Thames Valley PEEL 2018
How effectively does the force reduce crime and keep people safe?
Thames Valley Police is effective at reducing crime and keeping people safe. But it needs to improve how it investigates low level crime.
The number of crimes the force records has increased since our 2017 inspection, while the number of offenders brought to justice has decreased. It needs to understand why this has happened and make sure that investigations are consistently well supervised, and that staff have the skills and support to conduct high quality investigations.
Overall, the force is good at protecting vulnerable people and works well with partner agencies to achieve this. But the increase in the number of domestic abuse crimes the force has recorded since our 2017 inspection has not been matched by increased arrests or offenders brought to justice. The force doesn’t use protective powers for victims of domestic abuse as much as many other forces. It needs to understand and address these issues.
How effective is the force at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe?
This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2017 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.
How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?
Areas for improvement
- The force should improve how it allocates crime to ensure that investigations are allocated to appropriately trained officers.
- The force should ensure that it makes progress with those cases that should, on balance, be taken forward – even if the victim does not support the investigation – and that officers understand the importance of addressing risk and undertaking proportionate investigation and safeguarding activity.
- The force should reduce the backlog of digital investigations and ensure that all forensic evidence is analysed within timescales that are consistent with the pace of investigations.
- The force should ensure that there is regular and active supervision of less serious investigations to improve quality and progress.
- The force should ensure that it is fully compliant with the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime with victim contract details consistently recorded and updated.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
The force doesn’t yet have the structures, staff and skills it needs to investigate all crime effectively. Serious crime is dealt with well and the force continues to invest in this area. But investigations into less serious matters aren’t always as good. Not all staff are fully trained for their roles. Some investigations are delayed too long while officers wait for evidence to be forensically examined. We also saw that inexperienced staff were dealing with some difficult or time-consuming investigations.
In our 2017 effectiveness inspection, we found that the force needed to improve how it investigates crime. It subsequently carried out a detailed review of 400 investigations. It has used what it learned from this to create an improvement programme (Operation Endeavour) and the assistant chief constable responsible for crime investigation oversees this programme. This is a comprehensive piece of work designed to improve the way the force investigates crime. We are encouraged by the steps the force has started to take and some improvements are already taking place.
During our fieldwork, we found that the force has increased the number of skilled investigators since our last inspection. It has employed additional police staff investigators (PSIs) and reduced the number of detective vacancies to nearly single figures. It has done this by encouraging officers to become detectives and by launching a direct entry route into the force at detective level. The force now needs to make sure it has the capacity to properly train and accredit these new staff. We heard from some trainee detectives that they didn’t have tutors or access to assessors to validate their skills.
Before this inspection we did a file review of 60 completed investigations, and during our fieldwork we reviewed a sample of live investigations. While we assessed 50 of these 60 investigations as effective overall, we had some significant concerns.
Our observations during the inspection confirmed many of the findings of our file review and highlighted some issues that the force needs to improve.
Investigations by criminal investigation department (CID) officers and specialist teams, such as the domestic abuse investigation unit (DAIU), are of a high quality. The CID and specialist team supervisors set out plans for their investigations and consistently review their progress.
For investigations of more serious crimes, there were delays in obtaining video evidence. The force doesn’t train all its investigators in how to take this kind of evidence. We heard that this can lead to delays in beginning investigations into offences that involve vulnerable victims.
In our 2017 effectiveness inspection, we found that the supervision of less serious crime needed to improve. Despite the force providing some training to supervisors, investigations into less serious crimes are still not carried out as well as investigations by CID officers and specialist teams. Nine of the 60 files we reviewed prior to our fieldwork weren’t properly supervised, and in five cases this led to poor investigations. We saw further evidence of this during our fieldwork, when we saw cases where more direct and intrusive supervision at an early stage would have led to a better outcome. These included offences related to domestic abuse and indecent exposure.
We also found that officers were only completing victims’ care contracts sporadically, and weren’t always updating the crime report. This can mean that victims aren’t automatically referred to victim support when they should be. This is another area we highlighted for improvement in our 2017 inspection.
