Northumbria PEEL 2018
How effectively does the force reduce crime and keep people safe?
Northumbria Police requires improvement in how it reduces crime and keeps people safe.
The force needs to improve how it tackles crime and anti-social behaviour. Its training for neighbourhood teams could be better to ensure that they have the skills needed to be effective. It has invested in neighbourhood policing and has new approaches to tackle the causes of local problems. The local approach to understanding communities and what they expect from their police force could be more consistent.
The force makes sure that it uses anti-social behaviour powers proportionately. It is working with partner organisations on early intervention programmes, such as the troubled families programme. But this approach differs between area commands and relies on partnership relationships.
The force is good at investigating crime and reducing re-offending. Investigators are suitably trained, and all staff are focused on giving victims good care. They are aware of the need to gather evidence as early as possible.
The force needs to improve how it protects vulnerable people from harm and supports victims. At times, Northumbria Police doesn’t have enough officers available to respond appropriately to vulnerable victims. The force undertakes good work around domestic abuse, but the quality of its risk assessments should improve.
Not all calls are correctly graded, and officers don’t always attend within the target time. To keep victims safe, the force should respond based on the initial risk assessment, and not on officer availability.
The force is 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 review the process for the commissioning and analysis of problem profiles to make sure complex, emerging and hidden threats are fully understood.
- The force should make sure that the structured and consistent problem-solving process it is implementing to enable it to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour more effectively is fully understood and used by its officers and staff.
- The force should evaluate and share effective practice routinely, both internally and with relevant external organisations, to continually improve its approach to the prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour.
- The force should work with local people and with other organisations to improve the consistency of its engagement approach (including those that are less likely to communicate with the police) and further improve its understanding of communities.
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
Northumbria Police’s overall approach to crime prevention requires some improvement. This must make sure that neighbourhood policing staff and officers have the right skills and knowledge to be fully effective in their role in crime prevention and problem solving.
The force has five strategic priorities: community engagement work; responding to the public; vulnerability; investigation; and prevention and problem solving. It has invested in neighbourhood policing, seeing it as an integral part of its work, and has kept neighbourhood teams across Northumberland and Tyne and Wear. It has a neighbourhood policing strategy based on the principles set out in the Home Office’s ‘Modern crime prevention strategy’, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC)’s ‘Policing vision 2025’. In 2016, the neighbourhood policing model was redesigned to be more focused and accessible, with an emphasis on supporting vulnerable people, collaborative problem solving and patrolling local areas. Neighbourhood policing teams are aligned to local authority wards and partnership working arrangements. Every ward within the force area has a dedicated neighbourhood policing officer.
Since 2016, the force has improved its understanding of demand and capacity in neighbourhood policing. It analysed demand in 2017, reviewing crime and incident data, holding staff focus groups, and engaging and consulting with staff and officers. The review found that neighbourhood policing officers had some extra capacity and, starting in September 2018, they were given responsibility for managing low- and medium-risk registered sex offenders (RSOs). The management of sexual offenders and violent offenders (MOSOVO) unit provides them with scrutiny and expert advice. To give officers in the neighbourhood teams time to do this, police community support officers (PCSOs) have received a two-day course to enhance their initial training, which includes managing domestic abuse offenders, problem solving and an improved understanding of child sexual exploitation.
The force seeks to identify crime and disorder problems early, preventing and tackling the root causes by using a problem-solving approach. It reinforced three force priorities in autumn 2018, known as ‘VIP’ (vulnerability, investigation and problem solving), to make sure it has a problem-solving culture across the whole force, not just in neighbourhood policing.
But neighbourhood policing staff and officers don’t always have the right skills and knowledge to be fully effective in their roles. We spoke to neighbourhood policing officers and staff across all areas during the inspection and our preparatory work, and it was clear that most hadn’t received structured training in neighbourhood policing. This should equip them with the basic skills and knowledge for them to be effective in problem solving and crime prevention. Initial training for officers working in neighbourhood policing seems to be reliant on ‘on the job’ training and mentoring by other members of the team.
The force should consider providing more focused training to make its use of problem solving more consistent. The recently introduced continuing professional development days for neighbourhood inspectors and sergeants are a positive step forward. The force should review the current training for neighbourhood officers and staff to make sure that they have the necessary skills and knowledge they need to carry out their role effectively.
