Essex PEEL 2018
How effectively does the force reduce crime and keep people safe?
Essex Police is good at reducing crime and keeping people safe.
The force is good at investigating crime. Its investigations give satisfactory results. In 2017, we found the force should supervise investigations better. Its specialist departments have got better at guiding and supervising investigations. But investigations by uniformed response officers could be improved with better guidance.
Essex Police is good at protecting vulnerable people. It identifies vulnerability when people first contact the police. It actively looks for hidden harm. Increasing demand has stretched the force’s ability to respond to emergency and non-emergency calls. But it is working to rectify this by increasing capacity and improving efficiency.
In 2017, we assessed the force as good at:
- preventing crime and tackling anti-social behaviour; and
- 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 detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2017 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.
However, Essex Police had an area for improvement in our 2017 effectiveness inspection. This was that the force should evaluate and share effective practice routinely, both internally and with partner organisations, to continually improve its approach to preventing crime and anti-social behaviour.
We assessed progress on how well the force evaluates and shares effective practice. We found that the force is still waiting the release of its preferred fix on the IT system – the Athena Partnership Problem Solving Solution (PPSS). The force has in the interim developed its own internal database, Go2, which was released shortly before our inspection. This database does allow for the evaluation and sharing of effective practice, and the force was actively promoting Go2 among staff. At the time of our inspection, Essex Police was due to pilot the PPSS fix during autumn 2018.
We will assess the PPSS fix and its use in future inspections. Externally, the force has an extremely strong partnership structure where it regularly shares issues and developments with other organisations and agencies.
How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?
Areas for improvement
- The force should improve how it allocates crime, ensuring it allocates investigations to appropriately trained and supported officers, and that it reviews this allocation appropriately throughout the investigation.
- The force should review how it closes investigations where the victim is reluctant to engage, to reassure itself that it is addressing risk and undertaking proportionate investigation and safeguarding activity.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
The force conducts good investigations that lead to satisfactory results for victims. As part of this inspection, we reviewed 60 files from recent investigations and found 52 to be of a good standard. In our 2017 effectiveness inspection report, we said the force should ensure that there is regular and active supervision of investigations to improve quality and progress. In this inspection, we found that the quality of supervision and guidance is still mixed across the force, although it is better in the specialist departments.
Investigations by uniformed response officers still need to be improved. Importantly, the force has been giving crime supervision training to uniformed sergeants, including the ones who undertake acting sergeant duties. Officers who have had this training are more positive about their ability to supervise investigations. This means that the force is likely to improve how it supervises investigations in the future.
The force has recorded a 11.2 percent increase in crime over the 12 months to March 2018. This increase is partly due to improved crime recording processes and is most evident in offences of violence against the person. But the force is closing many investigations early when officers state that the victim does not support the investigation (this is part of outcomes 14 and 16 under the Home Office outcomes framework). The force closed 32,439 investigations using outcomes 14 and 16 in the 12 months to 31 March 2018. This is more than in 2016/17, when the force closed 24,400 investigations in this way. We found that officers across the force are likely to close investigations down if the victim does not support the investigation. In some of these instances, the force closes crimes without any further investigation and without making contact with the suspect.
Some officers think that evidence-led prosecutions – where the victim has not been willing to engage in the investigation and court process – are too difficult. They told us that they believe the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is unwilling to let cases progress without exceptionally strong supporting evidence. Experienced senior detectives, rather than uniformed officers, are more likely to be able to convince the CPS to take such cases. Despite these problems, there are now more cases where a suspect has been charged or summoned. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, these cases increased by around 20 percent, up by almost 2,000 cases on the same period the year before. This means that more offenders are being brought to justice and more victims are getting a positive outcome to their cases.
Senior leaders in Essex Police have worked hard to increase the numbers of skilled detective staff. The numbers of accredited detective officers have also continued to improve. However, they remain below the overall rate for England and Wales, which is 86 percent. Of the force’s detective posts, accredited detectives hold 67 percent (418) of posts and over 200 officers are in training to get their accreditation. The force provides excellent support to candidates entering the detective career pathway.