Our file review identified missed opportunities to follow up key lines of inquiry (such as not tracing and interviewing witnesses or suspects, or not examining CCTV). We also identified instances where no investigation took place because victims didn’t support further action, even if further inquiries could have been made. In total, we identified 13 cases that raised concerns that were important enough for us to bring them to the force’s attention. Of the 13, six needed immediate attention. In some cases, we felt that the investigation had been finished too quickly, and there were further lines of inquiry that should have been explored. In others, cases had been closed without dealing with wider risks, such as the offender posing a risk to other victims.
During our fieldwork, we found examples where inexperienced officers had been allocated complex or time-consuming investigations. For example, we found separate occasions where inexperienced officers were investigating indecent images, a series of indecent assaults and a wounding. The officers dealing with these had no experience of managing these kinds of offences and evidence. For instance, the indecent images case required examining a phone with 25,000 images, some of which were indecent, and the whole process was extremely time consuming.
Staff who investigate crime told us that the time taken for forensic evidence to be received causes delays to investigations. One officer received notification of a positive forensic identification eight months after they had completed a burglary investigation as ‘undetected’. We heard that delays of four months and more for this sort of forensic work weren’t uncommon. In other cases, we heard of lengthy delays for phones or computers to be examined. As a result, officers have found it difficult to keep some victims engaged with the criminal justice process. In other cases, offenders have been at liberty for longer before being brought to justice.
Use of body-worn video (BWV) was identified as an area for improvement in our 2017 effectiveness inspection. We were pleased to see that officers are now making greater use of this equipment to gather evidence when attending reports of crimes. The situation should further improve when each officer is issued with their own BWV equipment later this year. Officers are now more aware that they should be using this equipment to capture early evidence.
The force is aware that it needs to improve how well it investigates less serious crime. In the summer of 2017, it created investigation hubs made up of dedicated groups of officers investigating less serious crime. Just before our inspection, the force replaced these hubs by combining its response and investigation functions into a new response and investigation role. These arrangements are supplemented by a smarter resolution hub made up of officers in each policing area. Staff in the resolution hubs review each crime and then allocate it to a relevant officer or deal with the investigation themselves. It is too early to tell if the changes will bring about the intended improvements, although staff we spoke to were positive about them.
We visited two of these hubs and found that the type of work they are dealing with is appropriate to their role. But we also found that on occasions they weren’t paying enough attention to victims’ possible vulnerability. When we asked what their role was, staff in the hubs highlighted the importance of their work in reducing demand on frontline staff. The force should make sure that the need for efficiency doesn’t lead to demand being supressed or get in the way of properly investigating crime or protecting vulnerable people.
The force recognises that officers wait too long for evidence to be retrieved from digital devices. It is recruiting 12 additional digital technicians to give a quicker service. While this is a positive development, it won’t address the delays in other types of forensic examinations that staff raised with us.
The force has improved its processes for locating and arresting suspects. However, the force is bringing fewer offenders to justice than it has in the past. Its approach to disclosing evidence to the defence is good and staff have been well trained in this area.
In our 2017 effectiveness inspection, we said that the force needed to make sure it routinely conducts checks on foreign nationals who have been arrested. This process is now in place. Immigration enforcement officers work full-time in the force intelligence bureau (FIB) and provide a link between the two organisations. Officers automatically check databases that contain the details of foreign offenders before the force releases an arrested foreign national.
Our previous inspection said that the force needed to improve how it keeps local police commanders up to date with information about wanted people. It has created a fugitive intelligence team (FIT), which acts as a central point dealing with all types of offenders who need to be brought to justice. It prioritises those who pose the greatest risk to the public and gives information to local policing areas, which is included in local briefings. We also conducted a review of action taken in respect of wanted people. We found that information is promptly circulated on the PNC.