The force should also review its local governance arrangements. It needs to make sure it has consistent ways of holding staff to account for effective crime prevention work. Current supervision and scrutiny vary across the force.
Protecting the public from crime
How well the force understands its communities needs to improve. At a strategic level, the force is effective at assessing threat, harm and risk to the public. It makes good use of products such as MoRiLE. We did find some good examples of the force working with other organisations to share information and work together on local issues. This includes meeting with the local authority every fortnight in Gateshead to review partnership data. The force is also working with Nottingham Trent University to develop a richer picture of issues such as deprivation and community vulnerabilities.
At a local level, however, neighbourhood teams don’t consistently use data and analytical products to understand the threats and risks to their communities, and the force’s approach can be disjointed. These products include, for example, a problem or neighbourhood profile. This profile can give a greater understanding of established and emerging crime or incident series, priority locations or other identified high-risk issues. Staff we spoke to during the inspection had limited knowledge of these products, although some did refer to the problem profiles produced by the community engagement teams. Some staff didn’t understand the problem-solving approach or the structured approach of OSARA, which is a model based on outcomes, scanning, analysis, response and assessment. When teams do use problem solving, there tends to be a lack of analysis or assessment about the reasons for problems, and an over-emphasis on response.
The launch of VIP priorities is a positive step forward on this issue. However, there is still a lack of consistency in the recording of problem-solving work, and in the application of problem-orientated policing plans and harm reduction plans. Where teams do make problem-solving interventions, they haven’t evaluated them thoroughly enough to identify good practice and learn from mistakes. The force has recognised some of these problems and has developed a plan to resolve them. This involves introducing continuing professional development events, and a formal review process of all problem-orientated policing plans.
We saw some good examples of the force’s work with vulnerable groups, such as Operation Dignity, which was aimed at teenage girls in Ashington, and Operation Ridge in the Meadowell Estate in North Shields. Some areas of the force have policing and communities together (PACT) meetings. These aim to allow communities to identify policing priorities and to hold the police and other organisations accountable. But in areas where these aren’t happening, there is no formal engagement work on community issues. There is no clear overall engagement strategy for neighbourhood policing teams. Engagement at local level is disjointed, with no formal process in identifying public priorities and local policing concerns.
The force uses a range of tactics and interventions to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour. All neighbourhood officers and staff have received multi-agency training about the new anti-social behaviour legislation. The force has successfully used closure orders, civil injunctions, criminal behaviour orders, dispersal notices and community protection notices, and these are now accepted operating practices within its neighbourhood teams.
The force ensures that the use of anti-social behaviour powers is appropriate and proportionate. There is more consultation through the local multi-agency problem-solving groups and community safety partnerships. For the 12 months to 30 June 2017, the force had issued 18 criminal behaviour orders, 84 community protection notices and 23 civil injunctions, and had used section 34 dispersal powers 1,411 times. Use of anti-social behaviour orders had increased by 11 percent on the previous year.
The force is working with partner organisations such as local authorities and health on early intervention initiatives, such as the troubled families programme. The approach differs between area commands and is heavily reliant on partnership relationships. Central to the new safeguarding operating model is the development of multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) arrangements within all six local authority areas. This aims to give vulnerable children and adults a rounded response based on both their individual needs and those of the whole family.
The force exchanges information with partner agencies about long-term problems and takes part in partnership forums. However, no central repository exists for problem-solving plans and partnership initiatives where staff could search for what works. This means the force can’t internally share and learn from its past experiences. To improve its approach to preventing crime and anti-social behaviour, the force needs a standardised way of evaluating and circulating effective practice across the three area commands, both internally and with partner organisations.Summary for question 1
How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
Northumbria Police investigates crime effectively and has good plans for the future. It has a workforce plan that details how many investigators it has now, and how many it will need to recruit in the next year. In the past 18 months, it has recruited 85 percent of the additional investigators it needs, and it has plans in place to address the remaining capacity gap.
The assistant chief constable responsible for crime investigation chairs a monthly strategic meeting. In this meeting, leaders from the crime department, area commands, criminal justice, training and other areas are held to account for the force’s performance and progress in investigating crime and supporting victims. This ensures that everyone stays focused on investigating crime well.
