Bedfordshire PEEL 2018
How effectively does the force reduce crime and keep people safe?
Bedfordshire Police is effective at reducing crime and keeping people safe. The force continues to experience significant and long-term pressure on its resources. The need to respond to serious incidents quickly means that the force has diverted community officers from prevention work to deal with them. And frequently these incidents occur in its urban centres.
The force is good at preventing crime and tackling anti-social behaviour, and it has worked hard to increase resources in community hubs. But it should make sure that staff have access to analytical support when they need it, so that the force can achieve a more detailed understanding of problems. The force should also make sure that staff routinely evaluate problem solving, so that they understand what works in given situations and can access this knowledge in the future.
The force is good at investigating crime. It carries out effective investigations. But it needs to make sure that investigations are better supervised. Staff need to be held to account, and also to receive support and guidance. The force is aware of resource shortages in high-risk departments. It should seek to ease the burden on officers who are working in child abuse investigation teams. It should also continue its work to reduce the delays in digital examinations of mobile phones, computers and other devices. This will ensure that evidence is passed quickly to investigators in all cases.
The force is good at protecting vulnerable people, and it works well with partners to do this: for example, officers greatly value the work of the mental health street triage team. Staff know the importance of protecting vulnerable people, and they treat victims well. But the force needs to make sure that body-worn video evidence is available to staff who are investigating domestic abuse incidents. That way, they can secure better evidence, leading to more prosecutions.
In 2017, we judged Bedfordshire Police as good at tackling serious and organised crime.
How effective is the force at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe?
Areas for improvement
- The force should improve its ability to analyse information and intelligence, to provide a better understanding of crime and anti-social behaviour, and to enable it to focus activity effectively.
- The force should evaluate and share effective practice routinely, both internally and with other organisations, to improve its prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
Prioritising crime prevention
Bedfordshire Police is good at prioritising crime prevention. In January 2019, the force launched its Local Policing Strategy. The strategy is comprehensive, and it meets the standards set by the College of Policing. A communications plan aims to help staff understand the strategy. Most community staff showed a good knowledge of it. They told us that they had gained this through staff briefings.
The force has a clear local policing model. Community policing teams are based in eight county-wide hubs. These teams are responsible for talking to and working with their communities to understand and identify risk, and to agree local crime, community safety and anti-social behaviour priorities. A senior officer chairs the community implementation group. This group gives clear strategic direction for local teams.
In 2017, we found that, while the force had made some progress, it still wasn’t resourcing community teams well enough to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour. During our most recent fieldwork, we saw that the force had better resourced these teams and there were minimal staff vacancies. But community officers in most locations reported that they couldn’t always complete their work. This was because they were frequently supporting response officers at busy times. The force has guidance that states that community staff should devote 80 percent of their time to core tasks. It is often a challenge for the force to comply with this requirement and staff told us they couldn’t achieve the target. As a result, some important community priorities are delayed.
The force recognises that it still needs to increase the number of community officers in Bedfordshire, even though it has improved staffing levels. It intends to increase police constable posts by 60 force-wide. It also intends to allocate an extra 24 officers to of the community hubs, and to create 10 posts to form a new neighbourhood enforcement team. This new team will support community teams by dealing with incidents that cause the most harm. The force aims to recruit these extra staff by January 2020. We will monitor its progress.
The force trains community staff well. It gives all staff an induction course, and they all complete problem-solving training. The force has also introduced community policing conferences. These quarterly events allow staff, and colleagues from partner agencies, to hear from guest speakers. To date, the conferences have covered many relevant topics, such as ancillary orders, and case studies involving community issues, such as homelessness. Staff who attend these conferences value them and regard them as useful development opportunities.
The local policing performance board holds staff to account for preventing crime. The board monitors indicators such as how often staff use ancillary orders, and how often they use social media to connect with the public. Senior officers challenge performance at an area level. But there is an absence of formal arrangements locally. This means that the force may not always be monitoring the performance of individual staff members, and supervisors may not be as likely to challenge poor performance. Also, problem-solving activities lack effective supervision. This may lead the force to miss opportunities in problem solving.
Protecting the public from crime
Bedfordshire Police is good at protecting the public from crime. It has a good understanding of the threats facing its communities. At priority-setting meetings, staff meet with communities and try to understand their problems.