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 where needed. New recruits have basic training in which evidence needs to be recorded and disclosed to the defence. The force’s CID has a full-time disclosure officer who liaises with the Crown Prosecution Service.
Over the last four years the number of crimes recorded has increased, yet the number of offenders being brought to justice has decreased. This lends weight to the findings of our reviews of completed and ongoing investigations, which suggest that the overall quality of some investigations has reduced.
For instance, between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017, the force recorded 138,000 crimes, of which offenders were taken to court in 17,000 cases. The force dealt with a further 7,500 cases in other ways, such as with a caution. In the same period a year later, the force recorded 149,000 crimes, but took only 14,000 offenders to court and dealt with just over 5,500 in other ways. The improvement in processes for recording crime since our crime data integrity inspection in 2017 may partly explain why recorded crime has increased. But it doesn’t explain why the number of offenders being brought to justice has fallen.
After legislation changed the way in which police bail is applied, the force didn’t strike the right balance between the use of pre-charge bail and the released under investigation (RUI) option. Previously, it was possible for police to, in effect, hold a person indefinitely by extending the bail period every 28 days. Following the introduction of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 c. 3, only an officer of inspector rank or higher can authorise police bail, so normally a suspect will be released without bail if they are not charged. Now, this period can only be extended once, and a superintendent officer must authorise it. A magistrates’ court is responsible for any further extension.
Since then, the force has used RUI too often, rather than using bail conditions to protect victims and control offenders. The force recognises that this is a serious issue. It has taken the following steps to increase the appropriate use of bail and to make sure it properly manages and oversees offenders who are RUI:
- It has set up a force-wide panel to monitor the use of bail and RUI.
- It reviews outstanding RUI cases to ensure they are properly dealt with.
- The force performance group tracks how often bail is used, and the group meets each month to monitor the force’s performance in key areas.
- The force provides local police commanders with information about the use of bail and RUI in their area, to help them make sure investigations are properly managed.
- The force has raised awareness among officers of how to use the legislation, to improve their knowledge and expertise. It emphasises that they should always consider pre-charge bail.
These measures are already making a difference. During the inspection we heard from staff about recent changes in how they are expected to approach bail considerations and noted that this power is now being used more frequently. This indicates that the force is now making better use of pre-charge bail to manage offenders and protect vulnerable people, such as victims of domestic abuse.Summary for question 2
How effective is the force at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, and supporting victims?
Areas for improvement
- The force should make sure that it fully understands why the proportion of arrests and charge summonses outcomes for domestic abuse offences has reduced, and whether its high use of scheduled appointments to take reports of domestic abuse is a factor.
- The force should reassure itself that proper use is made of pre-charge bail and ancillary orders such as domestic violence protection orders and Clare’s Law to protect victims of domestic abuse.
- The force has an effective approach to identifying those sharing indecent images online but should make sure it is proactive in reducing the threat through the best use of intelligence.
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
The force has a clear definition of vulnerability and a strategy for protecting vulnerable people. It communicates this strategy effectively, and officers and staff display a good understanding of it.
The force has a very good understanding of which kinds of people are vulnerable to harm and how widespread this is in the force area. It has developed this with other organisations such as local authorities and mental health professionals. The force has used this understanding to create its vulnerability reduction strategy. But its inefficient call handling system makes quickly identifying which callers are vulnerable and recording the risks to them harder.
Staff in the contact management department are trained in the threat, harm, opportunity and risk (THOR) decision-making model. They use this to assess risk and give advice to vulnerable callers to help them stay safe. They use information that the force holds about these callers and their own knowledge of vulnerability to make this assessment. However, this process is time-consuming, as the computer system doesn’t automatically provide all relevant details, such as whether the caller has been victimised before. The force is due to start using a new contact management system in Autumn 2019, but until this is in place call handlers will have to keep looking for some of the information they need by hand.
We also observed that call handlers don’t record their risk assessment on the incident log. This could result in important information being missed, which could cause problems if incidents need to be reprioritised. It also makes supervision of decision making more time-consuming. The force needs to make sure that these assessments are recorded properly, so that risks to vulnerable people aren’t overlooked.
