for improvement as it implements the new policing model. However, this year we are concerned and disappointed to find that the community teams have still not been adequately resourced and therefore do not have the capacity to provide an effective service with meaningful crime prevention and problem solving across Bedfordshire. The force also needs to review how it records anti-social behaviour to ensure that it has an accurate picture as a basis for its problem-solving approach, so that it can protect vulnerable victims.
The force has improved its approach to sharing effective practice. It is developing its evidence on the most effective ways to prevent crime and tackle anti-social behaviour. It is making better use of ‘what works’ drawn from other forces, academics and partner organisations. However, it does not yet routinely record and assess local initiatives; it needs to do more to evaluate tactics and share effective practice.
Cause of concern
Community policing teams in Bedfordshire are not well enough resourced to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour effectively.
To address this cause of concern the force must immediately take steps to:
- increase the number of officers and staff carrying out active preventative policing and problem-solving activity; and
- monitor the effect of this increase to ensure that it improves the quality of service provided to the public.
Areas for improvement
- The force should work with local people and partner organisations to improve its understanding of local communities, including those, such as migrant communities or elderly people, who are less likely to complain or take part in traditional forms of engagement.
- The force should review how it records anti-social behaviour to ensure that it has an accurate picture to inform a more structured and consistent problem-solving approach, so that it can identify worsening behaviour and provide effective interventions to protect vulnerable victims.
How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?
Bedfordshire Police’s approach to investigating crime and reducing re-offending requires improvement. The standard of initial investigation, supervision and handover of investigations to specialist teams has declined since 2015, largely due to a higher proportion of inexperienced officers and supervisors. The way call handlers assess whether calls require an officer to attend has improved. Disappointingly, this is not the case for missing and absent children. Decision making is inconsistent, which means that some children and young people are not protected.
A recent decline in response times (officers attending 999 calls), means there is a delay in the recovery of evidence and support to victims. The force also has a significant backlog in examining digital devices for evidence.
The force has worked hard to improve the service it offers victims, particularly in the area of compliance with the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime and the completion of victims’ personal statements. However, we found that fewer victims support police action than in other force areas.
Bedfordshire Police is generally good at protecting the public from the most prolific, serious and dangerous offenders. Its integrated offender management scheme is well managed, and now includes a focus on offenders who cause most harm.
Areas for improvement
- Where victims of common assault have withdrawn their support for prosecution and they are identified as vulnerable, the police should pursue action against the perpetrator.
- The force should ensure that it responds with appropriate promptness to reports of crime.
- The force should ensure that all evidence is retrieved at the earliest opportunity, to increase the likelihood of investigations being concluded successfully, providing appropriate support to inexperienced officers as necessary.
- The force should ensure that there is regular and active supervision of investigations to improve 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.
How effective is the force at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, and supporting victims?
HMIC continues to have serious concerns about the quality and consistency of decision making within the force control room in relation to missing and absent children. Given the seriousness of these shortcomings and the risk posed to very vulnerable young people, HMIC considers the force is inadequate in how protects vulnerable people. The process of assessing calls about missing children is poor, and the review of the initial risk assessment determining whether the case requires a ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ police response is inconsistent. In some cases, assessments are being determined without the information from intelligence checks that could have led to immediate police action to locate and safeguard vulnerable missing young people. Additionally, the control room is categorising some cases incorrectly, with a number of them being categorised as ‘absent’ rather than ‘missing’. HMIC remains concerned that some children and young people are still being exposed to potential risk of harm, and that serious delays prevent the force from providing an appropriate and timely police response to safeguard vulnerable children and young people.
Bedfordshire Police does some things well to protect those who are vulnerable. It has improved its understanding of the nature and scale of vulnerability, specifically sexual exploitation, but recognises that it needs to do more to understand repeat domestic abuse victims, and missing and absent children.
As a consequence of the causes of concern set out in the Bedfordshire PEEL: Police effectiveness 2016 report, HMICFRS has re-visited the force to assess the progress made since the initial inspection.
Cause of concern
The force’s response to missing and absent children and young people – and in particular the way it determines whether a case should be treated as ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ – is exposing some children and young people to potential risk of harm.
Areas for improvement
- The force should make better use of trigger plans for persistently missing children, adults, and children at risk of sexual exploitation, to improve the force response.
- The force should provide DASH training to frontline staff to improve the quality of the assessments and ensure an improved quality of service to victims.
- The force should ensure that it has sufficient resources in the domestic abuse Emerald team to deal effectively with demand and provide specialist training to staff to increase the specialist capability.
- The force should ensure that it understands and addresses the cause of the decline in the arrest rate and the high outcome rate where the victim does not support police action.
How effective is the force at tackling serious and organised crime?
Bedfordshire Police requires improvement in its approach to identifying and tackling serious and organised crime. It does not yet have a clear understanding of the threat and risk across Bedfordshire, and it needs to update its serious and organised crime profile. It has completed some positive work aimed at understanding the threat of sexual exploitation in its area.
The force does not fully understand the threat posed by serious and organised crime. It is managing a low number of organised crime groups (OCGs) and its approach to identifying them could improve. The introduction of the new intelligence desk system is a positive step. But without sufficient resources within its community policing teams, the force cannot effectively gather local intelligence against organised crime. Once it has identified OCGs, it uses good plans to manage them. It also conducts a regular monthly review of OCGs and ensures that it consistently applies the national assessment criteria.
The force has access to an extensive range of specialist capabilities provided by the Eastern Region Specialist Operations Unit. It carries out some good work with schools and universities to identify vulnerable young people who may be at risk of being drawn into serious and organised crime.
Areas for improvement
- The force should further develop its serious and organised crime local profile in conjunction with partner organisations to enhance its understanding of the threat posed by serious and organised crime and to provide the basis for joint activity aimed at reducing this threat.
- The force should ensure that it maps all organised crime groups promptly following identification and re-assesses them at regular intervals in line with national standards.
- The force should improve the awareness of organised crime groups among neighbourhood teams, to ensure that they can reliably identify these groups, collect intelligence, and disrupt their activity.
- The force should improve its understanding, across the government’s national 4P framework, of the impact of its activity against serious and organised crime, and ensure that it learns from experience to maximise the force’s disruptive effect on this activity.
- The force should complete an action plan to make maximum use of regional organised crime unit (ROCU) capabilities, minimise duplication at force level, and ensure that the use of shared ROCU resources is prioritised effectively between forces in the Eastern region.
- The force should enhance its approach to the ‘lifetime management’ of organised criminals to minimise the risk they pose to local communities. This approach should include routine consideration of ancillary orders, and the use of partner agency powers and other tools to deter organised criminals from continuing to offend.
How effective are the force’s specialist capabilities?
Bedfordshire Police has appropriate plans for mobilising specialist resources in response to the Strategic Policing Requirement threats. These plans are tested on a regular basis and amendments made following the lessons learned from such tests. The force is well prepared to respond to a firearms attack. The assessment of threat, risk and harm has been reviewed recently and it explicitly includes the threats posed by marauding firearms terrorists. The force, together with its strategic alliance partners Cambridgeshire Constabulary and Hertfordshire Constabulary, is increasing its firearms capacity and capability, and it is making progress in doing so.
Areas for improvement
- The forces in the strategic alliance should ensure that:
- question prompts for call takers are sufficient to support them in the event of a marauding terrorist firearms attack;
- control room staff take part in local and regional exercises to test the control room response; and
- control room inspectors have access to more concise instructions and memorandums.