Avon and Somerset PEEL 2018
How effectively does the force reduce crime and keep people safe?
Avon and Somerset Constabulary is good at reducing crime and keeping people safe.
The constabulary is good at protecting vulnerable people. Officers and staff have a good understanding of what makes a person vulnerable and they are good at identifying vulnerable people at first contact. They also know how important it is to prioritise the needs of vulnerable people.
As well as focusing on criminal justice outcomes, the workforce understands the need to offer a wraparound service when they encounter vulnerability.
Call handlers communicate well and express empathy. We note the presence of mental health nurses in the constabulary’s control room, to review incidents and offer advice.
The constabulary is committed to building relationships with teachers and children so that any warning signs of abuse, exploitation or neglect are more likely to be spotted early on. It is also working to improve its understanding of potential threats to vulnerable people in cases other than domestic abuse.
The constabulary has trained its staff so that they feel confident in dealing with incidents involving people with mental health conditions. The constabulary also plans to train a number of officers as mental health tactical advisers.
The constabulary is effective at protecting victims of domestic abuse. It is monitoring a slight fall in the number of its arrest rates and bail for suspects of domestic abuse.
As part of the constabulary’s neighbourhood strategy, neighbourhood teams work to safeguard vulnerable victims. And the constabulary makes good use of protective powers where prosecutions haven’t been possible.
The constabulary manages well the risk posed by registered sex offenders. It actively seeks to reduce their risk to the public.
In 2017/18, we judged Avon and Somerset Constabulary to be good at preventing crime and tackling anti-social behaviour. We also judged it to be good at investigating crime, and good at tackling serious and organised crime.
How effective is the force at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe?
This question was not subject to inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2016 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.
How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?
This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2017 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.
How effective is the force at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, and supporting victims?
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
Understanding and identifying vulnerability
Avon and Somerset Constabulary has a clear definition for vulnerability. It also has an effective strategy. Senior leaders support a vulnerability lead for the different strands of the strategy (for example, child abuse, domestic abuse and female genital mutilation). Leaders are accountable for the force-level plan that covers their area of responsibility. The deputy chief constable monitors progress at the management board. The constabulary has communicated its definition of vulnerability well to all officers and staff. It has done this through senior leader messaging and training. Commendably, the workforce showed a good understanding of what makes a person vulnerable, and the importance of prioritising the needs of vulnerable people.
Having clear strategic accountability helps officers and staff to understand the nature and scale of vulnerability that they may encounter. Problem profiles and a strategic assessment cover areas such as mental health and domestic abuse. This means that staff can tackle the problems that are of most concern to vulnerable people.
The constabulary uses analysis to understand patterns of offending against vulnerable people. A sophisticated IT dashboard (Qlik sense) gives officers and staff up-to-date information (including graphs, charts, maps and apps) regardless of their physical location. This information includes crime types and where prolific offenders might commit these crimes. Crucially, the information also includes who (and where) their most vulnerable people are. This means that the constabulary can identify patterns of offending, and it can implement safeguarding measures to protect those who are at risk of harm. This understanding of the nature and scale of vulnerabilities is enhanced by the constabulary’s positive relationships and well-developed information sharing with partners (such as local authorities).
Staff who deal with the public reported that the constabulary had trained them in vulnerability. Call handlers, frontline officers, detectives, and police and community support officers (PCSOs) reported the same. This training helps them to understand and address the needs of vulnerable people. Recently, the constabulary adopted the College of Policing training package. It has adapted this to suit the specific needs of its staff. Officers and staff told us about the diverse range of continuous professional development that the constabulary gives, to support them in their work.
Officers and staff work well with partner organisations (such as the children’s charity Barnardo’s) to take proactive steps to uncover hidden harm. The constabulary has a well-developed understanding of sexual exploitation through Operation Topaz. (This is a joint operation with partner agencies to protect vulnerable children.) Also, it effectively shares information about victims and offenders with partner organisations to identify potential risk and to safeguard those who are at risk of exploitation. In Bristol, officers and staff tackle under-reported crime such as female genital mutilation.
The constabulary considers the views of the community. And it uses a risk-assessment tool to identify threats and to share information with partners. Operation Remedy is a robust response to escalating burglary, knife crime and county lines drug dealing.