The force provides excellent information about vulnerability on its intranet site. It has been innovative in training its staff to look for and deal with different types of vulnerability. The Hidden Harm campaign has successfully raised awareness of types of hidden vulnerability. For instance, the number of so-called honour-based crimes the force records are among the highest in England and Wales. And figures supplied by the force indicate that the number of modern slavery crimes it recorded rose by 9 percent in 2017/18.
The vulnerability reduction strategy sets out a plan for how to prevent vulnerable people from being victimised. It looks at each of the 12 types of vulnerability identified by the College of Policing, drawing on the work the force has done with partner organisations. It focuses on the actions the force is taking, and plans to take, to prevent harm and victimisation.
Responding to incidents
The force generally responds quickly to incidents involving vulnerable victims to keep them safe. It answers emergency calls from the public promptly and is improving how quickly it answers non-emergency 101 calls. It has improved how it assesses the risks to vulnerable people, which our 2017 effectiveness inspection identified as an area that needed improvement.
In our review of completed investigations, we found that the time taken to respond to members of the public who need assistance is generally satisfactory. Out of the 60 investigations we reviewed, the target time was only missed on nine occasions. We also spent time observing the control room and found that there appeared to be enough patrol officers available for the call handlers to allocate to incidents.
The force has improved how quickly it answers 101 calls. Figures supplied by the force show that in October 2018, the average wait for a 101 call to be answered was 7 minutes, and that 42 percent of calls were abandoned. Since then the force has prioritised the recruitment of contact management staff. It has also launched its single online home platform, which allows the public to conduct many more routine matters through the force’s website, including reporting crimes. As a result, by January 2019, the average waiting time for a 101 call had reduced to 3 minutes. The proportion of callers who hung up before they were answered had fallen to 21 percent and many of these went on to use the website.
The force has improved its performance in this area. But it needs to keep improving to make sure that vulnerable people find it easy to contact the force when they need to, and that it deals with all demand from the public via the 101 line.
Between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018, the force recorded 14,500 domestic abuse crimes and made 7,250 arrests. Since then, the number of recorded offences has increased significantly. This may be because of improved crime recording practices following our 2017 crime data integrity inspection. However, the number of arrests remains around the same. This means that the arrest rate has reduced from 50 percent, which was one of the highest in England and Wales, to 32 percent, which is broadly in line with the rate for England and Wales as a whole.
There is a similar picture when we look at the rate at which the force brings domestic abuse offenders to justice. Between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018, the force took 2,630 domestic abuse offenders to court. Since then, the number of offenders brought to court has remained around the same despite the force recording a notably higher number of domestic abuse crimes. The rate of domestic abuse offenders being brought to court for Thames Valley is now in line with the rate for England and Wales as a whole.
It is unclear why arrests and convictions for domestic abuse have not risen in line with the improved recording of these crimes.
We have noted that, compared with most other forces, Thames Valley Police deals with a higher number of domestic abuse cases by making an appointment for an officer to attend later when convenient to the victim (rather than sending the next available officer). The force used scheduled appointments in 32 percent of all cases, compared with an average of 12 percent across England and Wales in the 2018 calendar year. This delay in speaking to victims may be contributing to the worsening arrest and conviction rates, as victims’ willingness to deal with the issue and the availability of evidence can reduce as time passes.
The force is aware that the proportion of arrests and convictions related to domestic abuse has declined. It recognises that it needs to address this and has emphasised to local policing commanders the importance of making arrests where appropriate. It is also considering other ways that this can be improved. However, at the time of our fieldwork it wasn’t clear that the force fully understood which factors were pulling performance down in this area.
Officers generally assess risk to victims well. The completion of domestic abuse risk assessment forms has got better since our 2017 effectiveness inspection, when this was identified as an area for improvement. A supervisor now reviews all of these before they are submitted, and it is encouraging to see that officers now record details of children in households who may be at risk. Officers we spoke to were aware of the relevant forms and used them to bring vulnerable people to the attention of the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH). This allows the force to share information about vulnerable people with its partner agencies.