Most of those people investigating serious and complex crime are suitably trained. The force supports officers who are keen to develop their investigative skills. Uniformed officers and supervisors are encouraged to complete the initial crime investigator development programme and are seconded to the criminal investigation department (CID) to help them complete it. The force believes this will raise the overall standard at all levels of investigation, because the quality of supervision should be better.
Crimes are generally allocated to appropriately trained staff. The force has recently changed the way it assesses and allocates crime investigations, to make sure its decisions are consistent. Officers and staff record their initial assessment of the vulnerability, severity, complexity and solvability of a crime on the crime report. The quality, standards and delivery team reviews all recorded crime in the force daily. It assesses the quality of the initial investigation and decides whether there are further lines of enquiry. It considers how serious and complex the crime is, and the needs of the victim, before allocating it to the appropriate officer. This new approach had just been introduced at the time of our inspection, so we will continue to monitor how it develops.
Most officers in response teams and in CID felt that their workloads were just about manageable. But the demands of other aspects of their roles, such as responding to live-time incidents, meant that they struggled often to find the time to conduct their enquiries. The demand on CID in each area command varies across the force, and there appears to be an imbalance in how resources are allocated. This is something the force may wish to review to satisfy itself that it has created the capacity in the right places.
Call handlers use the THRIVE process to assess calls. Some crimes are investigated over the telephone, which is an efficient way of resolving crimes in which it is immediately apparent that there are no viable lines of enquiry. The force deals with 34 percent of incidents by telephone, which is in line with the England and Wales rate. As part of our inspection, we reviewed a small number of telephone investigations. We found that, in all cases, investigation over the telephone was the most appropriate means of investigation and that there was good victim care.
Although we only examined a small number of files in our crime file review, we found that in most cases (52 out of 60 files) investigators had pursued all lines of enquiry. Officers attending incidents are aware of the need to gather evidence at the earliest opportunity and supervisors provide appropriate support. An example of this is clear in a file we reviewed about a report of a man having been attacked with a machete. A sergeant had been to the scene to supervise the initial investigation. Attending officers preserved the crime scene, gathered forensic evidence, made house-to-house enquiries to see if there were any other witnesses, and seized CCTV. They prepared an information package for CID officers to continue the investigation.
The force has made significant improvements in how investigations are supervised. Our initial crime file review found that there was effective supervision in just 18 out of 60 cases. The force has since made changes to its crime management processes. Sergeants now set investigation plans and conduct reviews regularly. We found some variation across the force in the way that frontline sergeants approached the management of crime within their teams, but were pleased to see that sergeants understood their responsibilities. In most of the investigations we reviewed during our inspection, there was appropriate supervisory input.
Officers investigating crimes are focused on giving victims good care. Our file review found that this was the case in 50 out of 60 cases. During our inspection, we spoke to officers across the force and reviewed some of their current investigations. All had a clear focus on supporting the victim. Their contact with victims and the supporting measures they had put in place were recorded on the crime report. We found that there were enough officers who were trained to interview victims, so they could obtain the best evidence.
Force leaders recognise the importance of supporting victims and are working hard to improve the care that victims receive as their case progresses through the criminal justice system. The force has a lead for victim care, who is working with criminal justice partners such as the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and judiciary to understand why victims don’t always see a case through to court. This means that the force will be able to put the right support in place to help victims in the future.
The force is improving its outcomes for victims. It has an improvement programme to raise the standards of investigations. It produces an interactive magazine that contains advice and guidance on investigating crime and supporting victims and is mandatory for officers to read. The chief constable’s blog, briefing items, posters and media communications all emphasise that the priorities for the force are vulnerability, investigation and problem solving (VIP). Everyone we spoke to during our inspection understood this.
A big focus of the raising investigation standards programme has been on increasing staff awareness of evidence-led investigations. This means that, from the point a call is received, officers are thinking about how to obtain the best evidence. As a result, the force has seen an increase in the use of body-worn video cameras to record evidence. This gives any subsequent prosecution a better chance of succeeding at court, even if the victim decides not to support it.
