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Devon and Cornwall PEEL 2018


How effectively does the force reduce crime and keep people safe?

Last updated 21/01/2020

Devon and Cornwall Police is effective at keeping people safe.

The quality and supervision of its investigations are better. But more consistent improvement is needed across the force. Workloads are high in some specialist investigation teams and vacancies are affecting capacity in some teams.

All frontline staff now have body-worn video cameras. These are being used to protect vulnerable people.

The force has made good progress in training staff on disclosure. This gives the defence copies of or access to material that could help it or undermine the prosecution case.

The force is good at protecting vulnerable people. The workforce recognises vulnerability and officers attend incidents quickly. But there are delays in responding to some non-emergency calls for service, which the force is addressing.

In 2017, we judged the force to be good at preventing crime and tackling anti-social behaviour. We also judged it to be good at tackling serious and organised crime.

Questions for Effectiveness


How effective is the force at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe?


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 investigating crime and reducing re-offending?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The force should improve the scrutiny and governance of outstanding suspects and persons released under investigation to ensure that investigations are pursued effectively.
  • The force should ensure that it puts in place regular and active supervision consistently and records it appropriately, to monitor the quality and progress
    of investigations.
  • The force should improve its ability to retrieve digital evidence from mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices quickly enough to ensure that investigations are not delayed.
  • The force needs to improve its oversight and understanding of those wanted for criminal offences, ensuring they are both circulated on the Police National Computer and actively sought.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of performance in this area.

Investigation quality

Devon and Cornwall Police needs to improve the way it investigates crime. Like other forces, it predicts a shortage of between 40 and 60 investigators in the immediate future. During our inspection, there were also restrictions on how some resources could be deployed. This was also affecting capacity.

There are plans to improve the situation. They include:

  • recruiting transferees from other forces;
  • investing in investigator posts; and
  • developing and promoting internal fast-track pathways for detectives.

Investigators undergo training and development. This includes reflective learning reviews and training events. But development for those who investigate lower-tier crime was less obvious. The force should assure itself that professional development is available to all officers and staff.

Crimes were, in general, allocated the right resources and investigators had the necessary skills. But there are demand and vacancy pressures in some teams. This includes the sexual offence and domestic abuse investigation team (SODAIT). These teams were struggling to meet demand. And we found examples of investigations being allocated to frontline officers as a result. The force is aware of the problems. During our inspection, a review of SODAIT capacity and capability was underway.

In April 2019, the force introduced Investigation Resolution Centres (IRCs). This followed a successful pilot in Cornwall. There are now four IRCs across the force. They manage and investigate lower-tier criminal allegations over the phone. Phased implementation of IRCs is helping the force monitor the difference they are making to the quality of investigations and service to victims. It was too early to assess this when we inspected. We will watch progress with interest.

Senior leaders from the investigative work area meet for a bi-monthly ISB. They plan and review activity. The aim is to improve investigative capacity, capability, quality and outcomes. This has helped the force make improvements that are more likely to be sustainable as a result.

In 2017, we said that the force should complete investigations to a consistently good standard and promptly. We acknowledge the work that the ISB has done to improve in this area. This is most obvious in teams where supervisors were involved in reviewing their teams’ workloads.

There are still delays in processing digital evidence. This was an area for improvement in our 2017 inspection and remains so. These delays affect the speed of some investigations. 

Before our inspection, we reviewed 60 investigation case files. Forty-four of these were assessed as having effective or appropriately limited supervision. During our inspection, we found examples of meaningful and regular supervision. But this wasn’t consistent across the force. Supervisors we spoke to were professional and dedicated. But high workloads and competing demands were often affecting their ability to do their job well.

Regular and active supervision was an area that we identified for improvement in 2017. There are now better toolkits, guidance and standards available on the intranet. And the work of the ISB is making improvements. It is clear that officers and staff work hard, often in difficult circumstances. But supervisory standards must be consistently achieved and sustained force-wide.

Devon and Cornwall Police is good at supporting vulnerable victims. It assesses victims’ needs in all investigations. And there is a clear focus on providing a victim-focused service. Investigators have access to the force’s victim care unit (VCU). The VCU works with over 80 other organisations to offer victims care, advice and support. We found evidence of investigators making frequent contact with victims, including offering updates. But this was less consistent in teams with high demand or reduced capacity.

We found good examples of investigators pursuing evidence-led prosecutions. These are cases made without the co-operation of a victim. The aim is to protect vulnerable people, such as victims of domestic abuse. We were pleased to find body-worn video (BWV) evidence being used effectively.

