West Mercia PEEL 2018
How effectively does the force reduce crime and keep people safe?
West Mercia Police is good at preventing crime and tackling anti-social behaviour (ASB).
The force prioritises crime prevention. It focuses on problem solving and early intervention. It is developing a new neighbourhood policing strategy.
While the force is good at protecting the public from harm, it needs to clarify its approach to problem solving and risk management plans (RMPs).
The force needs to improve the ways in which it investigates crime. It does not have enough capacity and capability to cope with investigative demand. This is adversely affecting the service that it gives to the public: it is keeping victims waiting too long to see an officer, and it is sometimes taking too long to investigate crimes. This is a cause of concern. We note that more victims withdraw support for police action than in most other forces.
The force needs to improve its approach to catching criminals and resolving investigations. It needs to put processes in place so that it prioritises effectively those suspects who represent the most harm to the public.
The force needs to improve the way in which it protects vulnerable people. The workforce has a good understanding of vulnerability. This includes the importance of identifying and safeguarding vulnerable people. But the force is missing opportunities to make arrests in some domestic abuse cases. It needs to be sure that it is producing thorough domestic abuse, stalking and harassment (DASH) risk assessments. And it could use pre-charge bail more effectively.
The force is good at tackling SOC, which represents a significant improvement in its performance over the past year. It considers threats, harm and risks daily. It identifies new organised crime groups (OCGs), gangs and networks. And it proactively gains information from other forces to understand and tackle county lines criminality.
How effective is the force at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe?
Areas for improvement
- The force should introduce a performance framework to hold officers and staff to account for effective crime prevention activity.
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
West Mercia Police prioritises crime prevention. It has 81 dedicated SNTs. These give good coverage across the force’s communities. In April 2018, the force launched a new approach to neighbourhood policing. It focuses on problem solving and early intervention in response to community needs. This revised approach aims to reduce the demand on resources and prevent repeat problems. The force is also developing a new neighbourhood policing strategy. But it is too early to say whether this will be effective at giving officers enough time to focus on problem-solving work.
The force has professionalised the role of SNTs. It appoints staff who are committed to problem solving and crime prevention, and who bring a range of skills and experience. The force aims to maintain staffing levels in its SNTs. At the time of our inspection, the force was actively recruiting officers to fill vacancies.
The force does not routinely deploy neighbourhood officers to non-emergency incidents that are not directly related to their community problem-solving role. However, it acknowledges that this does happen, particularly at times of peak demand and in rural locations. Neighbourhood officers are appropriately involved in responding to force-wide risks, such as SOC.
The force holds officers to account for their activity. It does this through managers and through local and force tasking and co-ordinating processes (for example, directing SNT activities to tackle cuckooing). Cuckooing is the process of establishing a base from which to deal drugs, as part of county lines criminality. The base is established in the home of a vulnerable person, or local drug users. Drug debt, threats and violence may be used as coercion. However, the force acknowledges that there are still gaps in its approach to problem solving.
Officers set neighbourhood priorities in conjunction with their sergeants. While community involvement plays a part, officers do not consistently consult with the public to inform local policing priorities. When officers do ask the public, the means of consultation can vary between individual officers. And consultation outcomes do not always influence local priorities. There is no strategic view of problem-solving performance across the force. Officers vary in their application of the approach, levels of abstraction and individual contributions. As a result, the force cannot consistently demonstrate that its SNTs support force priorities as effectively as possible.
Protecting the public from crime
The force is good at protecting the public from harm. Area beat profiles give the force a good understanding of community needs. The profiles include information about population, demographics and deprivation levels, together with crimes, intelligence, offenders and incidents. Officers check these profiles regularly to help them understand the threats facing their communities. Beat profiles also contain some partnership information, such as census data. However, the force acknowledges that it needs to do more to improve analysis and information sharing with its partners, including health services. The force has recruited three partnership analysts to the analytical team. The police and crime commissioner (PCC) funded these posts. They are helping to improve partnership data and information sharing.
The force’s HRUs are made up of police and partner agencies. They are co-located to improve collaborative working. The co-ordinators in each hub give advice and manage the force’s approach to problems such as ASB. They work in partnership with council and housing providers, administer warning letters and oversee interventions (such as acceptable behaviour contracts, warnings, notices and orders). Partners in the HRUs include local authority public protection officers and housing officers. This combination of skills and expertise helps to make the HRUs an effective community safety resource.
