West Midlands PEEL 2017
How legitimate is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?
West Midlands Police is judged as requiring improvement in how legitimately it keeps people safe and reduces crime. For the areas of legitimacy we looked at this year, our overall judgment is less positive than last year, when we assessed the force as good overall. The force is good at treating all the people it serves with fairness and respect. It requires improvement in ensuring its workforce behaves ethically and lawfully and it requires improvement in some aspects of treating its workforce with fairness and respect.
West Midlands Police is judged as requiring improvement in respect of how legitimately it keeps people safe and reduces crime. Although we found many effective established practices and some recently introduced developments, the force still requires improvement in how it demonstrates legitimacy.
Local and force-wide independent advisory groups assist the force’s improvement across a range of policing activities, and its forward-thinking and innovative ‘fairness in policing’ project aims to transform workforce behaviour. Although officers and staff are trained to use coercive powers fairly and respectfully, some apply these powers inconsistently when using force. Such inconsistency is compounded by inadequate arrangements for recording and scrutinising data on the use of force, particularly the unsatisfactory monitoring of the use of lesser levels of force. This contrasts with the monitoring of the use of stop and search powers, for which the force has effective scrutiny both internally and externally. Chief officers endeavour to be role models and they encourage the workforce to challenge their decision making. However, published information on gifts and hospitality needs to be updated regularly, and the large backlog of vetting reviews presents an unnecessary risk to the force’s integrity. Although standards of complaints investigation are generally good, the force has an inconsistent approach towards its complainants and in referring appropriate cases to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
The force has analysed in detail its recruitment of individuals from minority communities, as well as their treatment as complainants of the force, and has introduced well-considered and innovative action in response. Health and wellbeing provision for the workforce has been improved, but some supervisors lack knowledge and understanding of the support services that are available. Processes which are intended to improve how fairly and effectively the force manages individual performance, nurtures talent and selects its leaders, while ambitious and promising, have only recently been introduced and are not yet established.
To what extent does the force treat all of the people it serves with fairness and respect?
In general terms, we found that West Midlands Police is good at treating the people it serves with fairness and respect, however there are some areas where improvements could be made. Leaders clearly articulate the benefits and importance of treating people with fairness and respect. The force is taking a progressive and innovative approach to developing procedural justice, seeking to use an ambitious ‘fairness in policing’ project to transform behaviour by the workforce. Officers and staff understand the importance of good communication skills and are trained to use coercive powers fairly and respectfully. However, improvement is needed to the way in which officers apply this knowledge to treat people fairly and with respect consistently, particularly in respect of use of force.
Furthermore, the force’s current arrangements for recording and scrutinising data on the use of force are unsatisfactory; there is no evidence of routine monitoring of the lesser levels of force which can sometimes lead to serious injury. Local and force-wide independent advisory groups (IAGs) provide effective scrutiny and challenge to assist the force with improvements across a range of policing activities, including an innovative football supporters’ IAG. The incomplete scrutiny of the use of force contrasts with stop and search, in which the force has effective scrutiny, both internally and externally. Local stop and search scrutiny panels are supplemented by a stop and search commission which provides feedback to the force to bring about improvements. The public can be confident that most officers who carry out stop and search in the West Midlands understand how to do so lawfully, fairly and with respect. The force places a strong emphasis on reducing any potential unfairness through disproportionate use of stop and search, but it would benefit from sharing any learning from its scrutiny more widely across the force.
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure that all members of the workforce understand the concept of unconscious bias and realise how it can undermine good decision making, and support them in providing a bias-free service.
- The force should ensure, in respect of the use of force, that:
- frontline officers and staff have a thorough understanding of the fair, legal and professional use of coercive powers particularly in relation to handcuffing and conducting strip searches of people in custody;
- officers and staff routinely record all use of force;
- it introduces processes to enable effective and robust scrutiny of data; and
- it uses individual and organisational learning from the scrutiny of information and data about the use of force to improve the way the workforce treats people.
How well does the force ensure that its workforce behaves ethically and lawfully?
Chief officers in West Midlands Police are aware of the need to be genuine role models, and members of the workforce acknowledge that leaders encourage them to challenge their decision making, but published information relating to chief officers’ business interests, gifts and gratuities needs to be updated more regularly. A sustained programme of training and guidance supports ethical decision making, and the force’s ‘fairness in policing’ project aims to build further on this approach. The large backlog of vetting ‘aftercare’ arrangements creates an unnecessary risk to the force’s integrity, and the force’s plans to remedy this completely within the next 12 months are not achievable. Although standards of complaints investigation are generally satisfactory, the force has an inconsistent approach both to communicating regularly with those who make a complaint and to referring appropriate cases to the IPCC. Officers outside the professional standards department who conduct investigations would benefit from additional training and development. Additionally, the force could do more to target communications about its complaints process, including printed material, to those communities with less confidence in the police.
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure that its published gifts and hospitality register is routinely kept up to date.
- The force should ensure it introduces a robust process for effective vetting ‘aftercare’ arrangements so that all members of the workforce have up-to-date vetting checks.
- The force should review how it promotes access to its complaints system (including the distribution of printed information about how to make a complaint), in line with IPCC statutory guidance, the support it is able to offer people who may need additional assistance to make a complaint, and how it promotes the complaints process in communities that have less trust and confidence in the police.
- The force should improve the quality and timeliness of updates to all complainants and other parties involved, in line with IPCC statutory guidance.
- The force should ensure that all allegations which meet the mandatory criteria for referral to the IPCC are so referred.
To what extent does the force treat its workforce with fairness and respect?
Although we found some effective practices and recently introduced developments, West Midlands Police requires improvement in aspects of its approach to treating its workforce with fairness and respect. Leaders are open to feedback from the workforce, and there are a number of established methods that are regularly used by many of the workforce. The force uses feedback and monitors a wide range of data to identify areas which affect its workforce’s perceptions, including a recent baseline assessment of procedural justice. However, its approach to resolving individual grievances lacks consistency and credibility with the workforce. The force has carried out detailed analysis to understand disproportionality in terms of recruitment and complaints, and it has introduced well-considered and innovative action aimed at tackling the problem. The force demonstrates its focus on improving the workforce’s health and wellbeing, but, at an individual level, some supervisors lack knowledge and understanding of the support available. The force has recently introduced new processes to improve how fairly and effectively it manages individual performance, nurtures talent and selects its leaders, but these are not yet established.
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure it has effective arrangements in place to support all individuals involved in any grievance and ensure that all grievances are properly identified, investigated and speedily resolved.
- The force should ensure that its supervisors are able to recognise warning signs, intervene early and provide support to members of the workforce whose wellbeing is at risk.
- The force should ensure that its workforce is aware of the wellbeing support that is available and how to access it.