The force takes a consistent approach to the circulation and management of suspects on the PNC. All suspects for crime are risk-assessed, which means that the force is taking proportionate action to arrest those offenders who pose the greatest risk to the public.
High-risk offenders are discussed at the daily management meeting that takes place in each area command. A member of the senior management team always chairs this meeting. The meeting reviews the main incidents and demands on the area over the previous 24 hours, and makes sure that there are enough resources in the right places to deal with demand in the next 24 hours. This means that there is daily focused work on arresting high-risk suspects. As a result, the force has seen a reduction in the number of outstanding suspects who are wanted by police.
Each officer carrying out an investigation, whether a response officer or CID officer, is responsible for finding and arresting outstanding suspects. Our inspection found that team supervisors were making good use of spreadsheets to monitor and manage the outstanding suspects on their officers’ workloads.
The force has improved its ACRO Criminal Records Office submission process, which checks whether a suspect in the UK has criminal convictions in other countries. It is managed by a sergeant in the intelligence department, who reviews all the rejected forms and feeds them back to the relevant officers. Training for officers and custody staff, supported by an aide memoire, has also reduced the rejection rate. This process is increasing the quality of submissions, which means that the force has a better understanding of the risk posed by an FNO who has been arrested. The force reported that by December 2018 the rejection rate had decreased by almost 30 percent because of the increased scrutiny.
The force works well with immigration partners to manage FNOs. It has a dedicated FNO unit made up of investigators, a researcher, an international liaison officer and an immigration officer. The FNO unit has access to immigration intelligence systems. This means that there is a better exchange of intelligence between the different agencies. The FNO unit works with the complex investigations team to mitigate the threat from organised crime groups (OCGs) who prey on vulnerable people, committing offences such as child exploitation, human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
The FNO unit also supports force and regional operations relating to FNOs and conducts investigations with immigration officers. Successful joint operations include Operation Lancia, which was an investigation into human trafficking offences by a Romanian OCG in Newcastle. Operation Kestrel focused on modern-day slavery and exploitation, using a multi-agency approach that has been studied by some other police forces as an example of good practice in investigating organised crime involving foreign nationals.
The force monitors performance in the use of bail and RUI powers. The force has a bail manager whose responsibilities include quality assurance and compliance monitoring of bail and RUI. The performance data is published monthly. It provides a detailed breakdown of RUI by individual and team and is sent to inspectors, so they can make sure that investigations are progressing on time.
Each area command has a chief inspector who is responsible for criminal justice performance. They hold monthly performance meetings with their inspectors to make sure that criminal justice matters are being properly managed. However, each has developed their own local performance framework, so there is no corporate approach.
The workforce has a good understanding of the changes in bail legislation and uses bail and RUI powers appropriately. For example, one officer explained that, in dealing with an offence of possessing indecent images of children and deciding the appropriate power to use, they considered the risks to the victim and any potential future victims; potential harm to the suspect; and the timescales for obtaining the digital evidence in the case. We found that sergeants who were supervising investigations were managing the use of bail and RUI well and updating crime reports regularly.
The force has responded to concerns raised nationally about compliance with disclosure rules by giving 42 officers enhanced disclosure training. They act as disclosure champions, giving advice and guidance. As part of the raising investigation standards programme, officers must complete a learning programme about disclosure. Most officers understand their disclosure obligations and know who to ask if they need advice.
An operational delivery group, led by the assistant chief constable, analyses outcome data at strategic level. Area command performance meetings examine outcomes for victims. This analysis helps the force to focus its efforts on giving victims the best service. For example, the force identified a need to improve its charge rate for domestic abuse and serious sexual assaults. The assistant chief constable holds a fortnightly meeting to discuss performance.Summary for question 2
How effective is the force at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, and supporting victims?
Cause of concern
The force’s ability to assess vulnerability when victims first make contact, and the timeliness of the response they receive, are causes of concern. Northumbria Police needs to be certain that there are officers available to respond to their needs.
- In order to keep victims safe, the force’s response to incidents must be determined by the initial assessment of risk rather than the availability of response officers.
- Any decision to delay a response to a vulnerable victim must be fully justified and subject to objective supervision.
Areas for improvement
- The force should continue to develop its understanding of the nature and scale of vulnerability within its local area through improving the data quality and information contained within its command and control system.