SNT officers also take part in a range of activities that inform their daily work. They attend partnership and community meetings, including joint action groups, working collaboratively to tackle problems. They also make good use of social media to increase communication with the public, although this use varies between officers and teams. One SNT’s use of Facebook Live widened the reach of the community forum from 40 to approximately 150 participants.
The force has adopted a proactive SARA problem-solving approach, and has recently trained many SNT officers and staff in SARA. It has also trained line managers to make sure that they are able to give suitable support and direction. Problem-solving activity is documented on problem-solving plans (PSPs). Problem-solving co-ordinators and problem-solving clinics help SNT officers to develop effective plans with partners. Problem-solving co-ordinators then keep these plans under regular review, as do supervisors through quarterly evaluations. Problem-solving co-ordinators also quality assure the plans and identify good practice. They, in turn, update a ‘good practice’ database on the force’s intranet. They also visit SNTs to broaden the understanding of problem solving across the workforce.
These factors contribute to an effective force-wide approach to problem solving. However, some officers feel that there are now too many PSPs, which is working to the detriment of other approaches, such as RMPs. The force should clarify its approach to problem solving and RMPs, so that officers and staff understand what is expected of them.
SNTs gave us many examples of working with partners to tackle problems. One example was the Multi Agency Targeted Enforcement Strategy (MATES) scheme, whereby a multi-agency team worked together to tackle illicit tobacco selling. Officers and staff from other agencies visited 80 premises. They secured multiple arrests, identified OCGs, safeguarded victims and deported offenders from the UK.
The force makes appropriate use of preventative tactics to tackle crime and ASB. SNTs use ASB warning letters as a precursor to applying for a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO). Housing partners support this preventative approach. They write to tenants to tell them that ASBs committed by family members may affect their own tenancies. This shows that the force uses a range of appropriate tactics to tackle crime and ASBs.
West Mercia Police has invited peer reviews and used external consultants to assess and improve its approach to prevention and problem solving. This shows a commitment to continuous improvement.Summary for question 1
How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?
Cause of concern
The force does not have the capacity or capability to investigate crime effectively and this is affecting the service being provided to the public. There are failings in the way that crimes are being investigated.
To address this cause of concern, we recommend that within six months the force should:
- improve how it responds to reports of crimes, how it then allocates them, ensuring it allocates investigations to appropriately trained and supported officers, and that it reviews this allocation appropriately throughout the investigation;
- ensure regular and active supervision of the quality and progress of investigations. This supervision should be properly recorded;
- improve its ability to retrieve digital evidence from mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices quickly enough to ensure investigations are not delayed;
- take steps to better understand the data relating to its crime outcomes and put actions in place to ensure that it is effectively pursuing justice on behalf of victims;
- improve its understanding of suspects released under investigation and the management of those released on bail;
- introduce consistent processes to effectively manage the risk posed by suspects who are under investigation but have not yet been arrested or circulated as wanted on PNC; and
- introduce effective arrangements to ensure it complies fully with its disclosure obligations.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
The force acknowledges that its approach to investigation requires improvement. At times, it does not have enough capacity and capability to cope with demand. This is adversely affecting the service that the force gives to the public. The force keeps some victims waiting too long to see an officer. And the force is taking too long to investigate some crimes. A lack of consistent supervision has resulted in a high level of unsatisfactory outcomes. The force is reviewing its approach to investigation, with the support of external consultants. This review includes practitioner workshops and the development of an accurate ‘map’ of current processes.
The force’s intention is for response officers to attend all priority calls and all immediate calls for assistance from the public. But the same officers can also be responsible for investigating multiple crimes, particularly in busier areas, in addition to having to deal with some scheduled appointments. This reduces their capacity to respond to priority calls. As a result, the force is not attending some incidents within agreed time frames.
Recently, the force introduced incident progression teams (IPTs). The IPTs will help to manage appointments, improve the service to victims and ease the demand on response teams. However, at the time of our inspection, working practices in the IPTs were inconsistent. Also, staff spoke of both a push to clear crimes and a lack of performance scrutiny within the force.
Response officers do not have the training to investigate some of the crimes that are allocated to them. During our inspection, there were examples of officers investigating complex fraud and high-risk, serious domestic assault cases without the skills or support to do so.
Generally, the force allocates higher-risk and more serious crimes to the criminal investigation department (CID). However, the force has not successfully implemented its Pathfinder model of ‘omnicompetent’ investigators.