The force is working well with mental health professionals to support vulnerable people. A mental health triage car is available between 6pm and 2am every day in each of the three counties the force covers. A mental health nurse and a police officer staff each car, which attends appropriate incidents. The mental health nurse also provides guidance to police officers about mental health issues. A team from the University of Oxford has evaluated this service. The team found that many police officers and members of the public who had experience of the service saw it as something positive, with the latter group seeing it as more appropriate for their needs.
Supporting vulnerable victims
The force works very well with partner agencies to support and protect vulnerable people through the MASH and multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) structures. All high-risk domestic abuse cases are referred to a MARAC. There are nine MASHs across the force area, each of which has police officers working alongside staff from partner agencies. These are working better than they were in 2017, when our inspection found that there was a backlog of assessments waiting to be processed. This backlog has now been cleared.
The force is doing innovative work with its partner institutions to protect missing children. It has created multi-agency teams to bring together relevant information and co-ordinate activity relating to missing and exploited children. These teams include children’s services and health service professionals and are connected by an IT system (ELPIS) that allows data to be shared in real time. In a recent case, the police circulated information about a missing girl on the system and another agency identified that she was at risk of child sexual exploitation. The risk assessment was updated, and the missing child was recovered from a hotel room and protected from harm.
Neighbourhood teams are involved in continually safeguarding vulnerable victims, including the elderly, people with mental health problems and repeat victims of domestic abuse. It is encouraging to see the work that neighbourhood officers are doing with partners in their areas to protect vulnerable people – for instance, people being victimised by drug dealers who use their homes for dealing drugs.
The force asks for feedback from victims of domestic abuse and receives it from around 300 victims each year. By analysing the feedback, it has identified that the biggest issue for victims is not being provided with updates. The force has structures in place (such as the domestic abuse operational group) that are responsible for learning from this and other sources, such as national best practice, to improve its service in this area.
An independent domestic violence adviser supports all high-risk domestic abuse victims. The adviser serves as their primary point of contact and makes sure that their perspective and safety is at the centre of the action that any agency takes.
The force has put in place positive initiatives to protect victims of domestic abuse. It has extended the magistrates’ court fast-track scheme by piloting this approach at Aylesbury Crown Court. We heard about one case in which this scheme led to a perpetrator being sentenced within 72 hours of the offence taking place, protecting the high-risk victim.
The force has also created a multi-agency tasking and co-ordination group for each policing area. These groups help it to work with partner agencies from fields such as health and social care to reduce the risk from domestic abuse perpetrators. This helps the force take a zero-tolerance approach to all offending by a perpetrator, which in turn helps it provide better protection to the victim. Pooling information about a perpetrator helps the force improve its picture of risks to the victim. A good example of this approach is Operation Vocal in Oxford. Officers engaged in this operation prioritise enforcement action for any offence (for example drink driving) towards domestic abuse perpetrators identified through this process.
The force has clear guidelines about who is responsible for safeguarding vulnerable victims, initial safety planning and providing information about where to get support. Offences investigated by the DAIU are very well managed. They give due consideration to the use of pre-charge bail conditions and victimless prosecutions to support domestic abuse victims.
However, we saw some cases – ones not investigated by the DAIU – where the service to victims of domestic abuse wasn’t good enough. In these, officers should have responded more robustly to the situation and safety planning and investigations weren’t done well enough. Again, these were all issues that could be prevented with more effective supervision at the beginning of the case. The force needs to make sure that the concerns with how it deals with less serious investigations don’t affect its approach to standard and medium-risk domestic abuse.
Our 2017 inspection said that the force needed to increase its use of domestic violence prevention notices (DVPNs). The force supplied data before this inspection that indicates that its use of this type of protective power is among the lowest in England and Wales relative to population size. Only 68 DVPNs were issued in the 12 months to September 2018. The force could also make more use of Clare’s Law, which allows for new partners of domestic abuse perpetrators to find out about their offending history. Knowledge about both provisions among staff is low and the processes for making use of them seem to be time-consuming and not always effective.