- The force should review its domestic abuse risk assessment grading policy to make sure it is compliant with the MARAC guidelines recommended by the national domestic abuse charity, SafeLives, with regards to escalation and repeat incidents. All changes need to be clearly communicated to staff.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
Understanding and identifying vulnerability
How the force understands and identifies vulnerability needs to improve. It has done a lot of work on analysing and understanding vulnerability. However, its IT systems don’t easily support a thorough assessment of performance at all levels. The force gathers data, but its IT systems are not well linked or cross-referenced. This hampers the process of turning raw data into actionable intelligence. In turn, this leads to difficulties in identifying threats and vulnerabilities. The force needs to improve the quality of its data on the nature and scale of these problems and patterns of offending across the force area, and geographically map areas of greater vulnerability. The force’s command and control system uses both flags and markers on incident records to identify repeat victims and offenders. This is also used to identify high-risk domestic abuse victims, those at risk of child sexual exploitation, incidents involving people with a history of mental health crisis, and incidents involving a child with a child protection marker.
Northumbria Police has a clear definition of what vulnerability is: “A person is vulnerable if as a result of their situation or circumstances, they are unable to take care of, or protect themselves or others, from harm, exploitation or other adverse impact on their quality of life.” Its policies give clear and unambiguous guidance on safeguarding children, young people and adults.
Child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and serious sexual offending are three of the six priorities in the force control strategy 2018/19. Officers and staff generally have a good understanding in this area. This has been underpinned by training and regular communication from leaders about the importance of vulnerability, and by the focus on VIP.
The force has a strategic governance board focused on protecting vulnerable people. The assistant chief constable responsible for vulnerability chairs this. It meets monthly to discuss the force’s handling of rape, serious sexual assaults, mental health crisis, domestic abuse and people who have gone missing from home.
Each force usually produces a strategic threat and risk assessment (STRA) every year, as well as the self-assessment it gives to us (the force management statement). To produce these two reports, Northumbria Police has worked to understand the nature and scale of vulnerability in its area. The force STRA includes more work that was done as part of the safeguarding project focusing on emerging crime areas and ‘hidden’ harm, such as domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, cyber crime, and controlling and coercive behaviour. It also sets out how the force has engaged with harder-to-reach groups. For example, it has worked with Karma Nirvana, a national charity supporting victims of so-called honour-based abuse and forced marriage, and the local Bangladeshi community.
In our 2017 effectiveness inspection of Northumbria, an area for improvement was for call handlers to apply the THRIVE decision-making model consistently to assess incidents involving vulnerable people. There has been real progress on this. The force has trained control room staff and call takers, and produced detailed guidance on call grading linked to vulnerability. During the inspection, we found that call handlers had a comprehensive understanding of the THRIVE principles. When we reviewed audio calls, we found that call handlers were polite, professional and respectful, despite several callers being intoxicated and agitated.
Responding to incidents
Although THRIVE is well established in the control room, it hasn’t yet been adopted across the whole organisation. The force needs to make sure that officers and staff are also using the THRIVE assessment when they make deployment decisions. The force doesn’t always have enough officers available to respond to vulnerable victims. At the time of the inspection, pressures in resourcing meant that only about 70 percent of grade 1 (emergency response within 10 minutes) and grade 2 (priority response within an hour) incidents were being deployed to within the target time.
At the time of the start of the inspection, the force also had a ‘grade 3 response’ – deployment within four hours. During the inspection fieldwork, we found that many incidents involving vulnerable people had been inappropriately given a grade 3 response, including reports of domestic abuse, assaults, harassment, concern for welfare, sexual offences and extreme vulnerability, and in some instances the force also wasn’t meeting the four-hour target. Often officers weren’t deployed for several hours, and in some cases not until days later. The force brought forward implementation of a decision to remove grade 3 deployment from its policies during the fieldwork. Although this is a positive step, deployment decisions should be made in line with the needs of victims, not dictated by resourcing levels.
We were also concerned about the quality of supervision, and particularly the reassessment of incidents that hadn’t been deployed to within the target time. Some incidents were poorly supervised and hadn’t been prioritised for immediate action even though there was clear risk to victims. In some cases, supervisors failed to detect the risk, or to question a previous decision to delay the response.