Community policing teams use local policing plans. These plans contain valuable local information about ongoing crime and anti-social behaviour. The teams also have access to a computer database (called ‘Inspire’). This contains a range of information about threat, risk and harm (for example, people who frequently go missing, registered sex offenders and organised crime groups). This information is available at ward level. It is up to date, and staff are expected to keep updated about crime and anti-social behaviour in their area. During our inspection fieldwork, we found officers and police community support officers (PCSOs) who were working in community policing teams to be knowledgeable and well briefed.
Community policing teams don’t always have ready access to analytical support. This is because of competing demands for analysts from other parts of the force. This sometimes limits the teams’ ability to fully understand community problems. And the force isn’t yet making best use of analytical resources. It doesn’t routinely use MOSAIC data, and so, for example, it may have limited knowledge about where vulnerable people live. Also, it doesn’t use predictive analytical techniques. It is currently reviewing its structure to give community teams more analytical support and more sophisticated analytical resources’.
In 2017, we found that the force needed to work with local people and partner organisations (such as local authorities) to improve its understanding of local communities. It has improved its work in this area, and it is supported by formal information-sharing agreements with many organisations. During our fieldwork, we saw examples of the force carrying out analysis with partners (most recently, an assessment of the local drug market).
In 2017, the force didn’t use a structured and consistent problem-solving process. It has since improved in this respect. During our fieldwork, community staff were using the SARA problem-solving model consistently. This is held on the SafetyNet computer system, which some partner organisations (such as local authorities) also use. But their usage wasn’t consistent, and many staff weren’t aware that partner organisations had access to SafetyNet. This lack of knowledge may be limiting opportunities for information sharing.
The force is good at using tactics to prevent crime when problems exist. There are some examples of it having made early interventions with partner organisations. These include Project Amber, a partnership between Bedfordshire Police and Luton Youth Offending Service. This project seeks to help young people who are at risk of becoming involved in serious violence.
The community cohesion team monitors community tensions. It seeks to solve problems at an early stage and prevent future escalations. The team has limited resources, but its work in identifying and mitigating community threats is generally excellent. A range of early interventions have prevented anti-social behaviour, crime and unrest.
The force now makes good use of ancillary orders, including community protection notices and dispersal powers. It has given guidance to staff about how to apply for them. The anti-social behaviour co-ordinator advises colleagues. As a result, the number of orders that the force has brought has increased from 57 in 2017/18 to 169 in 2018/19.
The force has the structures and staff in place to prevent online crime. The cyber hub works with businesses, schools and groups of vulnerable people to offer advice about how to avoid becoming a victim of cyber-related crime. The cyber prevention and protection officer visits schools to advise students about online threats, and works with other young people who are at risk of committing crime online. The aim is to prevent offending, and to divert young people into positive activities whenever possible.
In 2017, the force wasn’t routinely evaluating and sharing best practice internally or with partners. This remains the case. During our fieldwork, there was no evidence to suggest that staff regularly reviewed tactics to establish lessons learned. This means that staff may be missing opportunities to learn from experience, and to identify which tactics work best in certain situations. The force has written plans to train its staff in evaluation. But it has limited processes in place to make sure that evaluation translates into continuous improvement. Whenever possible, the ‘what works’ steering group develops evidence-based policing projects with academic institutions.Summary for question 1
How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure regular and active supervision of the quality and progress of investigations. This supervision should be properly recorded.
- The force should ensure that opportunities to reduce the workload of CAVAA officers are taken. It should review the sustainability of its current remit against its available resources and identify opportunities for tasks not requiring specialist accreditation to be considered for allocation to non-specialist officers.
- The force should improve its ability to retrieve digital evidence from mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices quickly enough to ensure that medium and low-risk investigations are not delayed.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of performance in this area.
Bedfordshire Police is good at investigating crime. Senior leaders have prioritised improving the quality of the force’s investigations. The Investigation Standards meeting identifies gaps in investigation quality and monitors investigative resources.