The force is also consistent about compliance with national detective guidelines, posting any candidate who fails to pass the mandatory exam after two attempts to a non-detective role. This means that officers recognise the detective role as something to aspire to. This is important. Detectives in Essex Police earn around £1,200 a year less than their uniformed colleagues (of a similar length of service), due to the shift patterns, national allowances and regulations.
The type of crime allocated to uniformed officers is inconsistent across the force. Most crimes are allocated to officers who have the right investigative skills and abilities, but this is not always case. We saw evidence of arbitrary allocation criteria in some stations. For example, in one station, the criterion for allocating a grievous bodily harm (GBH) offence to a detective is the number of stitches needed (11). This meant that a uniformed officer with three years’ service had to investigate a GBH case involving seven stitches. Decisions on crime allocation would be better if they considered factors such as the risk to the victim or the complexity of the case.
In our 2017 effectiveness inspection, we found evidence of the force allocating crimes to officers who were about to start their rest days. This means the officers can take no action until they return and the victim is likely to have no contact with the officer investigating their crime for several days. This is not appropriate. In this inspection we found that while this is still occurring, there are far fewer incidents compared with what we found in 2017.
Members of the force’s crime bureau undertake telephone investigations of crimes that have limited investigative opportunities. We assessed several of the investigations the force does by telephone. We found them to have been appropriate for this type of investigation and the investigations themselves were of a good quality. The call handler asks the victim a series of questions and uses their responses to assess whether to allocate the crime to an officer for investigation or close it without any further action. The force has designed the screening process to ensure the victim receives effective support. It also allows the call handler to ‘flag’ if the victim is vulnerable, which means that the case will be allocated to an officer to attend.
Staff in the crime bureau also receive guidance on other factors that would mean that an officer would be allocated to attend. This would include where a victim who is not vulnerable is a repeat victim. However, we found that some staff are not aware of the guidance. This means that crimes that they should allocate for further investigation might not be. For example, one question asks the victim if they are prepared to support the investigation. If the victim replies ‘no’ – and if there are no supporting factors or vulnerabilities highlighted – the investigation will be closed. The quality assurance process in the crime bureau is not effective, which means that the force cannot be sure that investigations and processes are of a good standard. Despite this, we found that crime bureau investigations are largely effective and appropriately managed.
In 2017, we also found that the force could not ensure it was always compliant with the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime. We are pleased to note that the force is now compliant with the code, as the Athena crime system automatically supports compliance. This is important, as current data shows a fall in the number of referrals to Victim Support from 93 percent to 74 percent this year, due to the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation requirements.
The force actively pursues and manages offenders who are a risk to the public. It also understands and effectively uses post and pre-charge bail. It has introduced regular offender management meetings in all three local policing areas, which are effective and well managed. At these meetings, senior officers review any action to arrest outstanding suspects, together with the force’s use of police bail and the released under investigation (RUI) process . When the bail legislation changed the way police bail is applied, the force initially overused the RUI option. Since then, the force has raised awareness of how to use the legislation, to improve officers’ knowledge and expertise. As a result, there has been a major improvement in using bail conditions and a reduction in using RUI. This means the force is safeguarding victims more effectively.
Essex Police has 2,868 records of people wanted for one or more offences or who they wish to trace for other reasons not related to them being offenders, but who are not circulated on the PNC. This means the suspects may not be brought to justice as quickly as they might otherwise be. The force is aware of this problem, which happens because old wanted files are not automatically uploaded on to their new IT platform (Athena). They are working through the cases and circulating details of the suspects manually on the PNC, if appropriate. This means that other police forces can help find or arrest these people, and thereby reduce the risk to the public.
The force is good at identifying and managing arrested foreign nationals. It manages ACRO checks well. The process is automated on Athena and custody sergeants take responsibility for completing the checks. The force works closely with Immigration Enforcement to check identities and nationalities and consider options to remove or deport people who have committed serious crimes or pose a threat to communities.
The force is a participant in the regional disclosure board, which is where forces in the Eastern region meet to discuss progress against the national guidelines and regional plan. The disclosure process in criminal prosecutions provides a crucial safeguard to ensure fairness within the system. Police investigations must follow all reasonable lines of enquiry, even if they point away from the suspect. Prosecutors must be in a position to provide the defence with any material that undermines the case for the prosecution or assists the case for the accused. Proper disclosure is vital for there to be a fair trial.