The force has improved frontline officers’ awareness of the importance of protecting vulnerable people and identifying risks to others in the household at domestic abuse incidents. This has included communication from the chief constable through his blog, regular briefing items and an interactive magazine called ‘Raising investigative standards’, which included a powerful video on a domestic abuse incident seen ‘through the eyes of a child’.
Supervisors take an active role in discussing vulnerability and risk with officers who are attending domestic abuse incidents. It is force policy to attend all domestic abuse incidents in person. The sergeant supervising will record information against the acronym RESPOND (review incident; evidence-led approach; safeguard the victim; positive action; outside agency referrals required; needs of victim; and domestic abuse authorised professional practice (APP) from the College of Policing). Officers are required to complete the investigative assessment framework in cases involving a vulnerable victim.
The supervisor creates an investigation plan and the initial investigating officer will assess what can be done for immediate safeguarding, using the ‘RARA’ mnemonic – remove risk, avoid risk, reduce risk and accept risk. Officers submit DASH (domestic abuse, stalking and harassment) forms for all domestic abuse incidents, and complete them face to face with the victim. The DASH form also has a list of agencies to support victims. Any previous history related to a victim’s telephone number and address is automatically downloaded onto the incident log on the force’s call handling system, to help the attending officer with a risk assessment. The attending officer also assesses the needs of the victim.
In our 2017 effectiveness inspection, we found that body-worn video cameras weren’t always available to officers attending incidents involving vulnerable victims. The force has since invested in body-worn video devices and has made available the first wave of approximately 2,300 single-issue devices to frontline officers. All new devices should be in place across the organisation by the end of September 2019. The use of body-worn video for domestic abuse incidents has increased from 47 percent to 69 percent, giving officers more opportunity to present admissible evidence.
Another positive development is the fact that photographs from the force’s smartphones can now be uploaded to a digital media repository. Northumbria Police is the only force that can give all digital media evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service and the wider criminal justice service.
The force works with Northumberland and Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust to provide a mental health street triage team. This partnership has developed nationally recognised training for professionals involved in mental health crisis care, which sets out clear roles and responsibilities for all agencies involved. The street triage team was launched in April 2018, supported by considerable research about the importance of earlier intervention by mental health practitioners in police-related incidents. It runs with a nurse and a police constable between the hours of 10.00am and 3.00am, seven days a week, and focuses on giving a prompt response to incidents. It is designed to give advice, assessment and access to services.
The triage team offers advice and support to criminal justice staff and can check whether someone is known to mental health services. It carries out face-to-face screening assessments outside a custodial setting and completes risk assessments. When appropriate, the team helps people with mental ill health to access other services.
The force has given training and information to staff about the use of voluntary attendance in domestic abuse incidents. This is a police station interview when a suspect offers to attend voluntarily to help the police with an investigation and they aren’t under arrest. Voluntary attendees have the right to access independent legal advice and are free to leave the police station at any time unless and until they are arrested. The force actively monitors performance in this area. There is accessible information on the intranet on appropriate use of voluntary attendance and the force has worked with custody staff to help make the best use of custody time.
The force has held focus groups with frontline officers to check their understanding of arrest and use of voluntary attendance in domestic abuse incidents, and performance in this area is scrutinised monthly. Domestic incidents are reviewed by inspectors and sergeants while officers are on their way to an incident, reminding them to use body-worn video and take the most appropriate action in response to the incident. In the 12 months to the end of September 2018, the force’s voluntary attendance rate was 6.1 percent compared with the England and Wales rate of 9.3 percent.
Supporting vulnerable victims
The force supports vulnerable victims very well in many ways and is doing a lot of good work around domestic abuse. However, we had concerns about the quality of its risk assessments. A disproportionately high number of domestic abuse reports in the force area were flagged as high risk (at the beginning of 2019, the force was assessing 24 percent as high risk against a national average of 7 percent). To address this concern, the force is auditing risk assessments and it implemented a new procedure for downgrading domestic abuse incidents in November 2018. At the time of our inspection, 284 cases initially graded at high risk had been downgraded since January 2019. We would expect that any downgrading of domestic abuse risk assessments is in line with the SafeLives guidance. The force also needs to make sure that it communicates clearly to staff any changes in this policy.