The investigation standards meetings discusses and highlights staff shortages. As a result, the force responds to shortages quickly. In October 2018, it allocated ten extra detectives to the ‘emerald team’, which investigates domestic abuse, rape and other serious sexual offences. Recently, it reviewed its investigative capacity and capability. As a result, it is preparing to merge its community crime team (where police constables investigate volume crime, such as shoplifting) and its serious crime investigation team (where detective constables and trainee investigators deal with more complex crimes, such as fraud and burglary). Force leaders expect the merging of these two teams to improve investigative resilience and quality.
However, detective shortfalls still present a serious challenge to the force. Currently, it doesn’t have enough detectives. It has 175 detective constable posts, but only 107 accredited detective constables are in post. Seventeen trainee detectives and nine police constables are also in post. The remaining 42 posts are vacant.
The shortage of detectives is a national problem. Bedfordshire Police has responded by implementing a detective resilience action plan, which reflects guidance from the College of Policing. It has also introduced the accelerated detective constable programme. This gives 16 weeks of initial training to new recruits who have no prior policing experience. The force planned to recruit 48 potential detectives in 2019/20. In January 2019, 16 of them began their training.
In our effectiveness report of 2017, we said that the force should increase the number of qualified detectives in high-risk departments, and make sure that workloads are manageable. The force has now allocated more experienced detectives to the emerald team to investigate rapes. During our fieldwork, we found that these officers still had high workloads, due to an increase in cases. However, the situation had improved overall as a result of the extra staff.
The force has now identified a critical need for trained staff in the CAVAA unit. This unit manages safeguarding investigations involving children and vulnerable adults. The force reports that crimes assigned to this department have increased by 42 percent since January 2018. During our fieldwork, workloads were high within the unit: some officers were managing more than 20 complex cases, and the force wasn’t filling staff vacancies. As well as causing delays to investigations, staff shortages can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of existing staff. The force is trying to attract staff into this team. But the nature of the work, and the accreditations needed to do it, means that it is limited in whom it can post to the unit. We were pleased to note that there is an organisational focus on the wellbeing of staff who carry out this unit’s vital work.
In 2017, there were delays in the examination of mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices. In turn, these were contributing to delays in investigations. The digital forensic unit completes these examinations. There are still frequent delays but these are linked to low and medium-risk investigations. The delays can be lengthy. However, the unit now prioritises high-risk cases. It has also invested in triage machines, which enable a quicker examination of devices at crime scenes. So the situation is improving. Officers who investigate high-risk, complex investigations (such as the possession and distribution of images of child abuse) reported that forensic results were available in less than a fortnight. We will monitor the progress that the force makes in this respect.
During our fieldwork, the force allocated crimes to appropriately trained and experienced staff. Response officers had a minimal investigative workload that was appropriate to their role. Some student officers were on three-month attachments in the community crime and emerald teams. Supervisors supported the student officers, who carried out tasks in support of more experienced colleagues.
The force is good at telephone investigations. Staff were well trained and supervised. And their investigations took account of victims’ vulnerability from the start.
During our inspection fieldwork, we found that investigators in most departments took opportunities to secure and preserve evidence in the initial stages. In 2017, the force didn’t always assess incidents thoroughly and offer an appropriate response to keep victims safe. This was because investigators were attending too many of the more serious incidents on a fixed appointment basis. The situation has now improved. The improvement is due to better risk management procedures, including call handlers’ use of the national risk assessment tool, known as THRIVE (threat, harm, risk, investigation, vulnerability and engagement). Call handlers in the force’s contact centre used effective questioning to elicit relevant information from callers, so that the appropriate response could be given. There were also examples of call handlers giving good advice to victims about preserving forensics at burglary crime scenes, which may help investigators to identify suspects.
During our fieldwork, we reviewed 60 crimes and found supervision to be generally poor. But officers were still familiarising themselves with Athena. Many, being unused to the system, had recorded their supervisory entries incorrectly. Officers in several investigative departments told us that Athena didn’t support effective supervision of investigations. This was because it generated reminders for supervisors, but the prompts didn’t only relate to cases that needed supervision. As a result, some staff struggled to determine which cases weren’t a priority and which didn’t need supervision at all. Only 23 out of 60 cases had an effective level of supervision, or a limited but appropriate level of supervision. However, there was better supervision of rape investigations. And some supervisors had clearly actively supervised some cases without documenting this fact on the crime report.