Some investigators lack the training and accreditation they need for specialist investigations. These include investigations involving children and serious sexual offences. Some staff without this specialist training are failing to manage higher-harm investigations involving vulnerable victims as well as they should. We noted higher rates of victim disengagement in those areas.
Other parts of the force have kept the more traditional ‘core’ and ‘specialist’ investigation models. Managers spoke of a need for clear strategic direction from the force about its approach to investigation.
Regardless of the model in place, the force has problems with its Athena case management system. These problems continue to make it challenging for investigators throughout the force to manage investigations effectively.
The force has a well-established telephone investigation unit. In most cases, the level of risk and seriousness of crimes that this unit manages is appropriate. Incidents are allocated to the unit through control room THRIVE risk assessment processes. (THRIVE stands for threat, harm, risk, investigation opportunities, vulnerability of the victim and the engagement level required to resolve the issue.) These processes are described in the next section of this report. However, staff within this department who have limited training are also investigating more serious crimes. Examples include an assault involving actual bodily harm, a high-value theft and a series of non-residential burglaries. We also found examples of telephone investigators managing priority response incidents. The force is introducing bespoke training courses to make sure that officers and staff in these roles have the right skills.
Investigators and response officers understand the importance of early evidence gathering. Both report good-quality investigation handovers from one department to another. The force has been encouraging positive action by response officers who attend reports of domestic abuse. Effective working between departments, and a proactive approach to promptly identify and arrest suspects, is also evident.
Specialist teams and partners, such as those working with victims of rape, give a good service to victims. But there are some shortages of trained staff. Insufficient levels of supervision and high officer workloads can undermine the quality of investigations. Our review of crime files and inspection fieldwork identified missed opportunities for call handlers to give the public practical advice about preserving evidence.
Also, the force cannot give data on voluntary attendance rates. Therefore, it cannot have confidence that its approach to arrest and voluntary attendance is effective. These factors, along with a lack of attendance at some priority crimes, mean that the force may be losing early evidence-gathering opportunities. In some cases, this may result in poorer outcomes for victims.
Our review of 60 crime files identified 16 where the force had not pursued reasonable lines of enquiry. Our review of crime investigations established that approximately
half (29 out of 60) of these investigations had had ineffective supervision, or no supervision at all. Our review noted examples of ineffective or absent supervision across the range of investigations, including the more serious offences that detectives investigate.
We found many supportive supervisors. But some supervisors told us they could not adequately supervise the high numbers of crimes that officers carry on their teams. Recently, the force promoted 67 new sergeants. This number includes 24 new supervisor posts, which the force will use to strengthen local policing supervisory capacity. The force is also implementing a tailored training programme for sergeants, incorporating a ‘passport’ of 18 supervisory skills, to help address identified weaknesses.
Officers and staff are victim focused. They consider potential threat and harm when making decisions. And they care about the service they give to victims. Officers generally record agreements about victim contact. But they do not always update victims in line with those agreements. The introduction of Athena means that some officers are not recording victim contact in the right place on the system. This makes audit functions more challenging.
More victims decline to support police action in West Mercia than in most other forces. The force is working to increase the number of evidence-led prosecutions in cases where the victim does not support action. The force is reviewing this feature of its performance through management meetings and thematic audits. This work has led to some improvements. These include closer work between the Crown Prosecution Service and supervisors to scrutinise the reasons why victims do not support police action after an offender has been charged.
The force is increasing its mandatory use of body-worn cameras as an evidence-gathering tool. The force’s initial investigators’ course now includes a focus on vulnerable victims. However, trainee detectives do not always have enough support and mentoring. These inconsistencies mean that victims do not consistently receive a satisfactory level of service. In approximately one quarter of lower-risk cases, forensic backlogs exceed the six-month service level agreement, and cause lengthy investigative delays of up to 12 months in some cases.
These factors are likely to contribute to lowered victim confidence, increased disengagement and poor investigative outcomes.
West Mercia Police’s approach to catching criminals and resolving investigations requires improvement.
The force has good processes for circulating wanted suspects on the PNC. It does this through daily management meetings (DMMs) and its intranet briefing tool, which is easy for officers and staff to access.
The force has among the lowest numbers of wanted people registered on the PNC in England and Wales.