The force has analysed the reasons behind this and identified that the main problem is a lack of capacity in its legal department. It is recruiting two new members of staff who will be dedicated to taking DVPNs through the magistrates’ court process to turn them into domestic violence prevention orders. Despite this, the use of these orders is still low when compared with many other forces in England and Wales. However, we are encouraged to see in our fieldwork that the force is now more focused on improving the protection of victims of domestic abuse through increased use of these orders and its use of pre-charge bail.
The force has good arrangements for managing the risks from dangerous and sexual offenders.
The force is effective in identifying people sharing indecent images of children (IIOC) online and uses a risk assessment tool to score the risk offenders pose. The police online investigation team (POLIT) has dedicated staff to respond quickly to apprehend offenders who are sharing IIOC and are assessed as posing a high risk. Staff in the relevant geographical area deal with cases that are assessed as a lower risk and POLIT staff oversee progress. This system increases the force’s capacity to tackle this type of offending. But there is still room to be more proactive in how it uses all types of information to identify people who may be sharing IIOC.
We found that the officers responsible for managing registered sex offenders (RSOs) are well trained and, although they are busy, their workloads are manageable. They use a nationally recognised process to assess the risk offenders pose. At the time of the inspection, there was no backlog of offenders awaiting assessment, although many officers had a backlog of visits. Any risk that a backlog might pose is mitigated by a daily risk assessment meeting that prioritises offenders in terms of how much risk they pose. We found that these assessments make good use of preventative orders such as sexual harm prevention orders to reduce the risk of offending and the force monitors and enforces them.
Neighbourhood officers are aware of RSOs in their area, and in some areas, they carry out monitoring visits to low-risk offenders. The force could explore whether this can be expanded to the whole 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
Thames Valley Police operates joint arrangements with Hampshire Constabulary to provide armed policing. This means that both forces can maintain the right standards of training, armed deployments and command of armed operations.
The force has a good understanding of the potential harm facing the public. Its APSTRA meets the requirements of the national code of practice and College of Policing requirements. The APSTRA is published annually. It states the highest priority threats to communities in Hampshire and the Thames Valley area and makes sure that armed policing meets professional standards. The designated chief officer reviews the register frequently to maintain the right levels of armed capability and capacity.
All armed officers in England and Wales are trained to national standards. There are different standards for each armed officer role. The majority of armed incidents in the Thames Valley area are attended by officers trained to an armed response vehicle (ARV) standard. However, sometimes incidents need the skills and specialist capabilities of more highly trained officers.
The availability of specialist officers in Hampshire and the Thames Valley area is guaranteed by the close working arrangements with the regional counter terrorist
unit (CTU). Having the CTU nearby means specialist officers can be called on immediately if their skills are needed.
Working with others
Armed criminals and terrorists have no respect for county boundaries, so it is important for neighbouring forces to have effective joint working arrangements in place. This means that armed officers must be able to deploy flexibly and work seamlessly with officers in other forces. It is also important that each force can call on support from surrounding forces in times of heightened threat.
This is an area where Thames Valley Police performs well. Working closely with Hampshire Constabulary means that armed officers can deploy quickly and efficiently to any location in either force’s area. Effective plans are also in place with other neighbouring forces if additional support is needed.
We also examined how prepared the force is to respond to threats and risks. Armed officers in Thames Valley are trained in tactics that take account of the types of recent terrorist attacks. The constabulary also plays a prominent role in planning exercises with other organisations to simulate these types of attack. We found that these training exercises are reviewed carefully so that participating organisations can record learning points and make improvements for the future.
We found that the force regularly debriefs after incidents attended by armed officers. This helps to make sure it identifies good practice and areas for improvement. We also found that it uses this knowledge to improve training and operational procedures.Summary for question 5