We were impressed with neighbourhood officers’ awareness of both vulnerable people and offenders in their area. At the area command daily management meeting, there are standing agenda items related to vulnerability, including domestic abuse, ‘missing from home’ reports and people linked to OCGs. Risk and resourcing are discussed, and tasks given to neighbourhood policing teams. For example, the meeting might ask teams to visit addresses around the scene of a recent crime to give support (this is known as ‘cocooning’). Under Operation Signature, neighbourhood teams visit victims of fraud and assess their vulnerability. Officers are often sent to visit victims of domestic violence to complete a harm reduction plan. A criminal justice liaison worker now works within each area command, supporting victims by acting as the link between domestic abuse specialists and neighbourhood policing teams, and giving advice to officers on applying for orders. ‘Victims first Northumbria’ is a charity delivering the gateway to victims’ support services. Specialist staff, such as independent domestic violence advocates and independent sexual violence advisers, support victims by giving practical guidance and acting as their voice.
When prosecution isn’t possible or practical, Northumbria Police makes use of alternative powers such as domestic violence prevention notices (DVPNs), which can be issued by officers to prevent a suspected perpetrator contacting a victim or returning to their home, and domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs), which are issued by magistrates and last for up to 28 days. Currently the force has the fourth highest rate of DVPOs and DVPNs in England and Wales (12 months to September 2018).
Both the force and its partner agencies, such as social services, have a clear commitment to Clare’s Law, under which anyone can ask the police to check whether a partner has a violent past, and Sarah’s Law, which allows parents, carers and guardians to check whether someone has a criminal record for child sexual offences. In each MASH, we found that the most appropriate agency was handling domestic violence disclosures. The force has recently run a public media awareness campaign about Clare’s Law, aimed at increasing the number of applications.
The appropriate use of bail and RUI is important in protecting vulnerable victims, because releasing a suspect from custody without bail conditions can put them at risk. The force has given its officers training in ‘raising investigative standards’, which focuses on domestic abuse, including the correct use of powers, voluntary attendance, bail and RUI. It has also improved its performance management to make sure that officers enforce bail conditions. There are regular audits on usage of RUI and bail, the findings of which are discussed in management meetings. The force recently launched a three-month domestic abuse pilot, in which all domestic abuse offenders being considered for bail or RUI are subject to review and the authority of an inspector.
Six MASHs, based in all six local authority areas, are central to Northumbria Police’s safeguarding operating model. They aim to provide a rounded response to vulnerable children and adults based on their individual needs and the needs of the whole family. The force has also invested in the multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) process across the six local authority areas to deal with high-risk domestic abuse cases. A detective sergeant working within the MASH reviews all DASH forms and the associated risk level to make sure they have correct gradings, taking into account the history of the case and the number of incidents within a specified timeframe. All high-risk victims of domestic abuse are considered for referral to the MARAC. The MARAC reviews all high-risk domestic abuse assessments, in line with the SafeLives guidance.
The force works with other organisations in the Gateshead local authority domestic abuse hub, which is collaborating with the charity Barnardo’s on Operation Encompass. This is a national scheme in which schools are informed when one of their pupils has been affected by domestic abuse. Historically, the force has forwarded Encompass cases to schools without follow-up. Under a new scheme, the domestic abuse hub now includes Encompass cases in its morning child concern triage meeting. The agencies involved then decide whether they need to contact the school to help make decisions about how best to support the child. The MASH team can access the Encompass spreadsheet and dip-sample cases to make sure that they are being handled appropriately.
The force also plans to employ 12 new school safeguarding liaison officers, who will support schools in dealing with domestic abuse. They will run drop-in sessions at which parents, children or school staff can ask the officers for advice and support.
Northumbria Police recognises the benefits of intervening early to support people and families with complex needs. In October 2017, it launched a nine-month early intervention pilot, in which seven PCSOs in Sunderland and Northumberland worked with other agencies to support families. The pilot aimed to shift the focus from a reactive to a more preventative service, and to reduce demand on police resources in the long term. Following a review and evaluation of the pilot, consultation is planned with all remaining local authorities in the Northumbria Police area to consider the extension of this project.