When supervisors did make written entries, these frequently lacked detail. And some crimes didn’t have a documented supervisory input at the point of finalisation. This means that the force may not always be identifying further investigative opportunities or safeguarding considerations. The force accepts that its supervision of investigations needs to improve. Senior leaders now review individual cases in the investigation standards meetings and hold supervisors to account for failures in supervision.
Despite clear gaps in supervision, the force’s investigations are of a good standard. According to our crime file review, 45 of the 60 investigations were of a good standard, with the force pursuing all available lines of enquiry in 44 of them. The internet child abuse investigation team investigates internet child abuse, online paedophilia and the distribution of child abuse images. The quality of its investigations was good. And robust supervision arrangements in the serious crime investigation team meant that the force was holding officers to account for the quality of their investigations.
The force is good at victim care during investigations. According to our crime file review, victim care was good in 52 out of 60 investigations. The force has a clear and comprehensive crime management procedure. Staff must offer victims the chance to make a personal statement for all victim-based crimes. The force also has sound governance arrangements. These aim to encourage officers to consider evidence-led prosecutions in appropriate cases where victims don’t support a prosecution.
In April 2018, the force launched the Bedfordshire ‘signpost hub’. The police and crime commissioner instigated and provided funding for its creation. It exists to offer support to anyone who has been affected by crime, whether they have reported the crime to the police or not. Officers complete a victim needs assessment for every crime. Victim care co-ordinators from the hub then contact victims to offer advice and support (when it is appropriate for them to do so). The hub offers restorative justice solutions when victims don’t want to support a prosecution – for instance, victims can meet their offenders to explain the personal impact of their crime, as a way for victims to have closure.
The force uses Athena to record and manage investigations, intelligence and police custody. Athena automatically uploads the details of wanted suspects to the Police National Computer. This means that details of wanted suspects are quickly circulated nationally.
Individual units are responsible for locating their own wanted suspects. The force circulates briefings about high-risk suspects to response officers. During our fieldwork, the force circulated the details of wanted suspects promptly. Cases were well supervised, and investigators were focused on finding wanted suspects.
Often, the emerald team needs to find and arrest suspects who are wanted for sex offences or domestic abuse. The team has developed its own policy of circulating the details of suspects at an early stage of an investigation. It has also introduced maximum time limits to prompt investigating officers to take this action, because of the risk that these suspects may pose. During our fieldwork, officers were complying with these time limits.
In 2017, we found that the force wasn’t routinely carrying out checks of foreign national offenders regarding identity, nationality and overseas convictions. This situation has improved. The force now completes and effectively manages ACRO checks. It works well with immigration agencies. And it makes effective enquiries to confirm foreign nationals’ entitlement to remain in the UK. The force carries out identity checks in custody suites, in line with College of Policing guidance. And it has developed a contingency for when the UK leaves the European Union.
In April 2017, the Home Office amended legislation to change the way in which police bail was granted. As a result, some police forces were releasing suspects under investigation in cases where bail with conditions may have better protected victims. In quarters one to four of 2018/19, the force has a released under investigation (RUI) rate of 30.8 percent. This compares with 25.7 percent for England and Wales. But, given that Bedfordshire Police custody is a collaborated function with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire constabularies, the RUI rates for the same period are similar to those of Cambridgeshire Constabulary at 41.5 percent and Hertfordshire Constabulary at 33 percent.
The force recognised that it needed to closely monitor bail changes – specifically, the alternative to bail (that is, RUI), which has no limitation to date or time. Routine monitoring of bail and RUI cases now takes place in custody suites. Supervisors monitor the performance of their teams.
In January 2019, the force reinforced its guidance to staff: when a remand in custody isn’t sought, police bail with conditions will be primarily considered in cases where suspects are detained for a violent offence or where the victim is defined as vulnerable. During our fieldwork, we found that officers and staff are following this guidance, and consider victim safeguarding to be paramount. Risk assessments in custody units routinely consider the risk that detainees pose to victims, themselves and others.