BWV was also used well during a murder investigation where the supervisor reviewed the scene through video footage. This preserved forensic evidence. Providing officers with BWV equipment was an area previously identified for improvement. Most now have this equipment. And we are satisfied that the force has made sufficient progress in this area.

The force is learning from unsuccessful prosecutions. For example, it considers the reasons victims withdraw their support. It uses feedback from victim focus groups and quarterly meetings with criminal justice partners to improve services. This work is encouraging. Continued focus in this area will help the force improve outcomes for victims of crime.

Catching criminals

Most officers and staff we spoke to were aware that there is a rebuttable presumption that wanted persons are circulated on the PNC within 24 hours. But most said they wouldn’t do so until all other enquiries to find the person had been exhausted. Supervisors are required to review and authorise all decisions to circulate a suspect on the PNC or not. But it wasn’t clear if this was happening in all teams. Supervising and reviewing investigations where suspects had been circulated on the PNC were also unclear. The requirements and processes in relation to the circulation of wanted people on the PNC had recently changed. The force now needs to make sure the workforce understands these changes and can apply them consistently. 

In our 2017 inspection, we identified the circulation and arrest of wanted people as an area for improvement. The force is improving data accuracy. This means that in future it will know how many named suspects there are force-wide. But this wasn’t complete when we inspected.

Process and governance are assessed at daily management and force tasking meetings. This makes sure that outstanding high-risk named suspects are pursued. But the scrutiny of named suspects outside this category wasn’t clear. During our inspection, the force was piloting a system to improve how it manages outstanding offenders. But it was too early to assess the outcome. We will continue to track progress and this remains an area for improvement.

The force is good at identifying and managing arrested foreign nationals. It also manages criminal records checks – referred to as ACRO checks – well. Automated processes make sure that all foreign nationals in custody are checked and intelligence systems updated. The force works with immigration enforcement to pursue foreign national offenders.

Since changes to police bail under the Policing and Crime Act 2017, many suspects are now released under investigation (RUI). We were pleased that the workforce was generally aware of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) guidance on using bail and RUI. The force uses internal reviews and audits to make sure RUI is being used appropriately. And there are positive signs that it is used less often for high-harm cases, such as domestic abuse. The force is aware of the number of people on bail and RUI. But the scrutiny and governance to make sure these cases were pursued effectively weren’t clear.

Disclosure is the process that equips the defence with copies of or access to all material that is capable of undermining the prosecution case or helping the defence. The force has acted on recommendations from our Making it Fair: A Joint Inspection of the Disclosure of Unused Material in Volume Crown Court Cases report on disclosure.

A chief officer leads on disclosure and the force has a dedicated working group. The group dip samples investigations to identify opportunities for learning and good practice. The force has trained staff, including many champions, who make sure the workforce meets all disclosure requirements.

The force is also working with the Crown Prosecution Service to develop guidance on the best ways of working together. The officers and staff we spoke to had access to the training, guidance and support needed to help them carry out their disclosure responsibilities. The force is committed to getting this difficult area of policing right. 

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 review the resilience of registered sex offender management units to allow for effective visit and workload management.
  • The force should improve the quality of investigations involving vulnerable people, ensuring that the workloads of specialist investigators are manageable and that such investigations are subject to regular and active supervision.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of performance in this area.

Understanding and identifying vulnerability

Officers and staff understand vulnerability, and how to identify people who may be at risk of harm. The force prioritises safeguarding vulnerable people. It has a Connect to Protect strategy outlining these priorities and the workforce understands these priorities. We also found many examples of vulnerable people being safeguarded from potential harm.

The force understands the nature and scale of vulnerability in its communities. Senior officers lead on different areas of vulnerability. They co-ordinate activity to protect communities through strategic, tactical and operational work. The force builds on this using shared information and data from other organisations. These include health, social care and education groups.

The force commissions regular internal and peer reviews, and audits. These identify lessons learned and best practice. In October 2018, the force set up a peer review, which the College of Policing carried out. The aim was to assess how the force tackles vulnerability. It is using the findings to make improvements.

Officers and staff understand hidden vulnerability. This includes victims of domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation or people subject to forced labour. Dedicated teams identify early signs of child sexual exploitation and modern slavery. We found many examples of officers looking beyond the circumstances presented to identify and safeguard people at risk. For example, identifying a victim of domestic abuse when investigating a report of damage to a motor vehicle.

The force leads the UK’s Modern Slavery Transformation Unit. Based locally, it gives information, training and advice to help identify and safeguard people who may be vulnerable to exploitation. We found examples of it working in practice.

The force uses the THRIVE model to assess risk and vulnerability. Call handlers use questioning and information held by the force to identify people who are repeat victims of crime, have called the police before or may be at risk of harm. The application of these processes was generally effective.

