North Wales PEEL 2018
How effectively does the force reduce crime and keep people safe?
Overall, North Wales Police is good at reducing crime and keeping people safe. This includes the way that it protects vulnerable people.
The force understands the scale and nature of vulnerability in its area. Officers and staff know how to spot the causes and signs of vulnerability. This is rooted in their training and the lessons learnt by the force from experience of incidents on the front line. When dealing with the public the force works to priorities in the police and crime plan that focus on vulnerability.
The force is good at responding to incidents involving vulnerable people. Officers generally reach the incident within their target time, although this does not always happen when the force is really busy. Officers then work through a clear process to assess what has happened, keeping full records of the action they have taken.
Teams generally support vulnerable victims of crime well. But in some areas, the workforce is busy and needs more help.
The force will be able to do more to help vulnerable victims once mental health professionals start working regularly in the force control room later this year alongside officers and staff.
A multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) has not so far been set up in North Wales. A MASH would enable the police to work more closely, and in a more co-ordinated way, with other organisations that help vulnerable people, including local authorities, the emergency services and the NHS. Setting up a MASH would result in a better service for the public.
In 2016, we judged the force’s effectiveness at preventing and tackling anti-social behaviour to be good. We also judged the force’s effectiveness at tackling serious and organised crime to be good. In 2017, we judged as good the force’s effectiveness at investigating crime. These judgments from previous years remain valid.
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 2016 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.
How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?
This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2017 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.
How effective is the force at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, and supporting victims?
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of performance in this area.
Understanding and identifying vulnerability
North Wales Police is good at identifying people who are vulnerable, whether through age, background or circumstances, or because of other factors that place them at greater risk of being abused or exploited. The force defines vulnerable people as those who, as a result of their situation or circumstances, are unable to protect themselves from harm. The workforce has a good understanding of the signs and causes of what makes people vulnerable. This knowledge comes from training, internal communications and operational experience. Police and crime plan priorities are primarily focused on protecting vulnerable people and provide the operational framework that guides officers and staff. In particular, the focus on tackling domestic and sexual abuse, less visible offences such as modern slavery, and the harm caused by organised crime is evident throughout the force.
Protecting vulnerable people is a main element of both force and local daily tasking meetings. There are clear structures for agreeing priorities, plans and decisions. Officers and staff are held to account for managing the response to different types of vulnerability. Strategic and tactical governance supports the force objective of protecting people from harm. The force is conducting research to improve its understanding of hidden types of vulnerability like honour-based violence, forced marriage and abuse against elderly persons. Analysis is undertaken to produce reports and profiles that inform and direct operational policing. For example, neighbourhood and patrol officers are alert to the signs of child sexual exploitation and criminals who target vulnerable people. The force exchanges information and works with local partner agencies to improve the collective public sector response to vulnerability. Overall, the force has a good understanding of the nature and scale of vulnerability in its area.
The force control centre is good at identifying vulnerability at the first point of contact. There is a good system of warnings and markers available to alert call handlers when they are dealing with a repeat victim or a vulnerable person. New information is added to what is already held on force systems and the nature of the call is evaluated using a structured risk assessment. Control centre staff have a good understanding of the different types of vulnerability that callers may represent. These include people living with poor mental health and those reporting domestic abuse. Fire service and NHS personnel support control centre staff and give advice and guidance either in person or by phone. This service was due to be enhanced shortly after our inspection with the co-location of mental health professionals in the force control centre for 18 hours each day. Recent improvements to technical systems and operating procedures work well alongside an effective system of supervisor checks and reviews. Risk assessments and despatch decisions are effective based on the incident logs we assessed and our observations in the force control centre. The control centre identifies vulnerability and manages risk well, supporting the work of other parts of the force and providing a good service to the public.
Responding to incidents
The initial response by North Wales Police to incidents involving vulnerable people is good. The force generally meets its target attendance times for high-priority incidents, although this is not always the case at times of peak demand. Priority is given to incidents assessed as high risk. If no response officer is available to attend, officers from neighbourhood teams or other departments will often be deployed. The need for prompt attendance at incidents involving vulnerable people is well understood.
When dealing with incidents, officers use a structured process to record information and assess risk. A combined assessment and referral form (CID16) is completed whenever vulnerable people are involved in an incident and submission is mandatory for all reports of domestic abuse. This helps officers to gather relevant information and offers guidance about their options for immediate safeguarding interventions. Specialist officers and partner agencies often use the information obtained to give additional support and assistance to victims and their families. We reviewed a sample of CID16 forms from a range of incidents. They contained sufficient detail, including whether children or other vulnerable persons were present. Officers recognise the importance of the CID16 form in helping to give longer-term support to vulnerable people. To ensure that assessments are submitted when required, force systems prevent the closure of an incident log without confirmation of completion of the CID16 form.