To become more effective in investigating cyber-stalking and harassment and supporting victims who may have disengaged from supporting a prosecution, the force is trialling an innovative approach to dealing with domestic abuse, harassment and cyber crime. It is piloting this in the Sunderland area, where the specialist team reviews all domestic abuse cases to see if there is a cyber element to the offending, which they can then investigate. Fieldwork was completed in February 2019. The pilot was to be evaluated externally in April 2019 and is funded until June 2019. We look forward to reviewing progress with this initiative in our next inspection. Subject to the evaluation, the force will consider how it might continue to fund this work.
The force has implemented multi-agency tasking and co-ordination (MATAC), using Home Office funding. The MATAC team identifies the highest-harm serial perpetrators of domestic abuse using a recency, frequency and gravity (RFG) tool. The RFG is run once per month and the supervisor selects which cases to put through to the panel, which then considers housing, substance misuse and mental health needs. The aim is to alter a perpetrator’s behaviour and make sure they do not offend again. The force can manage some 60 to 70 cases per month under MATAC, and the project has seen some early successes since its launch. It has been formally evaluated and has subsequently been promoted and recommended for other forces to emulate. Performance monitoring has identified that 70 percent of offenders have seen a reduction in RFG score (from the point of intake compared with six months after departure from the cohort).
Since the neighbourhood teams took over management of low- and medium-risk sex offenders, the force has seen an increase in intelligence submissions. The teams are trained in sex offender behaviour and risk assessment. This has led to more RSOs being reassessed as high or very high risk. The force is reviewing capacity and capability in the MOSOVO team to make sure it can manage with these increased numbers.
There is limited performance data about the number of outstanding assessments for RSOs. The force needs to find out how many assessments are completed outside the six-week time target, and understand the reasons for any delay. It may also need to review whether it is working effectively with the probation service.
The force seeks feedback from vulnerable victims in several ways. It conducts surveys with them to improve the service, and the results are fed back to staff at both team and individual level. The force and the office of the police and crime commissioner (OPCC) work with third sector support agencies to ask service users about their experiences. The OPCC uses this information when deciding which services provide the best support to domestic abuse and vulnerable victims. Northumbria Police also conducts a criminal justice survey with victims following a final court outcome. This victim consultation focuses on the standards of service given against the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, which gives victims a legal right to receive a minimum standard of service from the criminal justice system.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
Northumbria Police 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 observations. The designated chief officer reviews the register frequently to maintain the right levels of armed capability and capacity.
Last year we identified one area in which the force’s APSTRA could be improved: it didn’t include details of how rapidly its armed response vehicles (ARVs) respond to incidents. This is important to determine whether the force has enough 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 Northumbria Police are attended by officers trained to an ARV standard. However, some incidents need the skills and specialist capabilities of more highly trained officers. Northumbria Police has good arrangements in place to mobilise specialist officers when necessary, and has enough specialist capabilities to handle the threats and risks identified in its APSTRA.
Because of the terrorist threat, Northumbria Police has received Home Office funding as part of a programme to boost armed policing in certain parts of England and Wales. The force has fulfilled its commitment to the programme by increasing the availability of ARVs.
Working with others
It is important that effective joint working arrangements are in place between neighbouring forces, because armed criminals and terrorists don’t operate within county boundaries. Armed officers must be prepared to deploy flexibly and work seamlessly with their counterparts in other forces. All forces need to be able to call on support from neighbours in times of heightened threat.
Although Northumbria Police has enough ARV officers and specialist capabilities, it would benefit from building closer collaboration arrangements with neighbouring forces. In particular, it should consider developing joint specialist capabilities with other forces in the region. This would provide greater assurance that officers with the right skills are on hand to manage the highest threats anywhere in the region.
The force’s armed officers are trained in tactics that take account of the types of recent terrorist attacks. Also, Northumbria Police has an important role in designing training exercises with other organisations that simulate these types of attack. It reviews these exercises carefully to learn from any mistakes and make improvements to response.
Northumbria Police reviews the outcome of all firearms incidents that its officers attend and identifies good practice and areas for improvement. It uses this to improve training and operational procedures.Summary for question 5