While deliberately focused on criminal justice outcomes, staff also understand the importance of offering a wraparound service to address vulnerability when they meet it. By liaising with safeguarding specialists in advance of any enforcement activity, the constabulary can put measures in place to protect vulnerable children and occupants of addresses where cuckooing is taking place. (Cuckooing is where drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person to use it as a base for drug dealing).
The constabulary is good at identifying vulnerable people at the point of first contact. This includes identifying repeat victims, victims of domestic abuse and those who have mental health conditions. The constabulary trains and mentors call handlers. It gives additional training to vulnerability single points of contact. The constabulary’s IT systems help it to identify cases involving vulnerable people. Users of the systems can apply a range of warning markers for different vulnerabilities (and for the addresses of repeat victims). In this way, the constabulary can flag vulnerable people from the outset.
However, call handlers aren’t applying these flags consistently. This means that officers may not always have all the available information. Dedicated intelligence officers give additional information to help attending officers. And search software enables call handlers to pass on detailed information about incidents that officers attend. We spoke to response officers who said that control room staff give them regular updates. This improves officers’ awareness of the vulnerabilities and risks that might be present when they arrive at an incident.
Call handlers respond to calls quickly. They can use drop-down menus on their systems to help them gather and communicate all relevant information effectively. The constabulary has trained call handlers to use a national risk-assessment tool known as THRIVE. By using this tool, they can prioritise incidents consistently.
In the samples of calls that we listened to, operators generally used the drop-down menu. Sometimes, though, they hadn’t properly considered the risk factors for vulnerable or potentially exploited offenders. Reassuringly, for those few occasions where an initial assessment hasn’t been correct, the constabulary has further review processes in place to make sure that an officer is deployed if needed. The constabulary could lessen any risk by increasing its call monitoring, and by training staff to recognise all types of vulnerability.
Staff generally apply their training and show a good understanding of the importance of acting immediately, when necessary, to protect people who have mental health conditions. That said, sometimes staff only add tags on the system to identify these incidents when they have ended. Mental health nurses support control room staff. They review incidents, give advice and occasionally deploy to incidents.Officers told us that extra training had increased their own confidence. And the partner organisations and agencies that we spoke to were complimentary about the knowledge and understanding of officers who they dealt with regularly.
Responding to incidents
The constabulary responds to incidents involving vulnerable people quickly, to keep them safe. Sophisticated IT systems give current and future demand modelling. They also state officers’ availability and location. Invariably, this live feed to supervisors, combined with well-understood contingency plans, means that the constabulary gives an immediate response to people who need one.
During our visits to the constabulary’s control room, call handlers answered calls promptly. Officers attend appropriate incidents and they reassess risks when they get more information. Call handlers showed empathy. They communicated well and offered initial safeguarding advice to callers. By responding in this way, call handlers give reassurance and help reduce the likelihood of further harm.
When attending incidents, officers use a structured process to assess the threat that is presented to victims of domestic abuse, stalking and harassment. Officers clearly understand their responsibilities. In most cases, they complete domestic abuse, stalking and harassment risk assessments. They record the presence of other vulnerable people (such as children) in these households. Also, the constabulary participates in Operation Encompass. This initiative advocates sharing information with schools for all domestic abuse incidents where a child is mentioned. Staff from the Lighthouse safeguarding unit complete referrals to health and education providers via children’s social care. All schools in the constabulary’s area have a dedicated beat officer.
However, the constabulary has recognised that it could improve its understanding of potential threats to vulnerable adults and children in cases other than domestic abuse. It has introduced a vulnerability identification tool which supports officers to understand vulnerability. It encourages immediate safeguarding interventions at a neighbourhood level, or where risks are higher, appropriate referrals to the Lighthouse safeguarding unit and specialist support services. Leaders encourage staff to make well-considered risk-based assessments, and to understand the lived experience of victims. However, some officers aren’t certain when to complete and submit a referral. Dedicated staff within the Lighthouse safeguarding unit do reduce any risks by completing daily checks on all incidents, and by making appropriate referrals. However, they may not have the same level of understanding of a victim’s circumstances as the attending officer if this information is missed from the referral form.
Senior leaders are right to insist that officers always make thorough assessments at the scene. The Lighthouse safeguarding unit has an important role in raising awareness. Staff within the unit give regular training inputs and they liaise closely with those members of the neighbourhood teams who also have safeguarding responsibilities. Additional training and messaging (such as the ‘look beyond the obvious’ campaign) have also prompted better identification of vulnerable victims and exploited offenders. This makes sure that everyone who needs support has tailored safeguarding plans and receives the services they are entitled to.