The force has invested in disclosure training for staff. This includes the National Centre for Applied Learning Technologies (NCALT) package, which most staff have completed, and additional face-to-face training. The force has worked with the rape and serious sexual offence unit (RASSO) to provide clear guidance for officers on how to manage third party material. This is relevant material in the possession of a third party. The force has identified several officers as disclosure champions. Their task is to offer advice and guidance to officers across the force. The force is aware it needs to get this difficult area of policing right, and their activity means they should be able to provide an improving service to the public.Summary for question 2
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. Although, overall, Essex Police is good at investigating crime, we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The force should review its processes for assessing risk in the crime bureau to make sure it takes opportunities to safeguard vulnerable victims in cases that it closed without officer attendance.
Understanding and identifying vulnerability
The force has a clear definition of vulnerability, and a strategy for protecting vulnerable people. The force communicates this strategy effectively, and officers and staff’s understanding is good. There is a very good understanding of the nature and scale of vulnerability, which the force is developing in conjunction with other organisations such as local authorities and mental health professionals.
Officers and police staff take proactive steps to uncover ‘hidden’ forms of harm, such as vulnerable people being trafficked or subjected to forced labour. The force works closely with partner organisations to prevent and solve cases involving the criminal exploitation of children. The 2018 Joint Targeted Area Inspection of the multi-agency response to abuse and neglect in Southend-on-Sea reported that work to tackle child sexual and criminal exploitation, gangs, and the risks arising from people going missing from home, care or school was underpinned by strong working relationships across the agencies. This includes the police, unitary authority, health and education services.
The force is good at identifying vulnerable people on first contact, including repeat victims, victims of domestic abuse and people with mental health conditions. The incident management IT system and crime management IT system both have markers to identify a victim as vulnerable. We found that staff are consistently using these. Staff within the control room have used the THRIVE model of risk assessment for several years and they understand and accept the process very well.
Responding to incidents
Recent increases in the volume and complexity of 999 and 101 calls have stretched the force’s capacity to answer all calls and respond within the target time. The force’s own review found that the demand it faces is becoming increasingly complex, with new types of crime such as cyber-crime. It found that high priority demand is also increasing because the force’s understanding of vulnerability has improved and it is assessing more incidents as high risk. Uniformed officers within local policing areas are dealing with a lot of this increase in demand. To help deal with these difficulties, the force is recruiting an additional 150 new frontline officers.
In our 2017 effectiveness inspection, we identified that the force needed to improve its efforts to reduce the number of abandoned 101 calls. During this latest inspection, we found the force has worked hard to reduce the levels of abandoned 101 calls over the past 12 months. Its efforts have included promoting the online crime-reporting tool more to reduce the demands on call takers. The force has seen the numbers of people accessing this route increase from around 1,100 to over 2,200 per month. But despite the force’s work, the 101-abandonment rate is still too high, with around 20 percent of all 101 callers hanging up before the call is answered. The force recognises that this is not an acceptable service for the public and so they commissioned a private company to conduct a review.
The result of this review is a plan to remodel the force control room (FCR) over the next 12 to 16 months. The new model aims to reduce the work within the FCR and move responsibility for dealing with the lowest grade of incident (grade 4) from the FCR to a centrally-based resolution centre serving the local policing areas. This means that it will be clearer who is responsible for grade 4 incidents. This is important as, on this inspection, we found that of the 753 open incidents the force was managing, 505 were grade 4. The local policing areas were responsible for managing those 505 incidents but it was unclear whether this was effective. We reviewed the grade 4 incidents and found that they were low-risk incidents with little or no vulnerability issues.
Frontline officers and staff follow a clear process when assessing risk and addressing the nature of a victim’s vulnerability. Officers identify safeguarding needs using either the domestic abuse, stalking and harassment (DASH) risk-assessment process – completed for all domestic abuse incidents – or a form PP57 for other types of incidents that include vulnerable victims. Officers know they need to record the details of children within the household and whether they are present at the scene to help consider and safeguard their needs. The force supervises and scrutinises DASH forms to ensure accuracy. We found that officers had completed a few DASH forms over the phone, due to difficulties in arranging face-to-face meetings with the victims. While this approach is not ideal, in these few cases it is clear that the force was aiming to activate safeguarding and referral processes despite the victim’s unwillingness or inability to engage fully.
