Essex PEEL 2018
How legitimately does the force treat the public and its workforce?
Essex Police is good at treating the public and its workforce legitimately.
The force’s counter-corruption strategy is effective. In tackling abuse of position for a sexual purpose, it is improving links with organisations that support vulnerable victims of crime.
Less positively, the force needs to improve how it ensures its workforce behaves ethically and lawfully. We saw the force has an ethical culture. But it failed to vet its workforce before the national deadline, despite hard work by the vetting unit. It says it will be up to date by late spring 2019.
In 2017, we assessed the force as good at treating the public and its workforce fairly.
To what extent does the force treat all of the people it serves with fairness and respect?
This question was not subject to inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2017 legitimacy inspection has been carried over. However, we reviewed a representative sample of 317 stop and search records to assess the reasonableness of the recorded grounds. We found that 84 percent had reasonable grounds recorded. Our assessment is based on the grounds the searching officer recorded on the record and not the grounds that existed at the time of the search.
In our 2017 legitimacy report, we recommended that all forces should:
- monitor and analyse comprehensive stop and search data to understand reasons for disparities;
- take action to reduce those disparities; and
- publish the analysis and the action by July 2018.
We found that the force has complied with some of this recommendation. But it doesn’t identify the extent to which find rates differ between people from different ethnicities and across different types of searches (including separate identification of find rates for drug possession and supply-type offences). It also isn’t clear that the force monitors enough data to identify the prevalence of possession-only drug searches or the extent to which these align with local or force-level priorities.
We reviewed the force’s website and found that the force publishes stop and search data and a partial explanation of the disproportionality rate. But it does not publish any analysis carried out to understand the reasons for disparities or any subsequent action taken.
We will continue to monitor progress in this area.Summary for question 1
How well does the force ensure that its workforce behaves ethically and lawfully?
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure all officers and staff have at least the lowest level of vetting clearance for their roles and clear any backlogs, so it complies fully with the national vetting guidelines.
- The force should ensure that its counter-corruption unit:
- has enough capability and capacity to counter corruption effectively and proactively;
- can fully monitor all of its computer systems, including mobile data, to proactively identify data breaches, protect the force’s data and identify computer misuse; and
- builds effective relationships with individuals and organisations that support and work with vulnerable people.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
Maintaining an ethical culture
Leaders in the force continue to promote and reinforce the Code of Ethics and the expected standards of professional behaviour. They regularly send round advice and guidance. This includes warning officers against engaging in inappropriate relationships with members of the public they have had previous professional contact with.
There are established and well-used processes for the workforce to refer difficult ethical issues to. The ethics board deals with higher-level issues relating to corruption, and the ethics committee deals with lower-level issues relating to unfairness. The force makes the detail of the discussions and decisions from these meetings available to the workforce. But many officers told us that they still prefer to discuss minor ethical dilemmas with their colleagues and immediate supervisors. All policies and procedures take account of the code and are subject to an equality impact assessment. This means that the force is likely to be successful in further developing and maintaining an ethical culture that will benefit the public.
By 8 December 2018, all members of the police workforce should have received at least the lowest level of vetting clearance for their roles. Even though the vetting unit worked hard to achieve this, the force did not meet the national deadline. It has not yet vetted 875 (16.48 percent) members of its workforce to the required level for their role. The force has assessed that those officers and staff whose vetting is outstanding are at very low risk of corruption or have no access to sensitive materials. Nonetheless, the force must ensure that it is compliant with the national standard as soon as possible. Currently, the force is forecasting that it will be compliant by late spring 2019.
We are pleased to see that the force monitors the results of its vetting decision-making to identify any disparities between groups. It generates a report for the head of human resources that details the reasons for rejections, including for black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates. It then undertakes work to remove the cause of the rejection if appropriate and will contact the applicant to offer support and guidance in any future application. This area has become easier to monitor as the force has replaced the 17 forms previously used with a single master vetting form. It has also introduced a template and log detailing adverse findings and any rationale for them.
We highlighted two areas for improvement in our 2017 legitimacy inspection. The first of these was that the force should ensure it refers all allegations that meet the mandatory criteria to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). Our assessment is that the force is now complying with the mandatory referral criteria, including for cases of abuse of position for a sexual purpose.
The second area for improvement was that the force should improve the way in which it keeps complainants updated on the progress of their complaints, in line with IOPC statutory guidance. We found in this inspection that the force has provided training to supervisors and has brought in a quality assurance process. An internal communication campaign has helped reiterate to officers the need for compliance. We will revisit this area in future inspections to assess the effect of these changes.
The force complies with its obligations to provide details to the College of Policing for the barred and advisory lists. These lists prevent people who have left the service under investigation, or have been dismissed, from re-joining or working in law enforcement.
The force has effective ways of clarifying and reinforcing acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. Senior officers hold regular discussion forums with its workforce, including face-to-face discussions and, more recently, via an online instant messaging group. The ethics committee has a dedicated webpage and the learning the lessons board brings together representatives from across the force to discuss ethical issues and concerns.
Some parts of the workforce are confused and unsettled about perceived unfairness in the outcomes of discipline cases, and some officers were unclear how to make use of the confidential reporting line to the professional standards department. Some officers and staff feel that the professional standards department is remote. If not addressed, this could lead to the workforce developing a culture of mistrust towards department. The force is aware of these problems and activity to resolve them has already begun. The head of the professional standards department has been holding face-to-face sessions across the force, talking to the workforce to remove any misconceptions about the department.
Chief officers have engaged with staff associations in workshops that focused on the outcomes of discipline cases. One early result of these discussions is that the force’s intranet will now publish all discipline case outcomes and not just the cases that result in dismissal, as had been the case. This could help dispel any concept of unfairness among the workforce.
The force has an effective anti-corruption strategic assessment and control strategy. These are subject to satisfactory governance and updated processes. The integrity and anti-corruption board oversees activities for managing identified internal risks. The force has made improvements in how it can identify such risks by acquiring new protective monitoring software. This is providing the force with the ability to assess, develop and deal with corruption-related intelligence. We are concerned that despite being able to audit some of its IT applications, the force is currently unable to monitor all its IT systems. However, the force is confident that it will soon be able to do so as it has recently purchased equipment to that end. We will revisit this area in future inspections.
At the time of our inspection, the anti-corruption intelligence unit (ACIU) did not have enough staff. However, the force has approved recruiting four new staff. It expects them to be in place before the end of 2018. This means that the ACIU should have enough capacity to meet the projected increase in work that the protective monitoring software generates.
The force has not yet developed effective links with external agencies such as hostels and voluntary groups that support vulnerable victims of crime. Engagement with partner organisations is one of the main principles in the NPCC’s strategy to tackle abuse of position for a sexual purpose. The force has done very little since it gave presentations to these agencies in 2017. The relationships that we hoped the force would form – whereby individuals from outside organisations can directly speak with the ACIU team about concerns – have yet to develop. The force recognises this and has started building these essential relationships.
The force complies with the national strategy on the problem of officers abusing their position for a sexual purpose. We found that the workforce understands that this type of abuse of authority is unacceptable. This, coupled with the knowledge of how to report such types of behaviour, means the force is doing well in this area. The force made ten referrals to the IOPC regarding individuals abusing their authority for sexual gain. Of these, the IOPC investigated one and asked the force to investigate the other nine and report back.Summary for question 2