There is a clear presumption, underpinned by force policy, that positive action must be taken by officers and staff to protect victims when dealing with domestic abuse offenders. In the 12 months to the end of March 2019, officers in North Wales made arrests at 26.7 percent of domestic abuse incidents they attended. This is in line with other forces in England and Wales. Officers and staff generally have time to make enquiries and investigate incidents involving vulnerable people. They know the safeguarding options available to them. Supervisors are often involved in agreeing the most appropriate actions and interventions to be taken. A consistent level of information is given to domestic abuse victims on the services and support available to them. Daily meetings review domestic abuse incidents to co-ordinate follow-up activity and allocate investigations to the most appropriate department. Safeguarding for high-risk incidents is normally managed by specialist domestic abuse officers. There is a coherent system in place to manage the response to domestic abuse.
North Wales does not have a joint police/NHS mental health triage service that attends incidents. The absence of such a service places extra demands on the force. Telephone advice from NHS professionals is usually available to officers attending incidents involving people with mental health needs. The planned co-location of mental health professionals in the force control centre in the second half of 2019 will improve police access to timely information and advice.
Police officers sometimes have to transport over long distances people who need mental health assessments. This can be because no NHS transport is available or the nearest NHS mental health assessment facility is not able to conduct assessments. After arrival, officers are sometimes required to stay with them for long periods to give supervision or security, or to wait for medical professionals to attend. The force knows that this is inefficient and unsatisfactory. It is working with NHS partners to improve service levels for people with mental health needs. The current position is not in the best interests of these people, the force or the public.
Supporting vulnerable victims
North Wales Police is clearly committed to supporting vulnerable victims. In general, officers and staff give good levels of support. The initial safeguarding and continuing support arrangements available for domestic abuse victims are clear and well used. Domestic abuse officers co-ordinate activity for high-risk victims, supported by local response teams who conduct follow-up safety checks and investigative enquiries in other cases. The number of domestic violence protection notices (DVPNs) used in 2018/19 by the force to prevent domestic abuse offenders from committing further offences was the highest per head of population across all forces in England and Wales. The importance of using DVPNs to protect victims is embedded at all levels in the force.
Similarly, the domestic violence disclosure scheme (DVDS, also known as Clare’s Law) is widely and effectively used. The DVDS enables the police, in certain circumstances, to disclose information about an offender’s history to increase public safety. The force has run a campaign to make the public aware of their rights under the scheme. Surveys of domestic abuse victims began in early 2019 to ask how they were treated by the police. Early feedback is positive. It is too soon to identify themes, but individual comments are shared with officers and supervisors to
The value of using bail for domestic abuse suspects to give added protection to victims is widely understood. The use of pre-charge bail (along with using DVPNs and other legal powers) is considered as part of the standard custody decision-making process when dealing with suspects. Neighbourhood teams contribute to the work of safeguarding vulnerable victims. Although police community support officers (PCSOs) are not directly involved in domestic abuse safeguarding, they give support to other vulnerable people and victims. We found several good examples where elderly victims of fraud had been provided with advice and practical help. The force is making changes to its neighbourhood policing model, including reductions in PCSO numbers. It will want to assure itself that there is sufficient clarity and capacity about the role of neighbourhood teams in future risk management and safeguarding work, and that those teams are clear what is expected of them.
There are further steps the force could take to strengthen the support given to vulnerable victims of crime. Our review of a sample of crime investigation files established that most showed appropriate levels of victim care. However, some investigators and teams have high workloads. The officers and staff of the Amethyst team investigate all reported rapes and give support to victims. They carry heavy workloads, meaning their capacity is limited and some important work is delayed. The force has previously given this team extra help and acknowledges that more support is needed to maintain appropriate service levels.
Separately, the system for supporting missing children who have returned home needs improving. In previous years specialist staff from outside the force conducted return home interviews under a joint initiative with partner agencies. Funding changes, and the complexity of each local authority in the North Wales area setting its own guidelines about when a return home interview is necessary, mean that currently the task is often undertaken by officers who do not have special training in this area. This has reduced support for vulnerable children and reduces the opportunities to prevent them coming to further harm. When we raised these problems with senior leaders, we were reassured by their commitment to review both matters as a priority.