It is important for staff to understand disclosure rules when preparing cases for court, because omissions can lead to the collapse of criminal trials. The force has given all staff online disclosure training. This training is mandatory. At the time of our fieldwork, staff were aware of their disclosure obligations. The force has also given more in-depth training, including an advanced disclosure conference for staff in all three collaborated forces (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire) who are more likely to deal with more complex cases. Some staff in high-risk departments (such as the emerald team and the CAVAA unit) were yet to attend the more in-depth course. The force has also introduced disclosure champions in some teams, to offer advice to staff. Most staff were aware of the champions and their role. Some staff had received advice from them.
The force scrutinises outcomes at its performance board meetings. It is aware that its use of outcome 16 for domestic abuse crimes is higher than the England and Wales rate. Forces use this classification when a victim doesn’t support an investigation. In the year April 2017 to March 2018, the force finalised 54 percent of its crime in this way. This compares to 49 percent in England and Wales.
The force believes that the way to improve victims’ support for investigations is to offer them more support in the first instance. For example, it has recognised that it has a low number of independent sexual violence advocates (ISVAs). ISVAs support victims of recent and non-recent sexual abuse, and help them to access support services. Bedfordshire Police only has two ISVAs. It is now scoping how to increase this number. And it has already allocated five victim engagement officers, who work with the emerald team, to further improve its service to victims.
The force makes effective attempts to understand reductions in the numbers of positive outcomes. It also acts to improve performance. Recently, it carried out research and found that its officers were activating body-worn video at domestic abuse incidents only 39 percent of the time. This may have contributed to lower prosecution rates. This finding has led the force to focus on educating staff about the need to upload all footage from domestic incidents. Recent force analysis suggests that compliance is improving. The force now estimates the rate of body-worn video activation in domestic cases to be 54 percent in incidents of violence against the person.Summary for question 2
How effective is the force at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, and supporting victims?
Areas for improvement
- The force should make efforts to improve its domestic abuse charging rate by ensuring that response officers take all opportunities to secure and preserve body-worn video evidence at incidents of domestic abuse.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of performance in this area.
Understanding and identifying vulnerability
Bedfordshire Police is good at understanding and identifying vulnerability. It has a clear definition of vulnerability, and an effective strategy for protecting vulnerable people. Staff have access to a vulnerability handbook and to internal communications through the force’s intranet, which reminds staff of their responsibilities and the force’s definition of vulnerability.
During our inspection fieldwork, staff at all levels showed a consistently good understanding of protecting vulnerable people. The force has instilled this through a sustained, imaginative training and awareness programme. This programme has included a two-day training course for new recruits about responding to incidents involving people who have mental health conditions, and expert speakers give specific guidance to response officers during their briefings.
The force understands the nature and scale of vulnerability in Bedfordshire. Sometimes, it is hampered by partner organisations lacking the resources to give it information. But the force works well with partner organisations and agencies to share information relating to high-risk victims, offenders and locations. For example, officers from the child sexual exploitation and missing people investigation team meet weekly with partners, including representatives from the NHS and local authorities. Together, they identify opportunities to safeguard victims of exploitation, and to bring offenders to justice. A force analyst provides intelligence to support the decision making.
The force has a good understanding of how some forms of vulnerability can affect demand. It has completed an analysis of the demand created by incidents involving people who have mental health conditions. It has done this by reviewing every such incident that it encounters. It has established recurring locations and risk factors, such as substance misuse, homelessness and self-harm. The force can use these results to inform prevention activities with partner organisations.
The force has a well-developed modern slavery and human trafficking improvement plan. There are clear lines of accountability. An intelligence analyst, who has given a detailed profile of modern slavery and human trafficking in Bedfordshire, analyses intelligence that informs the plan.
The force has clear processes in place for control centre staff to identify repeat and vulnerable victims. It makes good use of address-related comments on the Storm command and control system. These comments give call handlers valuable information about previous incidents relating to certain addresses. Control centre staff also have access to Athena and the Police National Computer. They make good use of both systems. They complete intelligence searches and record results on the incident log.