Reassuringly, the officers we spoke with had a well-developed understanding of the importance of identifying and protecting vulnerable people. They could show examples of immediate safeguarding and information-sharing interventions that they had completed. Officers confirmed that they received regular messaging about themes relating to vulnerability (such as domestic abuse, child exploitation and mental health conditions). An example of the force’s innovation is that they can also receive automatic alerts to their mobile devices as the constabulary adds new content to the vulnerability pages of the intranet.
Across the constabulary’s area, there are five multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASHs). They cover all local authorities. The constabulary makes an effective contribution in each MASH. It has also forged strong partnerships with a range of co-located partner agencies, including education, probation, health and children’s services. These partner agencies make sure that safeguarding arrangements are in place for vulnerable people. The constabulary acknowledges the unequal representation of agencies in the different MASHs. But following recent government reforms, the constabulary now has shared statutory responsibility for children’s safeguarding. This presents opportunities for the constabulary to better influence and shape MASH processes. And it encourages partners to work together, to offer seamless information sharing and safeguarding.
It has been challenging for police forces to give a consistent response to those who suffer with mental health conditions. Increasingly, forces find themselves responsible for the safety and welfare of people that professionals in other agencies would be better placed to deal with. Avon and Somerset Constabulary has responded well. It recognises the importance of working closely with more specialist partners.
The constabulary now has effective, well-developed relationships with partners that can offer expert support. Recently, the Constabulary completed a police-led review. It has mapped and evaluated what partners are doing, and what they should be doing. This has resulted in a better understanding of the available services. It has also reduced the demands on officers.
Commissioning services are strong. The NHS-chaired Crisis Care Concordat is well attended and gives clear strategic oversight. It sets out how organisations will work together to make sure that people get the help that they need. Forces and partners identified issues that they all needed to improve on. Some of the issues crossed over. These have been identified, with the appropriate response led by police or partners.
For example, the constabulary is trialling a ‘high intensity user group’ scheme. This brings relevant partners together to agree on early intervention strategies to reduce demand on services. In addition, the constabulary has developed a problem profile for mental health. The profile is informed by internal and external databases. It has identified where services are most needed, and how they can be offered. Partners complimented officers on their local knowledge and their involvement in multi-agency community meetings. For instance, from daily tasking meetings, it was clear that local beat managers, who are allocated to work within a university, were supporting the response to mental health vulnerability where students were self-harming.
In the past, there were some instances where officers felt less confident in dealing with incidents involving people with mental health conditions. Partners suggested that joint training could be beneficial. The constabulary has now trained specific police units and given a procedural guidance handbook to all frontline staff. It gives tailored training to frontline supervisors; all sergeants and inspectors take a one-day workshop. Regular communications should reinforce understanding. The constabulary has also submitted plans to train up to 60 officers as mental health tactical advisers.
The constabulary works closely with mental health nurses. These nurses are based in the control room, offering advice and assistance, between 8.00am and 10.00pm, seven days a week. However, staffing shortages have meant that deployments to incidents don’t happen in the way that partners and police intended. The constabulary carried out an evaluation of this triage service and identified improvements. It is now implementing them. Officers said that the triage facility helped, and that the training they were receiving has given them more confidence when attending incidents. This is important given that 1,298 people were detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act in the 12 months to 31 March 2019.
The constabulary is effective at protecting victims of domestic abuse. And it prioritises attendance at these incidents. Officers attend 86 percent of domestic abuse incidents as an emergency or priority call. This is higher than the England and Wales rate of 75 percent. During our inspection, it was rare for the constabulary to deal with victims of domestic abuse by telephone. Arrest rates and bail for suspects of domestic abuse have fallen slightly. The constabulary has put measures in place to monitor this situation more closely. Officers and staff understood the importance of protecting victims. And they were making efforts to make arrests where appropriate, with the intention of improving outcomes. The constabulary made 28 arrests and six voluntary attendances for every 100 recorded domestic abuse offences in the 12 months to end of March 2019. Both of these rates are slightly above those for England and Wales as a whole.