Neighbourhood beat profiles include details of offenders who have been arrested in the past 72 hours. The profiles also give intelligence updates about those who represent the greatest harm to the public.
New local policing priorities teams (LPPTs) actively pursue wanted people and those breaching their bail conditions. The force tasks LPPTs to support different departments. It does this through a range of activities, including daily management processes. It is clear that officers and staff know who is wanted and they pursue suspects diligently.
The force has less understanding about suspects who are under investigation but who have not yet been arrested or circulated as wanted on the PNC. It has no consistent processes in place to make sure that it prioritises effectively those suspects who represent the most harm to the public. There is also no force-wide collation of wanted suspect information. This additional information could give useful indicators in other areas. It could show whether the force is progressing investigations expeditiously, or whether it is managing higher-risk suspects (such as those who are accused of rape and domestic abuse) effectively in all areas. The absence of such data means that the force does not pursue these suspects as effectively as it should.
The force has an effective process for managing FNOs. The crime system automatically populates the wanted foreign national referral process at the criminal records office. A member of the force intelligence bureau (FIB) is responsible for overseeing this work. However, the process depends on officers entering the correct data during the booking-in process. Although this does not always happen, the FIB point of contact takes corrective follow-up action. The force’s custody command team monitors FNO compliance data to track progress. The force has carried out multi-agency operations with immigration officers and other agencies. Operations have included the targeting of OCGs that use FNOs. Such operations can prove effective. But local officers have limited knowledge about how to make immigration referrals that could result in the removal of dangerous criminals from the UK.
In serious and high-harm investigations, officers show a good understanding of both the powers available to them and the benefits of bail legislation. They make appropriate use of relevant conditions. However, the length of some complex investigations, combined with a lack of robust management of bail conditions by the force, can mean that bail is not a viable option for the protection of victims.
The force does not have a good understanding of its performance in terms of RUI suspects. Supervisors carry out manual reviews. But there are no automated processes to identify the number of people who are still under investigation. Manual methods of searching for this information have led to significant inaccuracies, so the force has no clear understanding of its performance in this area. It has introduced a temporary process until a technical solution can be found. Accurate information would help the force to better understand the number of cases where it has not met the charging threshold. This information would help the force to improve its management of victims’ expectations.
The force has introduced a three-day disclosure training course for specialist investigators. To date, it has trained 70 staff. It plans for another 60 to be trained in 2019.
The force has also introduced a disclosure champion, together with local disclosure single points of contact (SPOCs), who assist with general queries. And frontline officers are undertaking a disclosure digital learning package. However, most investigators and response officers report that they have not yet received training other than informal, ad hoc sessions. And some were not aware of the College of Policing’s training module on disclosure. Supervisors and staff told us that the force does not routinely scrutinise case work disclosure schedules. Also, it does not endorse forms as recommended. This means that the force is unlikely to be complying fully with its disclosure obligations.
The force is carrying out regular reviews to understand investigative outcomes, share learning and support improvements in crime performance. One example of improvement is the force’s refreshed use of THRIVE in the control room.
The force is aware of its investigation problems and is working to address them. It has appropriate governance in place to support these improvement activities.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 consistently enforce bail conditions to better safeguard vulnerable people.
- The force should implement effective measures to ensure that information is shared with schools promptly and effectively when children have been affected by domestic abuse incidents.
- The force should review the MARAC referral process and consider the need for greater partner involvement in the decision making process to ensure high risk victims of domestic abuse are not being placed at further risk as a result.
- The force should work with partners to introduce effective MASH arrangements in all parts of the force.
- The force should work with partners to implement the mental health crisis care concordat.
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 uses the College of Policing’s definition of vulnerability. The workforce has a good understanding of what makes people vulnerable and knows that vulnerability is a priority. Officers gave several examples of working with local partners to proactively identify and safeguard vulnerable people. They included visiting schools and businesses, such as hotels, to educate staff about recognising the signs of vulnerability, exploitation and hidden harms.
The force holds frequent meetings to review progress against its strategic priorities and to assign resources to them. These are known as tasking meetings. The force uses analysis both in tasking meetings and to understand specific risks (such as hate crime, SOC and child exploitation). Partnership strategic assessments and other research also help the force to understand the nature and scale of vulnerability.
The force shares information about vulnerable victims and groups with partners to support their assessments. Its recent recruitment of partnership analysts should improve data and information sharing. We also found some examples of problem profiles that the force prepared in response to specific risks, such as child sexual exploitation (CSE), to help it target its interventions.