Some control room staff have had further training to help them respond to people who may be in crisis. Partnership working with the Samaritans charity is also speeding up referrals and contact with vulnerable people who ask for help.

We visited the control room and saw professional staff who understood vulnerability. But high demand is affecting the force’s ability to respond to calls. Chief officers are overseeing work to improve this.

In 2017, we said the force needed to improve its call handling systems and processes. This was to make sure that service quality stayed at acceptable levels and crime recording standards were met. We are satisfied that crime recording standards have improved, as shown in our 2018 Crime Data Integrity inspection. But it needs to make sure that non-emergency call handling service quality stays at acceptable levels.

Responding to incidents

Responding to incidents

The force control room generally manages reported incidents well and gives good responses. It bases deployment decisions on:

  • the THRIVE risk assessment;
  • a decision-making tool called the national decision model (NDM); and
  • professional judgment and force policy.

We reviewed several incidents. In general, responses were appropriate. But demand in the control room is increasing. This can affect call waiting times and, on occasions, response to incidents. The force is aware and a chief officer is overseeing scrutiny
of this.

Responding officers assess vulnerability and risk in several ways. They use vulnerability identification screening tools and domestic abuse, stalking and harassment (DASH) risk assessments to safeguard vulnerable people. Officers understand the importance of safeguarding everyone in a household, including those who may not be there at the time.

Officers complete DASH risk assessments at all incidents where domestic abuse is suspected or reported. Referrals are made to the home force of vulnerable people who are visiting the area. Central safeguarding and domestic abuse teams review risk assessments. They co-ordinate continued safeguarding needs with support organisations.

The force has an established mental health triage service. Officers access this through the force control rooms or custody units. Clinicians give advice over the phone to officers responding to people where mental health issues are suspected or reported. Researchers from the University of Plymouth were reviewing the service when we inspected.

In 2017, we identified that the force needed to better understand its:

  • declining domestic abuse arrest rate;
  • charge/summons rate; and
  • use of voluntary attendance in domestic abuse cases.

The force commissioned an internal review to assess its effectiveness when responding to domestic abuse. It found ways to improve governance, initial response, supervision and safeguarding.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2019, the force has made an arrest 21 times for every 100 recorded domestic abuse-related crimes. This is slightly below the rate for England and Wales (28 per 100 recorded domestic abuse-related crimes). We are satisfied that the force has improved its understanding in this area.

When we inspected, a chief officer was leading improvements in domestic abuse activity through a group that met regularly. Expectations of officers responding to domestic abuse incidents are set out in:

  • guidance and toolkits on the intranet;
  • internal communications; and
  • messages by the chief officer lead.

Local inspectors scrutinise decision making at domestic incidents. And the force has since improved its arrest rates. Officers and staff we spoke to were clear about what is expected of them when attending domestic abuse incidents. And local supervision was evident.

The force works with organisations to support people with mental health issues. There were many initiatives to support the force in this. These include:

  • mental health crisis cafes offering access to services;
  • co-funded officers working in hospitals; and
  • joint patrols with police and mental health practitioners.

Strategic governance and officers with specialist knowledge make sure colleagues can access advice and guidance when responding to people with mental health issues. The force is committed to joint working to improve services to vulnerable people. This is evident at all levels, from chief officer to frontline staff.

Supporting vulnerable victims

Devon and Cornwall Police focuses its neighbourhood policing work on protecting vulnerable people. Its Connect to Protect strategy puts protecting and reassuring vulnerable people at its heart. We found many examples of teams involved in safeguarding vulnerable people. They included checking people at risk of exploitation, domestic abuse and harm. In one example, enquiries into a perceived hoax call identified a large paedophile network in another force area. This protected young people at risk of exploitation.

Regular tactical intervention meetings track vulnerability and safeguarding activity. Every local policing team holds these meetings. They help co-ordinate the force’s approach to protecting people from harm. Neighbourhood teams work well with safeguarding teams and other organisations. The neighbourhood teams spoke positively about their role in protecting communities.

The force has improved how it uses legal powers to safeguard vulnerable victims. In our 2016 and 2017 inspections, we reported that the force needed to improve how it applied domestic violence protection notices and orders (DVPNs and DVPOs). It has since employed vulnerability lawyers to focus on this aspect of safeguarding. Lawyers are based with operational teams. They are helping the force improve how it uses protective powers to keep victims safe. Members of the workforce talked positively about how useful it was to get advice from the lawyers. The force uses more DVPO and DVPNs as a result.