Supporting vulnerable victims
Neighbourhood teams are involved in the safeguarding of vulnerable victims. This is a key strand within the constabulary’s neighbourhood strategy. Officers and staff that we spoke to had a good awareness of vulnerable victims and suspects. Well-managed taskings included children who are at risk of sexual exploitation, as well as people with mental health conditions and repeat victims of domestic abuse. Qliksense helped staff to identify the greatest threats, and to focus their activity on locations where vulnerable people may be targeted. These locations include care homes, bail hostels and hospitals.
The constabulary makes good use of the protective powers and measures that are available to help in the safeguarding of vulnerable victims when prosecutions haven’t been immediately viable. These include domestic violence protection notices (DVPNs) and domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) . In the 12 months to the end of March 2019, the constabulary applied for 248 DVPOs. The courts approved 232 of these. Offenders breached 28 of the DVPOs. In the same period, a superintendent approved 253 applications for DVPNs, and 14 were breached.
Officers and staff have a good understanding of the legal powers that are available to them. They also have a good understanding of how they can use these and other orders to protect vulnerable victims. Importantly, the constabulary responds appropriately to breaches of civil and criminal orders effectively. It uses its offender management and neighbourhood teams to reduce risks of re-offending.
The numbers of ‘right to know’ and ‘right to ask’ (Clare’s Law) applications are steadily increasing. In the 12 months to the end of March 2019, there were 84 applications to use ‘right to know’. The constabulary made 40 disclosures. There were also 39 applications to use ‘right to ask’, with the constabulary making 19 disclosures. The Lighthouse safeguarding unit oversees all domestic violence disclosure scheme applications.
Since changes to the Bail Act in 2017, officers and staff haven’t been using pre-charge bail as often as expected. This is a national problem. The constabulary has implemented recent national guidance to make sure that bail is applied in these and other high-harm cases. There was good awareness among investigators, who understood the need for managerial approval before deviating from the guidance. Encouragingly, the investigators we spoke to understand the importance of protecting victims. They were making sustained efforts to improve outcomes. And they were using pre-charge bail more often.
The Lighthouse safeguarding unit manages all safeguarding of high-risk domestic abuse victims. Multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) processes are effective. Specialist staff make thorough assessments of those cases with complex safeguarding issues that would benefit from joint problem solving, information sharing, and ongoing risk-management plans. The police and partners refer cases. These partners include health and education services, doctor’s surgeries and independent domestic violence advisers (IDVAs).
The constabulary and other agencies work together to produce plans that will support victims, and which are specific to victims’ needs. Daily discussions take place within MASHs and MARACs take place regularly. IDVA services complete pre-MARAC assessments to review the status of cases that are initially assessed as high risk. This makes sure that the highest priority cases are promptly addressed. Analysis indicates that referrals are made in the recommended number of cases. Cases that aren’t referred to the MARAC will still result in referral to other strategy meetings or regular safeguarding checks by neighbourhood officers, so that appropriate support is in place.
The constabulary improves its services by using the comprehensive feedback that it gets from vulnerable victims and other users. At the end of cases, staff in the Lighthouse safeguarding unit ask victims about their experiences. The constabulary also seeks feedback from partner services that support victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse. And Barnardo’s has been commissioned to report the views of children who have been involved with the criminal justice system. The constabulary shares survey information with vulnerability leads and practitioners and uses it to inform ‘lessons learned’ bulletins.
The constabulary also uses feedback to influence the decisions that are made at the local safeguarding board. For example, a scrutiny panel for users of mental health services gathers the views of this vulnerable group. Also, a victim’s reference group meets quarterly. These forums act as critical friends to the constabulary, as well as giving people the chance to share their experiences. Gathering this information isn’t always straightforward, but it allows the constabulary to gauge how it can improve services for vulnerable people.
The constabulary effectively manages the risk posed by registered sex offenders (RSOs). It has minimal backlogs of visits to low and medium-risk RSOs. It has no backlogs for high-risk offenders. The constabulary completes risk assessments using the nationally recognised Active Risk Management Model. And it works closely with partners in the probation service in their completion. Sometimes, digital forensics officers accompany staff on visits to scrutinise digital devices. This may identify further offending. It may also act as a deterrent and inform more accurate risk assessments. In addition, the constabulary is effective in its approach to identifying those who share indecent images of children online. It shows a proactive approach to reducing this threat. A specialist unit is trained to investigate these offences. As more cases are being identified, mainstream investigators are tackling those cases that the constabulary deems to be less serious.