The force has problems with retrieving high-quality data from some systems. This presents a barrier to further developing a force-wide understanding of vulnerability. Community officers have a good understanding of the threats that face communities through beat profiles. These profiles go some way in helping the force to address its technical weaknesses. This understanding has informed multi-agency safeguarding initiatives in places such as Telford.
The force discusses vulnerable victims and groups in its DMMs. This safeguard ensures that the force swiftly actions all incidents involving vulnerable people. For example, we saw evidence of officers prioritising activity to find missing people, and outstanding domestic abuse suspects, at these meetings.
The force features hidden harms, such as CSE and modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT), in its control strategy. It has given response officers additional mental health training. It has also hosted partnership events and promoted public and partner awareness of hidden harms. This promotion has contributed to increased reporting of honour-based abuse through referrals from partners. The force has given staff ‘look beyond the obvious’ training to help them to identify hidden vulnerability. A vulnerability handbook is available to officers on their personal devices, via the intranet. Officers told us that they regularly look for hidden vulnerability. During our inspection, there was evidence of this. For example, officers looked for signs of exploitation when dealing with vulnerable victims.
While repeat victims are not automatically identified by the command and control system, all calls from the public are subject to the THRIVE risk assessment process. During our inspection, most logs that we viewed had been endorsed by control room staff to show that a risk assessment had taken place. Call takers are generally asking the right questions to identify vulnerability. They can talk through the ‘stay safe’ advice they give to victims. When appropriate, they may stay on the phone to a vulnerable caller until officers arrive.
Operators can use the command and control system to place information markers on the address records of vulnerable people. They can also use an intelligence system to check for the existence of RMPs to help them identify repeat victims. Operators can use the command and control system to view previous incidents at an address. The i24 intelligence team in the operations and communications centre (OCC) also supports operators in identifying all potential risk factors, particularly in dynamic, higher-risk incidents. Supervisors regularly review call and incident logs to check that staff have properly identified all risks. A quality monitoring process exists for call handlers. Supervisors and the quality monitoring officer give feedback to staff about their work, with a view to improving performance.
These systems, processes and checking mechanisms enable the force to effectively assess, record and manage the risk to victims at initial contact.
Responding to incidents
The force responds effectively to emergency incidents. And it carries out effective risk assessments. The force assesses the needs of callers based on threat, risk and harm. Rather than dealing with domestic abuse incidents by telephone, it always aims to attend such reports in person. The force creates a greater proportion of domestic abuse reports as emergency or priority responses than the England and Wales rate, which is positive. However, a review of incidents showed that not all had received an appropriate or timely response. This puts victims at risk of further harm.
Some incidents, initially graded in the OCC as requiring a prompt response (priority 2), were not attended within agreed timescales. Recently, the force has introduced a twice-daily demand review meeting. At this meeting, managers and supervisors reassess those calls that are awaiting attendance. The force also uses a scheduled appointments process to help manage its demand. But it does not reassess cases that are scheduled for appointment, including domestic abuse reports. Officers reported that the demand review meeting can lead to a doubling up of taskings from both the control room and the duty inspector.
When a call handler receives a report of domestic abuse, they can select a list of questions to assist their decision making. The list prompts them to ask, for example, if there are any children in the household. The more experienced call handlers tend to use this list less often. This creates potential for some risks to be missed.
The force has worked to improve officers’ understanding of the importance of thoroughly risk-assessing reports of domestic abuse. Officers use DASH risk assessments to help them with this process. Harm assessment units (HAUs) use these risk assessments to share information with partners. HAUs report that, sometimes, officers have not included the details of children in a DASH assessment. They also report that officers have not completed DASH forms for all reports of domestic abuse.
Non-completion can lead to failure to identify all relevant risks. The DASH form initiates support for victims from the police and other agencies. Delays in completing the risk assessment can result in delays in support being provided. It can also increase the incidence of victim disengagement. Despite these potential risks, the control room plays no part in making sure that officers complete DASH forms. However, as a failsafe, the investigation management unit cannot file a report involving adults or children until the DASH form has been attached.
We spoke to HAU supervisors and reviewed their daily logs in two stations. Of these, officers had completed a DASH within the first 24 hours in around 85 percent of relevant cases. A further 5–10 percent of missing DASHs were addressed through the DMM (which monitors completion on a daily basis) and through enquiries with the attending officer. This sees officers completing some risk assessments with victims by telephone, rather than in person. The force is, however, completing DASH assessments for 95 percent of domestic-related crimes and incidents. Its continued focus on this area through DMMs will help secure further improvements in this area.