In 2017, we found that call handlers in the force’s control centre weren’t consistently completing risk assessments to the appropriate standards and recording them on the force systems. During our most recent fieldwork, call handlers were completing risk assessments, using the THRIVE model, to a good standard. Call handlers record each risk assessment on the incident log. Colleagues can then read and review the log, and adjust it if circumstances change. During our fieldwork, call handlers dealt with both 999 and 101 calls, and also reviewed previous calls that the control centre had received. Staff were professional, and showed empathy in their communications – for example, they communicated compassionately with a caller who was intoxicated, had a documented history of mental health conditions, and was calling to report a theft by her partner.
Responding to incidents
The force is good at responding to incidents involving vulnerable people. It uses a ‘fast and fixed’ method to grade its own police response. It attends a so-called ‘fast’ incident within one hour and deals with a ‘fixed’ incident by arranging an appointment with the caller. Other forces don’t use this method, which makes comparisons difficult.
In 2017, we identified an area for improvement and said that the force should improve its service to vulnerable victims, especially victims of domestic abuse, by re-assessing risk and taking appropriate safeguarding action in incidents where attendance hadn’t happened or had been delayed. During our most recent inspection fieldwork, there were clear improvements. The force’s contact centre staff quickly risk assess incoming calls. Staff carry out THRIVE risk assessments for all incidents that callers report through the control centre. These inform the category of response. Supervisors then monitor the incidents and change the risk grading if they need to, particularly if circumstances change. When attendance at an incident is delayed, there was evidence of the incident being subject to an updated risk assessment by supervisors. And, in most cases, the attendance time for vulnerable victims was appropriate to the risk that the incident presented.
Incidents can only be closed once a supervisor has completed a review. This gives extra assurance. At the time of our fieldwork, investigators routinely revisited and updated the THRIVE risk assessment when cases were allocated to them. They did this in all departments. And officers attending incidents also had to complete a victim needs assessment. This highlighted any vulnerability to the signpost hub, so that victim care co-ordinators could better support victims.
During our fieldwork, we reviewed a small sample of crime files. These suggested that, in most cases, officers were achieving target response times when a victim had been assessed as being vulnerable. Also, the initial grading based on the risk assessment had been appropriate. Despite high levels of demand, officers were clear that, when they needed to safeguard vulnerable people, they would make time to complete the risk assessment and arrange aftercare (ensuring that people were safe, supported and emotionally stable).
In 2017, we found that officers needed to improve the quality of their domestic abuse, stalking and honour-based violence (DASH) risk assessments at initial response. During our most recent fieldwork, we found that this situation had improved: it was no longer an area for improvement, because of better supervision. Staff review risk assessments within the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH). Staff in the MASH can modify the risk assessment, based on other information that is available from police and partner databases. The emerald team (then completes a second review. We were told that the force plans to restrict the MASH review of domestic abuse risk assessments to high-risk cases, because of competing demands. But it plans to dip-sample medium-risk assessments, to monitor their quality and inform staff about learning.
Between quarter one and quarter four of 2018/19, Bedfordshire Police made 2,052 arrests for domestic abuse offences. This means that it made arrests in 28 percent of domestic incidents. This is also the rate for England and Wales in the same period.
But response officers still aren’t always making body-worn video footage available for investigators in domestic abuse investigations. And this is despite it being a mandatory task. The lack of video evidence means that the force may be losing vital supporting evidence from the initial response to an incident. The force has identified this as a training issue, and estimates that officers preserve footage in only 54 percent of domestic abuse cases. It has introduced an internal communications programme to change practices to improve footage upload rates.
The force is good at responding to people who have mental health conditions. It has a mental health street triage team, which is a partnership between mental health professionals, paramedics and police officers. The Bedfordshire Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat governs the team. The force’s contact centre deploys the team to incidents where the initial risk assessment indicates that a person may need help.
The team told us that they could also divert people away from scarce mental health services. Sometimes people wanted to gain access to mental health wards inappropriately and repeatedly. In these instances, the team diverted them to other, more appropriate support services. Response officers greatly value the service that the team gives. They told us that, previously, they were too often supervising people who had acute needs for extended periods. This had an impact on their ability to respond to other incidents.
The force has evaluated the mental health street triage team from the period April 2018 to the end of March 2019. The analysis showed that the service had prevented 3,082 ambulance call-outs; 2,269 police call-outs; and 20,103 attendances at hospital accident and emergency departments. It also concluded that it had prevented 588 police detentions of people under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (this gives the police powers to remove a person from a public place to a place of safety if they appear to be suffering from a mental disorder).