The constabulary routinely uses preventative and ancillary orders to protect the public from dangerous and sexual offenders. The constabulary reports that it issued 167 sexual harm prevention orders in the year to the end of March 2019. During that time, 72 orders were breached. Dedicated offender management teams ensure a swift and effective response when breaches of orders occur. During our visits to local stations, neighbourhood policing teams were fully aware of the location of registered sex offenders in their areas. They were actively monitoring them and were submitting relevant intelligence to reduce the risks to the public. There was a good relationship between offender managers and neighbourhood staff, with evidence of supervisors giving additional training. This may help officers to recognise concerning associations or behaviour, and to respond appropriately.Summary for question 3
How effective is the force at tackling serious and organised crime?
This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2017 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.
How effective are the force’s specialist capabilities?
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
Understanding the threat and responding to it
Until the 31 March 2019, Avon and Somerset Constabulary had joint arrangements in place with Wiltshire Police and Gloucestershire Constabulary to provide armed policing. However, a decision by the three forces to return some armed policing services back to individual forces now means that there are transitional arrangements in place.
The constabulary’s understanding of the potential harm facing the public is adequate. Its APSTRA conforms to the requirements of the code and the College of Policing guidance. The APSTRA is published annually and is accompanied by a register of risks and other observations. The designated chief officer should however review the register more frequently to check that the right levels of armed capability and capacity are available.
Additionally, there are three areas where the APSTRA could be improved:
the force had not published its own APSTRA and remained reliant on an assessment of threats and risks affecting both Wiltshire Police and Gloucestershire Constabulary; the constabulary should now develop its own APSTRA to reflect the transitional arrangements and the future of armed policing in the region;
- it would benefit from stronger analysis and intelligence of armed criminals who present risks in Avon and Somerset Constabulary; and
- it includes details of how rapidly armed response vehicles (ARVs) respond to incidents. This is important to determine whether the force has sufficient armed officers to meet operational demands.
All armed officers in England and Wales are trained to national standards. There are different standards for each role that armed officers perform. The majority of armed incidents in Avon and Somerset Constabulary are attended by officers trained to an ARV standard. As part of the transitional arrangements, Avon and Somerset Police, Gloucestershire Constabulary and Wiltshire Police will provide their own ARVs instead of this being a shared service. However, the joint working relations between the three forces are well established and mutually supportive. ARV officers will still be able to respond to wherever they are needed in the three force areas.
Incidents sometimes occur that require the skills and specialist capabilities of more highly trained officers. Under the new arrangements, Avon and Somerset Constabulary will remain responsible for training and deployment of such officers in its own force area as well as Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. There are enough officers with these specialist capabilities available to respond to threats and protect the public in the region.
Working with others
It is important that effective joint working arrangements are in place between neighbouring forces. Armed criminals and terrorists have no respect for county boundaries. As a consequence, armed officers must be prepared to deploy flexibly in the knowledge that they can work seamlessly with officers in other forces. It is also important that any one force can call on support from surrounding forces in times of heightened threat.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary, Wiltshire Police and Gloucestershire Constabulary will continue to share training facilities as part of the new arrangements. This helps to standardise procedures and maintain standards as well as reduce costs. The training facility is hosted by Avon and Somerset Constabulary on behalf of three forces.
The decision to terminate a shared ARV service and take responsibility for it on a force-by-force basis has a number of consequences. One of these involves management overheads. Whereas previously ARV supervisors could be responsible for all three forces, additional supervisory posts are now needed. In the force, additional supervisors are now in position. The chief officers’ initial focus on transitional arrangements meant that regular direct governance oversight of armed policing to ensure clear and robust lines of accountability was not in place at the time of our inspection.
We also examined how well-prepared forces are to respond to threats and risks. Armed officers in Avon and Somerset Constabulary are trained in tactics that take account of the types of recent terrorist attacks. Also, the constabulary has an important role in designing training exercises with other organisations that simulate these types of attack. We found that these training exercises are reviewed carefully so that it can identify learning points and make improvements for the future.
We found that the constabulary regularly debriefs incidents attended by armed officers. However, it does not identify best practice and areas for improvement on every occasion. We recommend that the force reviews operational debriefing procedures. This will help ensure that opportunities to improve are not overlooked.Summary for question 5