There is no force-wide analysis of, or performance data on, DASH quality or completion rates beyond basic daily and supervisor checks. Therefore, the force cannot identify and address DASH quality, analyse trends in completion rates, or focus its DASH improvement activities on those teams that might gain the most benefit.
HAUs carry out background checks on standard and medium-risk DASHs. Officers refer high-risk cases to the domestic abuse risk officer. Officers refer cases involving children to children’s services or education services, to raise awareness that a child has been involved in a domestic abuse incident. Notification to schools so they can help safeguard children involved in domestic abuse incidents is, however, inconsistent. Operation Encompass does not yet function in all parts of the force. ICT problems also mean that automatic reports to schools can be delayed while staff correct data inaccuracies. Some officers we spoke to also make a duplicate referral to children’s services.
Officers have a good knowledge and understanding of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Code G 2012, which concerns statutory powers of arrest. They confirm that the force has reinforced the need for positive action at domestic abuse incidents. But senior officers told us that the culture of positive action at domestic abuse incidents had drifted. A force audit showed that, in a significant number of cases, the force was missing opportunities to make arrests.
Over the past six months, the force has worked to improve performance. And since early 2018, it has had a 12-point action plan in place. The deputy chief constable (DCC) has led the plan. Over the past two years, although the arrest rate has doubled, the charge/summons rate has halved. Both rates are slightly below the England and Wales rate. The force cannot provide data on the use of voluntary attendance for suspect interviews.
The force works with partners in a variety of ways to respond to incidents involving people with mental health problems. Despite a trial in Worcestershire, the force has not been able to secure funding for mental health practitioners to work in the control room. This is because of the number of local authorities that exist within the force area. Other forces have found mental health practitioner provision to be a helpful addition to control room functions.
Nevertheless, the force has a number of effective multi-agency arrangements for mental health. For example, a mental health triage car provides evening cover in Telford and Wrekin. During the week, a mental health support group, called Branches, is based at the police station in Telford. It offers access to services for people who are in crisis. The Telford After Care Team also holds mental health group intervention sessions. We have also previously reported on the emergency place of safety offered through the Shropshire Sanctuary Scheme. However, due to differing budgets and partnership arrangements, such services are not replicated in all counties. In other parts of the force, officers and staff can access mental health support and guidance for people by telephone. But they report an over-reliance on ambulance services. In Herefordshire, approved mental health professionals are available through a call-out system.
Officers told us that they have to transport to hospital people who have been detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This is because of delays in ambulance response. This can mean that officers have to wait for long periods of time with people who need specialist support. In some areas, a multi-agency meeting aims to co-ordinate the response to high-frequency service users. Where this arrangement exists, officers are prompted by police systems to take the person to a pre-agreed place of safety. The force has a strategic mental health lead. However, the force was in a transition between assistant chief constables (ACCs) at the time of inspection and inspectors found that the crisis care concordat was inactive. This means that partners cannot effectively co-ordinate their activities, nor can they share good practice. This situation creates variations in the service being offered across the force. The force intends to address these gaps as part of the vulnerability improvement work planned for 2019.
Supporting vulnerable victims
SNTs are responsible for the ongoing safeguarding of victims of medium-risk domestic abuse. SNTs use RMPs to organise this activity. Our review of RMPs has shown the system to be effective. SNTs also manage other types of vulnerability. They deliver integrated victim management, either as part of incident resolution teams or within harm hubs. Both units offer ‘wraparound’ partnership care to both vulnerable victims (for example, victims of hate crime or those who have poor mental health) and repeat callers. The units do this to signpost people to other services and sources of support, and to reduce the demand for policing services.
The force has given development sessions to more than 350 of its frontline staff, showing them how to effectively use domestic violence protection notices (DVPNs) and domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs). Once authorised, the force adds these orders onto the PNC to form a central repository.
Within teams, DVPN/O SPOCs give advice and support. They record both notices and orders on RMPs to make them accessible to officers and staff. The force has effective processes in place for the ‘right to ask’ and ‘right to know’ schemes, also known as Clare’s Law, with no backlogs in responding to such requests for information.