Staff within the crime bureau do not complete PP57 forms and this creates a risk. The crimes the crime bureau records and closes without an officer attending will not be considered for a PP57 referral. It is unclear how the force assesses and addresses the risks to victims in these cases.
The force has a mental health triage scheme that the police and the local NHS trust fund jointly. Under this scheme, mental health nurses accompany police officers to help them identify and support people who have mental health conditions. A review of the triage scheme took place in spring 2018, leading to some minor amendments. Partner organisations are supportive of the force’s approach to mental health and the triage scheme. There is no defined section 136 protocol in place, because he complexity of service provision in the county means a single protocol would not be able to cover all eventualities. Difficulties include hospitals in Essex being in joint-working arrangements with hospitals in other counties. Despite this, agencies share effectively.
The force makes appropriate use of arrest and voluntary attendance to protect victims, including victims of domestic abuse. Attendance at domestic abuse incidents remains a priority. Essex Police attended almost two thirds of domestic abuse incidents as an emergency or priority call. The force makes an arrest at around 40 percent of domestic abuse incidents. The average for England and Wales is 35.3 percent. The force uses voluntary attendance at 2.14 percent of all incidents. This is broadly in line with the average for England and Wales.
Supporting vulnerable victims
The force has been reducing its use of released under investigation (RUI) in domestic abuse cases (down from 11.9 percent in the first quarter of 2017/18 to 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter) in favour of pre-charge bail (up from 15 percent in the first quarter of 2017/18 to 24.7 percent by the fourth quarter). This means that the force is likely to be more effectively reducing the risk to victims.
Neighbourhood officers take part in continuously safeguarding vulnerable victims. This includes the elderly, people with mental health conditions and repeat victims of domestic abuse. Officers work with partners to combat ‘cuckooing’ and in Basildon, officers have worked with partner organisations to provide people who are homeless with lockers where they can leave their property.
In our 2017 effectiveness inspection, we found that the force needed to review its use of domestic violence protection orders to ensure it is making best use of these powers to safeguard victims of domestic abuse. The force is now making more effective use of these protective powers and measures to safeguard vulnerable victims. The number of domestic violence protection orders has increased slightly from 196 in 2017 to 212 in 2018. Importantly, officers understand the benefit of these orders and how to apply for them. The level of ‘right to know’ and ‘right to ask’ (Clare’s Law ) disclosures remains reasonably constant, which means the force continues to offer victims and potential victims information to keep them safe.
The force works with a range of partner organisations to ensure specialist safeguarding arrangements are in place for vulnerable people. There are two multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASHs) , one at Southend-on-Sea and one at Thurrock. The operations unit, which the police leads, covers the rest of the county. The intention is to move the officers within this unit into Essex County Council offices in Chelmsford later this year, to enable more effective work with partner organisations. This will represent an important step forward in working together to safeguard the public in Essex.
The multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) arrangements have changed and are now provided centrally from locations across the county. This gives better coverage and allows for improved assistance from statutory and voluntary agencies, including those that deal with housing and children’s social care services. A MARAC steering group has brought benefits that include improved police attendance at the meetings. The force passes cases to a MARAC within 48 hours and the meeting discusses these within 10–14 days, which is good. MARAC referrals from external agencies have gone up noticeably and police referrals, particularly from Harlow, have gone down. The MARAC manager plans to review potential causes for this change to understand the changing nature of demand. The caseload of work remains in line with the average of the past few years despite the numbers of domestic abuse cases going up. It would be good if the force had a better understanding of why this is the case.
The force regularly seeks and uses feedback from vulnerable victims and service users to improve services. It has a comprehensive engagement strategy, and conducts a public survey of 7,700 people every year. It surveyed 1,058 victims in the 12 months to March 2018. The process of surveying the views of victims of domestic abuse is well advanced and the police, fire and crime commissioner (PFCC) has commissioned work to improve how the independent charity Victim Support works with the force.
