Bedfordshire PEEL 2016
How legitimate is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?
Bedfordshire Police has been assessed as good in respect of the legitimacy with which it keeps people safe and reduces crime. Our findings this year are consistent with last year’s findings, in which we judged the force to be good in respect of legitimacy.
The force treats the people it serves, and its workforce, with fairness and respect. It is good at seeking and responding to feedback and does good work on identifying and enforcing standards of behaviour. However, HMIC has concerns about the force’s ability to ensure that its entire workforce behaves ethically and fairly because of limited capacity in its anti-corruption and vetting unit (ACU).
Bedfordshire Police and its workforce have a good understanding of the importance of treating the people they serve with fairness and respect. The force uses a variety of methods to communicate and engage with the public, including those people who may have less trust and confidence in the police. It is good at seeking and acting on feedback to improve how it treats all the people it serves. For example, it involves the independent advisory group (IAG) in reviewing body-worn video camera footage of incidents where members of the public have been stopped and searched. The IAG also advises the force how to improve public perceptions of fairness and respectful treatment when planning policing events or responding to public concerns after high-profile public complaints.
Although the force is doing some good work on identifying and enforcing standards of behaviour, HMIC has concerns about the force’s ability to ensure that its workforce behaves ethically and fairly. Its ability to identify, monitor and understand risks to the integrity of the organisation is limited by a lack of capacity in the ACU.
The force is in an alliance with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Constabularies. The alliance’s joint professional standards department (PSD), which includes the ACU, is implementing an improvement plan, drawn up after a serious gross misconduct court case collapsed over concerns about the quality of the investigation. The plan affects all three forces in the alliance. The force and alliance need to ensure that there are enough staff with the capability, with additional support, both to implement the new PSD/ACU improvement plan successfully and to handle daily business effectively.
During our inspection we found that the force had implemented too few of the recommendations we made in our police integrity and corruption report in 2014, which included recommendations for improving the capacity and capability of these units.
Officers and staff told us that they were aware of the seriousness of abuse of authority for sexual gain (taking advantage of a position of power to exploit vulnerable victims of crime) and some were aware of a recent case in Bedfordshire where an officer was dismissed for such conduct. However, the importance of identifying circumstances where officers and staff use their position for sexual gain has not been well communicated to officers. Officers and staff including supervisors are not clear about the early signs to look for.
The force has taken robust action when the behaviour of officers has fallen below the standard expected and has demonstrated to the public that it has responded positively, providing training to prevent further occurrences of a similar nature.
Bedfordshire Police is good at ensuring that it treats its workforce with fairness and respect. The force has an open culture and encourages feedback. It has an equalities group that is well attended by staff associations, unions and support networks and that is consulted on issues of fairness and respect. However, the force needs to improve how it manages individual performance and provides for the wellbeing of its workforce, particularly through preventative and early action. The force should ensure that its supervisors are sufficiently supported and trained to deal with management of sickness absence and other wellbeing responsibilities.
At the time of our inspection, the alliance was aiming to conduct an all-staff survey in June 2016, which should improve the force’s understanding of how the workforce feels it is treated.
To what extent does the force treat all of the people it serves with fairness and respect?
Bedfordshire Police has a good understanding of the importance of treating the people it serves with fairness and respect and this is conveyed to the workforce and understood. The force is able to demonstrate that it uses a variety of methods to communicate and engage with the public. There are some good examples of the force seeking feedback, particularly from those who may have less trust and confidence in the police. It carries out surveys of victims and independent custody visitors conduct unannounced visits to custody suites and speak to detainees. The force also holds regular public meetings with chief officer attendance as well as seeking challenge from those more likely to be stop searched through a scrutiny panel. It learns from incidents where the police get it wrong, such as the arrest of an autistic member of the public. Positively, the force ensured it communicated in an open and transparent way with the public and the workforce, providing training to prevent a similar occurrence happening again.
How well does the force ensure that its workforce behaves ethically and lawfully?
We found that Bedfordshire Police and the alliance are doing some positive work on identifying and enforcing standards of behaviour through the PSD publications, leadership briefings, training for new recruits and specialist training on areas such as autism. However, HMIC has serious concerns that the force and its alliance partners are not yet in a position to ensure that the workforce behaves ethically and fairly.
We found too few of the recommendations we made in our police integrity and corruption inspection in 2014 had been implemented. For example, the force still does not have the capacity to vet the workforce adequately, and not all officers and staff we spoke to understood why they needed to declare business interests. We found that those recommendations that had been completed had only been completed recently and under the new leadership.
The PSD for the alliance, which includes the ACU and vetting unit, is currently the subject of an improvement plan, resulting from the collapse of a serious gross misconduct court case due to concerns about the quality of the investigation. The alliance response includes new heads of both the PSD and the ACU, who have brought with them experience, capability and the commitment to bring about improvements quickly. To implement improvements effectively, the force and alliance must ensure that these units have sufficient capacity, capability and support.
In our 2016 national overview of police legitimacy, we recommended that all forces should have started to implement a plan to achieve the capability and capacity required to seek intelligence on potential abuse of position for sexual gain. In 2017, we reviewed of the plans put in place by all forces to in response to this recommendation.
Cause of concern
The risks that HMIC identified in 2014 and the lack of progress of the recommendations, until recently following the collapse of a court case, is of serious concern.
Bedfordshire Police, together with the other forces in the alliance, namely Hertfordshire Constabulary and Cambridgeshire Constabulary, should:
- review the capacity and capability of its PSD and ACU to ensure they can manage their work effectively;
- establish and operate effective processes for identifying and managing individuals at risk of corruption;
- ensure it complies with all aspects of the current national guidelines for vetting; and
- improve its workforce’s understanding of all corruption prevention policies.
Areas for improvement
- Annually, the force should produce a local counter-corruption strategic assessment and control strategy, to identify risks to the force’s integrity.
To what extent does the force treat its workforce with fairness and respect?
Bedfordshire Police has sought the views of its workforce in relation to perceptions of fair and respectful treatment but it could do more to tell officers and staff that it has taken action to address the issues raised. The new all-staff survey in June 2016 will provide helpful insight on the principal issues that need to be addressed.
Wellbeing is a priority for the force and it provides some good support to the workforce. There is a joint HR service across the three forces in the alliance, and more emphasis has been placed upon supervisors supporting their teams with less reliance on HR professionals. This work is starting to be part of day-to-day practice, but the force needs to ensure that there has been sufficient training so that signposting to sources of information for managers is clear and support is easier to access. To prevent and identify psychological ill health, the force is introducing a ‘mindfulness’ course, which will be a pilot scheme for the alliance.
The workforce performance assessment process has been reinvigorated recently. However, there is currently no formal oversight of the process, and the force cannot reassure itself that assessments are fair and effective. This means that more needs to be done to ensure that the workforce receives continuous professional development.
Areas for improvement
- The force should improve the way it manages officers and staff who are on restricted and recuperative duties.
- The force should ensure that its supervisors can recognise and provide support with wellbeing issues.
- The force should improve how it manages individual performance.