Supporting vulnerable victims
Community policing teams are involved in safeguarding. But, often, their involvement is restricted to ad hoc response rather than specific ownership of long-term issues. Local policing plans contain useful information for community staff, such as the details of vulnerable people who repeatedly go missing. During our fieldwork, we saw that a chief officer chaired the force’s daily management meeting and prioritised the protection of vulnerable people. Officers in community teams told us that a similar meeting took place locally every day.
In 2017, we identified an area for improvement in the force’s use of legal powers in relation to domestic abuse. We asked the force to review its use of domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) and notices (DVPNs), and Clare’s Law. The force has reviewed its use of DVPOs and DVPNs following our 2017 area for improvement. Despite this, the level of applications remains low. Between quarter one and quarter four of 2018/19, the force made only 0.05 DVPN and 0.04 DVPO applications per 1,000 of the population. During the same period in England and Wales, there were 0.10 DVPN and 0.11 DVPO applications per 1,000 of the population. We will continue to monitor how the force progresses in increasing the use of these powers.
The force has improved the process governing Clare’s Law disclosures: it has given extra responsibility to the signpost hub, and monitored its use in the domestic abuse gold group. The results are as follows:
- Between quarter one and quarter four of 2017/18, the force made 7 ‘right to know’ applications and 7 disclosures.
- Between quarter one and quarter four of 2017/18, the force made 33 ‘right to ask’ applications and 8 disclosures.
- Between quarter one and quarter four of 2018/19, the force made 52 ‘right to know’ applications and 34 disclosures.
- Between quarter one and quarter four of 2018/19, the force made 50 ‘right to ask’ applications and 28 disclosures.
Extra protection for domestic abuse victims can be achieved by using pre-charge bail conditions and the force has increased its use of pre-charge bail conditions to protect such victims. It monitors the use of the conditions at strategic meetings so that it can better understand risk. And between quarter two and quarter four of 2018/19, the force’s use of RUI in domestic abuse cases reduced from 152 cases to 108.
The force actively contributes to three MASH facilities at Bedford, Dunstable and Luton. These are aligned to the three unitary authorities in Bedfordshire. There are local variations in practice and in what each MASH deals with. But Bedfordshire Police has worked hard to achieve standardisations wherever possible (for example, by introducing a single referral form for all three MASHs). Only one MASH is in a police station (in Luton). Officers considered this to be the most effective arrangement because it promoted closer working relations between police and partner organisations at that location. The county MASH centres administer the RELAY scheme. This scheme supports children who have potentially witnessed an incident of domestic abuse that was reported in the previous 24 hours. The scheme notifies the child’s school, so that appropriate safeguarding and support measures can be arranged.
The force contributes well to multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs). These protect victims in high-risk domestic abuse cases by sharing information and agreeing safeguarding actions. Staff in the signpost hub are aware of their responsibilities to refer high-risk domestic abuse cases to a MARAC, and they do so. They also have access to MARAC records, so that they can better support victims. The force’s integrated offender management team works with high-risk perpetrators of domestic abuse to prevent further re-offending. It receives referrals directly from MARAC meetings.
The force also seeks feedback from all victims who have used the services offered by the signpost hub. It does this through satisfaction surveys. Victim care co-ordinators contact victims who have expressed dissatisfaction with the service to address their concerns.
The force is good at managing high-risk convicted sexual and violent offenders. In the six months from 1 October 2018 to 31 March 2019, the courts issued 26 sexual harm protection orders. The force acted on 14 orders that were breached.
The violent and sex offender management (VSOM) team works with partners to manage registered sex offenders or dangerous or violent offenders who live in the community. The force reported increases in the number of sex offenders it was monitoring, from 524 in January 2017, 569 in January 2018 and 605 in November 2018 to 633 as of December 2019. The force has assessed 52 percent of sex offenders living in Bedfordshire as medium risk, and only 29 percent as low risk. As a result, it is analysing whether staff are taking a risk-averse approach (that is, designating low risk as medium risk). At the time of our fieldwork, staff working in the VSOM team had manageable workloads and were well supervised.