All victim surveys are conducted by an independent expert company whose staff are all trained and vetted. The force has worked with trained intermediaries to design a set of ten questions they use to seek feedback from child victims aged between ten and 17 years, and their parents and/or carer, about their experience with the police. As part of this work, a young victim has recorded a video telling of her experiences of being a vulnerable victim and how the investigation process felt to her. The force uses this impressive and powerful video to improve officers’ understanding of how their actions and behaviours affect the most vulnerable victims. The force’s engagement lead officer presents the findings from the victim surveys at the crime board so the force can improve service provision.
Essex Police manages the risk of registered sex offenders (RSOs) actively, making sure the risk to the public is as low as possible. We closely scrutinised the force’s approach to managing RSOs during this inspection. The force remains outside the national guidelines, but recent amendments to these guidelines mean that the force is now in almost full compliance. The force’s area of non-compliance is linked to how it removed 299 low-risk RSOs from active engagement after a full risk-assessment process. These RSOs will not have any direct engagement unless the force receives intelligence that might change the assessment. If this happens, the RSO will immediately be subject to an intervention. The changes in the force’s RSO process have enabled it to reduce the considerable backlog of visits to higher-risk RSOs to just over 60. This is a significant improvement. The force aims to inform its neighbourhood officers regarding those low-risk RSOs living in their areas, as they have little or no knowledge of RSOs at present. This will make the force even more compliant. A low risk remains, as the force is still outside the national guidelines by not actively engaging with low-risk RSOs, but the benefit is that it manages visits and assesses high-risk individuals better.
The force is proactive in its approach to identifying those who share indecent images of children online. But the police online investigation team (POLIT) that completes this work is currently experiencing increased demand. This has affected team members’ ability to manage their workloads and has created backlogs in the cases awaiting action. The force is aware of POLIT’s capacity problems and has plans to increase the number of staff in the unit to meet demand.
The force routinely uses preventative or ancillary orders to protect the public from dangerous and sexual offenders. It actively manages breaches of such orders. The force reports that it dealt with 64 breaches of sexual harm prevention orders in the year to 31 March 2018. This includes low-level breaches such as reporting late to a police station.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 a good 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 matters of interest. The designated chief officer reviews the register frequently to maintain the right levels of armed capability and capacity.
Essex Police also has a good understanding of the armed criminals who operate in its communities, the likelihood of terrorist attacks and the venues that may require additional protection in times of heightened threat. There is one area where the APSTRA could be improved; it would benefit from stronger analysis of incidents and intelligence about armed criminals who present risks in neighbouring forces. The force recognises this and has plans to develop this understanding with other forces in the region.
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 Essex are attended by officers trained to an armed response vehicle (ARV) standard. Essex Police has sufficient ARV capability. However, we noted that, as an interim measure, the force is adjusting shift patterns and paying overtime to ensure it has sufficient armed officers available. The force has plans in place to rectify this through recruitment programmes.
Incidents sometimes occur that require the skills and specialist capabilities of more highly trained officers. These officers are known as specialist firearms officers (SFOs).
We found that Essex Police has good arrangements in place to mobilise SFOs should their skills be required. The force has sufficient specialist capabilities in line with the threats and risks identified in its APSTRA. If, for any reason, specialist capabilities are not immediately available, agreements are in place to seek the assistance of SFOs in other forces.
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.
This is an area where Essex Police performs well. Close working between Essex Police and neighbouring forces means armed officers can deploy quickly and efficiently in the region. Essex Police, together with other forces in the east of England, are planning to strengthen collaborative arrangements. As well as making savings, these plans will standardise training and improve the availability of firearms officers throughout the region.
We also examined how well prepared forces are to respond to threats and risks. Armed officers in Essex are trained in tactics that take account of the types of recent terrorist attacks. Also, the force has an important role in designing training exercises with other organisations that simulate these types of attacks. We found that these training exercises are reviewed carefully so that learning points are identified and improvements are made for the future.
We found that Essex Police regularly de-briefs incidents attended by armed officers. However, the standard of de-briefing is variable and opportunities to identify best practice or areas for improvement are sometimes overlooked. We recommend that the force reviews these procedures.Summary for question 5