The domestic violence disclosure scheme means the police can give information to someone about previous violent offending by a new or existing partner where this may help protect them from abuse. In the 12 months to 31 March 2019, the number of right to ask applications per 1,000 population was in line with the England and Wales rate. But the rate of right to know applications was lower. Also, the number of disclosures for both right to ask and right to know is low in comparison with the volume of applications. There could be many reasons for this, including there being no information to disclose. But the force should assure itself that it understands the results of these applications. This will make sure that these schemes are being used effectively.

The force was considering whether its use of pre-charge bail is appropriate. The officers and staff we spoke to understood that they should use bail for investigations where there is a risk of harm to the victim. Work by the domestic abuse improvement group has put more focus on the use of pre-charge bail to safeguard victims of domestic abuse. While there is still work to do, there had been an increase in using pre-charge bail in domestic abuse investigations since April 2019.

As we found in 2017, the force works well with other organisations to safeguard vulnerable people. The four multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASHs) operate across the force area. They work to protect vulnerable children. Referrals are made to the MASH by police and other organisations. A central safeguarding team co-ordinates these referrals. We visited MASHs in Devon and Cornwall ahead of our inspection. We found good information sharing, partnership working and co-ordinated safeguarding work.

High-risk victims of domestic abuse are referred to multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs). Cases are reviewed to make sure victims are safeguarded. The organisations involved include health, housing, social care and education services. There are 12 MARACs across the force area. We found pre-meetings being held in some areas to manage high workloads. The force is aware of this problem. And areas with high referral rates now hold conferences more often. This will help the force better manage caseloads. We will monitor the results of these changes.

The force gathers feedback from victims through online surveys, questionnaires, telephone interviews and focus groups. The VCU contacts victims to find out about their experience with responding officers, investigation teams and its services. This information is gathered by the force and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC). It is used to improve services. Case studies sharing lessons learned are on the intranet.

The force uses surveys to get the views of victims of domestic abuse. Victims take part in focus groups. The feedback from these helps the force improve how it responds to domestic abuse. It plans to continue to work with those who attended the focus groups to get their reactions to the improvements made. This means the force is more likely to offer a service that meets the needs of vulnerable people.

There are many specialist investigation teams across the force. Their training means they can investigate higher-tier crime involving vulnerable people. In 2017, we said that the force should improve the quality of investigations involving vulnerable people and make sure workloads are manageable. We found improvements in some teams, with manageable workloads and regular, meaningful supervision evident. But this wasn’t consistent in all teams. We will continue to watch this area.

The force needs to improve how it manages the risk posed by registered sex offenders. We visited several offender management units and found high workloads in most of these. Also, teams that manage dangerous offenders have limited access to the resources they need. We recognise the investment that the force is making to recruit more offender managers and reduce offender-to-manager ratios. But the force needs to do more to make sure it has enough resources to manage dangerous offenders.

Most frontline officers and staff that we spoke to were aware of the dangerous offenders in their area. This information is included in team briefings. We found local officers were involved in visits and operations regarding dangerous and sex offenders in some of the force’s areas. But in others, this was less prevalent. The force should assure itself that this information is accessible and available to all officers.

The force is good at identifying people sharing indecent images of children online. It has 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 2016 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.


How effective are the force’s specialist capabilities?


Understanding the threat and responding to it

The force has an adequate understanding of the potential harm facing the public. 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 reviews the register frequently to maintain the right levels of armed capability and capacity.

There are two areas where the APSTRA could be improved:

  • it could improve procedures to identify the locations most likely to be at risk of terrorist attack; and
  • it would benefit from an analysis of how quickly armed response vehicles (ARVs) respond to armed incidents.

These are matters that we identified to the force last year. It is important to put them right. This will ensure ARV patrol areas can be identified and help determine whether the force has sufficient armed officers to meet operational demands. We will re-examine these shortcomings in future inspections.

All armed officers in England and Wales are trained to national standards. There are different standards for each role that armed officers perform. Officers trained to an ARV standard attend the majority of armed incidents in Devon and Cornwall. But incidents sometimes occur that require the skills and specialist capabilities of more highly trained officers.

We found Devon and Cornwall Police has good arrangements in place to mobilise specialist officers should their specialist skills be required. On these occasions, agreements are in place for the capabilities to be provided in conjunction with Dorset Police.

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.

Devon and Cornwall Police has effective arrangements with Dorset Police to provide armed policing jointly across both forces. This means that the standards of training, armed deployments and command of armed operations are assured in both forces. It also means that ARVs can deploy rapidly and effectively in both force areas.

We also examined how well prepared forces are to respond to threats and risks. Armed officers in Devon and Cornwall Police are trained in tactics that take account of the types of recent terrorist attacks. Also, Devon and Cornwall 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 the force identifies learning points and makes improvements for the future.

Summary for question 5