The force aims to use pre-charge bail for appropriate high-risk domestic abuse cases. However, officers and staff told us that they are unlikely to check pre-charge bail for compliance unless a victim alleges further substantive offences. This makes the force’s use of pre-charge bail less effective than it could be in safeguarding victims of domestic abuse. The force is also likely to use RUI in some cases, particularly standard and medium-risk reports, when this is appropriate.
HAUs manage involvement with the multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASHs). PIP2-trained detectives staff HAUs. Each part of the force has different models of HAU. This means that the force gives different levels of service to victims, depending on where offences take place. The most effective MASH arrangements involve the daily exchange of information through a joint dashboard, with a single manager responsible for overseeing the processes. None of the HAUs fully meet this standard, although some come close. Telford HAU is located in the Telford and Wrekin MASH. It enjoys close partner working and good information sharing. In Worcestershire, partners have been co-located for approximately four years, but the unit still does not fully operate as a MASH. Staff report that the local safeguarding children board is aware of the shortcomings of these arrangements. But full MASH processes have not been put in place. Shropshire operates a similar model. In Herefordshire, the police are located separately from partner agencies. As a result, they often hold strategy meetings by telephone. The variations in MASH arrangements, and lack of progress towards more effective methods, fail to give vulnerable people the best support. The force began a review of the effectiveness of MASH arrangements in 2018 and will continue this within its 2019 vulnerability work.
The force refers most (but not all) high-risk domestic abuse cases to the MARACs. In Worcestershire, two MARACs take place every month, although the referral rate indicates the need for three. This restriction in MARAC availability means the force needs a secondary screening process to determine which high-risk cases it does (or does not) refer to the MARAC. For example, a high-risk case may not reach the MARAC if all partners know of the incident and if safeguarding is already in place. Despite the restrictions in availability, the force refers all repeat victims to the MARAC. It does the same with any new cases, irrespective of risk grading, if referral is appropriate.
In common with our observations about the variations in MASH arrangements, different approaches to the MARAC may fail to address the risk in some areas most effectively. The force intends to review the effectiveness of MARAC arrangements within the 2019 vulnerability review.
The force has introduced care home co-ordinators to share intelligence and assist in improving outcomes for ‘looked after’ children. The co-ordinators work with social services, the local authority missing co-ordinator, and care home managers and staff. They agree a package of support and produce an RMP for each child. Control room staff and SNT officers have access to these plans and can update them. Diversionary pathways (to divert these children away from committing crimes) are encouraged. The current offer includes cadets, training, sports clubs and community projects.
The force carries out an annual survey of victims. These include victims of domestic abuse, violence, hate crime and rape. An external company gives victims’ feedback to the force. The company also tracks changes in confidence levels, identifying high-performing areas and those where improvement is needed. Social services give feedback to the force through learning panels such as ‘the voice of the child’. Interviews of people who have been missing also provide valuable feedback and help the force to understand the impact of adverse childhood experiences. Improvements within the force as a result of feedback have included reminders to officers of good and poor practice; links with other teams to avoid duplication; and changes to methods of working.
The force commissioned the Police Foundation to carry out a review of victim satisfaction survey responses. It did this to improve the effectiveness of feedback mechanisms. In December 2018, this work, which identified links between feedback and unconscious bias, was presented to approximately 90 officers and staff. The results were considered at the victim satisfaction strategic working group, and by chief officers.
The force’s management of sex offenders is effective. The ratio of offenders to offender managers results in achievable caseloads. The force risk-assesses offenders promptly. It uses the ARMS risk assessment process to do this. Officers visit offenders regularly. The force trains offender managers in risk assessment and investigation. But offender managers do not feel they have enough skills to deal with the assessment of devices that offenders use. Also, there is a backlog in probation service completion rates. This makes risk assessments less comprehensive.
Neighbourhood officers can access information about registered sex offenders through the force’s briefing system. During our inspection, they showed an appropriate awareness of registered sex offenders in their areas.
The force is effective in its approach to identifying those who share indecent images of children online. It also demonstrates a proactive approach to reducing this threat. The online CSE team has its own digital forensic capability for on-site triage and high-risk cases. More widely, there are backlogs of devices (mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices) that are awaiting digital examination. A business analyst is assessing both the workload and the risk contained in these backlogs, and is developing options to prioritise and address both. The force predicts that demand for this type of service will increase. Its future plans will need to take this into account.