The VSOM staff brief community and response officers on a case-by-case basis. And the Inspire computer system allows community staff to research registered sex offenders in their area. We saw a request from the VSOM team regarding the release from prison of a high-risk sex offender who was seen in public spaces near children. When we returned for our inspection fieldwork, we established that community officers had arrested the offender shortly after they were tasked to do so. Most community officers did research the Inspire system and were aware of registered sex offenders in their area.
The internet child abuse investigation team investigates the threat posed by those who share child abuse images online. In 2017, we found that the team was struggling to cope with backlogs, and ten intelligence packages with search warrants were waiting to be executed. At the time of our most recent inspection fieldwork, the team had cleared the backlogs and could respond quickly, prioritising high-risk cases. The force is effective in its approach to identifying those who share indecent images of children online. It also shows a proactive approach to reducing this threat.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.
However, Bedfordshire Police had two areas for improvement in the 2017 effectiveness inspection: we said that the force should improve the awareness of organised crime groups among neighbourhood teams, so that it could reliably identify these groups, collect intelligence and disrupt their activity; and that the force should take steps to identify those who were at risk of being drawn into serious and organised crime, and make sure that preventative initiatives were put in place with partner organisations to deter offending.
We assessed these areas for improvement, and both have been addressed. Community officers now have an up-to-date knowledge of organised crime groups, having briefed themselves via the Inspire system. They regularly collect intelligence, and liaise with officers from Operation Boson, to investigate serious and organised crime, and work in covert support roles when appropriate in support of specific operations.
When opportunities exist, community officers seek to divert young people from being drawn into serious and organised crime. The force and its partners work together on specific initiatives. One example is Project Amber based in Luton. This partnership is aimed at supporting young people who are identified as being at risk of becoming involved in serious youth violence.
How effective are the force’s specialist capabilities?
Understanding the threat and responding to it
Bedfordshire Police works jointly with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire constabularies to provide armed policing. This means that the standards of training, armed deployments and command of armed operations are assured in all three forces.
The force has a good understanding of the potential harm facing communities in Bedfordshire. Its APSTRA conforms to the requirements of the code and the College of Policing guidance. The APSTRA is published annually and accompanied by a register of risks and other observations. The designated chief officer reviews the register frequently to maintain the right levels of armed capability and capacity.
Last year, we identified some areas where the force’s APSTRA could be improved. For example, it did not include 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. The most recent APSTRA includes this detail.
All armed officers in England and Wales are trained to national standards. There are different standards for each role that armed officers perform. Most armed incidents in Bedfordshire are attended by officers trained to an ARV standard. However, incidents sometimes occur that require the skills and specialist capabilities of more highly trained officers.
We found that Bedfordshire Police has adequate arrangements in place should specialist capabilities be needed. Tried and tested arrangements in place with the Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire forces mean that specialist officers can be mobilised should their skills be required.
However, we believe there is scope to extend joint working beyond these three forces to include others in the region. This would strengthen operational resilience and bring greater assurance that officers with the right skills are on hand to manage the highest threats anywhere in the East of England.
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.
Because Bedfordshire Police provides armed policing jointly with neighbouring forces, armed officers can deploy effectively into adjoining counties if they need to. This means that greater armed response capacity is available to tackle armed criminals and protect the public.
We also recognise that a programme of work is underway to bring a number of policing services into joint venture in forces in the East of England. This is known as the ‘seven-force collaboration’ programme and is designed to make policing services more efficient and economical. We welcome the fact that armed policing forms part of this programme. In addition to our earlier comments about greater sharing of specialist capabilities, we also recognise that the available firearms training facilities available to the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire forces are limited. We believe that improved training facilities and greater sharing of specialist capabilities should be prioritised within the programme.
We also examined how well prepared forces are to respond to threats and risks. Armed officers in Bedfordshire Police are trained in tactics that take account of the types of recent terrorist attacks. Also, Bedfordshire Police 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 learning points are identified and improvements made for the future.
In addition to debriefing training exercises, we also found that Bedfordshire Police reviews the outcome of all firearms incidents that officers attend. This helps ensure that best practice or areas for improvement are identified. We also found that this knowledge is used to improve training and operational procedures.Summary for question 5