The force works well with partner agencies in several ways, but it has been unable to establish a force-wide MASH. This would produce the best results by bringing together staff from different agencies to work under one roof. Joint working and data-sharing arrangements are in place with local authorities, emergency services and NHS partners, but more co-ordination would increase public protection. A pilot MASH was established in one part of the force, but some partners were reluctant to commit to extending the project throughout the whole force area. MASH arrangements have worked well in most parts of England. The public would benefit from a MASH serving North Wales.
In the absence of full MASH arrangements, the force has created and funded the central referral unit (CRU) which receives police and partner referral information electronically. The CRU is an effective stand-alone information sharing, risk assessment and referral hub. But without co-located staff, standardised practices and streamlined business processes it is not as efficient or effective as a full MASH.
We found other examples of effective joint working. The force makes a meaningful contribution to the multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) process. At these meetings, police and partner agencies review high-risk domestic abuse cases and agree joint safeguarding action plans to protect victims. Of all referrals to MARAC, 76 percent come from the police. The force is an important partner in the multi-agency approach to keeping victims safe.
More resources are needed as the volume of referrals to MARAC has risen. At our last inspection in 2017 we identified that the force was not referring all high-risk domestic abuse cases to MARAC. This is no longer the case. All high-risk cases are now correctly referred. However, the force has changed the threshold for the referral of medium-risk cases to try to manage demand better. The force is reviewing the MARAC process to maintain its effectiveness, with protection remaining at appropriate levels.
The vulnerable adult referral meeting (VARM) project began as a pilot in the western area of the force and is now being introduced to all areas. Police and partners review individual cases of vulnerable adults who repeatedly call for assistance or who have clear needs. Tailored support plans are now put in place by agencies such as the police, fire service, ambulance and housing to address problems like anti-social behaviour, medical needs and fire risks. The pilot scheme found that people who received this bespoke support no longer needed to call for help as frequently.
The management of registered sex offenders (RSOs) who pose a risk to vulnerable people is an area that requires improvement. Offender managers are generally able to conduct both announced and unannounced visits to RSOs. However, high workloads are commonplace with each offender manager responsible for between 75 and 80 RSOs. This ratio is high, and although we found no material backlog in visits to offenders, there is a backlog of risk assessments awaiting completion.
At the time of our inspection there were 923 risk assessments for sex offenders that should have been completed as part of the active risk management system (ARMS). We found that only 72 percent had been completed, with varying completion rates in different parts of the force. The timely completion of ARMS assessments is an important part of the overall risk management system. The force is working to clear the ARMS assessments backlog and has plans to increase the number of offender managers.
The force makes good use of preventative legal powers such as sexual harm prevention orders. It monitors offenders appropriately to check if they have breached these orders. However, there is a need for stronger links between offender managers and officers working on response and neighbourhood teams. We found these links were fairly poor. The information shared with frontline officers is generally restricted to high-risk prison releases rather than seeking to exploit local intelligence to monitor changes in offender behaviour.
The specialist team that investigates offenders who share indecent images of children online manages its workloads well, with no backlogs. The team is able to keep pace with new referrals and regularly executes search warrants as part of its investigations into new offences.
The force has begun to review its management of RSOs. It has liaised with the College of Policing and responded positively to our feedback when we identified that some of its procedures were not compliant with national guidance. Any changes the force makes to working practices must be robust, consistent and in line with approved professional practice. We will continue to monitor the progress and changes the force makes in this important area.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
North Wales Police 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.
At the time of our inspection the force had not published its own APSTRA and was reliant on an assessment of threats and risks affecting other forces in the region. Although this remains the case, the force plans to rectify this in 2020. We will monitor this development closely.
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 North Wales Police are attended by officers trained to an armed response vehicle (ARV) standard. However, incidents sometimes occur that require the skills and specialist capabilities of more highly trained officers.
We found North Wales Police has good arrangements in place to mobilise officers with specialist skills should these skills be required. On these occasions, agreements are in place for the capabilities to be provided by Merseyside 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.
North Wales Police has effective arrangements with Cheshire Police to provide armed policing. This means that the standards of training, armed deployments and command of armed operations are assured in both forces.
We also examined how well prepared forces are to respond to threats and risks. Armed officers in North Wales Police are trained in tactics that take account of the types of recent terrorist attacks. Also North Wales 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 are made for the future.
In addition to debriefing training exercises, we also found that North Wales 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.
ARV officers can have a positive effect in disrupting the activity of organised crime groups and other armed criminals. It is important that, at the start of each shift, they are provided with up-to-date information that is relevant to their role. In North Wales Police, we found that opportunities are being missed to provide this information to ARV officers and use their patrols to good effect.Summary for question 5