The force makes appropriate use of ancillary orders and other powers to protect the public. Often, it seeks these through multi-agency public protection arrangements and manages them through integrated offender management processes.Summary for question 3
How effective is the force at tackling serious and organised crime?
Areas for improvement
- The force should continue to improve its understanding of the impact of its work on serious and organised crime across the four Ps. This will ensure that it learns from experience to maximise the disruptive effect on this type of criminal activity.
SOC is a force priority, and there is a good understanding of the threat it poses. The force uses MoRiLE (management of risk in law enforcement) every six months to assess the various types of organised crime that affect its communities. It has developed an intelligence requirement document, based on the level of threat presented by different types of SOC. According to this document, the threat posed by MSHT represents the biggest intelligence gap in the force. Local and force tasking processes focus on control strategy priorities, intelligence gaps and newer areas of risk. These include MSHT, county lines, CSE and USGs.
The force’s daily threat identification meeting (TIM) aligns to the control strategy. The TIM is the forum in which the force reviews the demand that has occurred during the previous 24 hours. It makes sure that it consults relevant forces and regional intelligence units in order to fully understand threat, harm and risk, and to co-ordinate an appropriate response.
The MATES scheme helps to proactively identify locations of interest, such as shops or businesses, and share intelligence, to instigate partnership activity. The force has moved partnership analysts to the analytical team, but information sharing remains a challenge.
Analysts have produced a local profile for each area. SOC joint action groups (SOCJAGs) both inform and use these profiles to help identify and manage OCGs in partnership, although even greater use could be made of local profiles to support action. The local profiles have created new opportunities for the force to commission analysis. For example, the force is evaluating first-time entrants into the justice system and whether there is any connection with adverse childhood experiences they may have suffered. This insight is helping to inform partnership tactics. The workforce’s awareness and use of local profiles are limited, even though they are available through beat profiles.
The force makes effective use of a range of sources to develop its understanding of threats. It reflects newer threats, such as cybercrime, in the control strategy and the police and crime plan. It carries out training and partnership work. But it has no analytical capability for cyber-dependent crime. Analysts use a variety of digital, technical and operational means to inform intelligence development and investigations. Within local intelligence units, the force trains officers in open source research and the conduct of debriefs.
The FIB is well connected with the regional organised crime unit (ROCU) and other surrounding forces. The force’s dedicated source unit is also represented at the daily TIM meeting, so that decision makers can use these capabilities to meet the force’s daily intelligence needs.
The force exchanges information and intelligence about county lines in the county lines intelligence collection matrix. It submits this data to the ROCU and the National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC). The force makes good use of reports and data given by the NCLCC. There is good contact with the region, which helps the exchange of relevant intelligence. An analyst has been seconded from the force into the regional organised crime threat assessment team (ROCTA) to improve the understanding of available intelligence. These arrangements help the force and partners to understand SOC threats.
The force has effective OCG management processes. The organised crime group management unit (OCGMU) reviews all active OCGs and instigates activity according to national guidelines. The OCGMU acts as the point of contact with the ROCTA, which also approves the archiving of OCGs.
The force proactively identifies new OCGs, gangs and networks and this information informs tasking processes. The force promptly maps all OCGs. It has 17 mapped OCGs per million population. This is substantially lower than the England and Wales rate of 35 mapped OCGs per million population. The force manages a further eight USGs per million. Unlike some forces, West Mercia Police does not routinely count USGs within its OCG numbers. Most mapped OCGs are primarily involved in the supply of drugs. None are involved in MSHT. The number of OCGs that the force has mapped is relatively low. But it manages significant impact from OCGs that travel from other force areas and are involved in CSE, county lines and serious acquisitive crime.
The force identifies intelligence needs through organised crime group management (OCGM) meetings, and force and local tactical tasking and co-ordinating group (TTCG) meetings. The force then sends the needs to local officers for them to action.
The OCGMU gave good examples of intelligence collected by SNTs that helped the force to identify and tackle OCG activity. This included identifying new groups, leading to mapping, operations and arrests. Response officers also spoke of briefings about OCGs in their patrol areas, and of receiving taskings to obtain intelligence. Officers showed an awareness of the SOC risks associated with missing people, immigration and vulnerability. Again, they gave our inspectors operational examples. This indicates that all relevant local, regional and partner resources support efforts to tackle SOC.
West Mercia Police is predominantly impacted by county lines from other policing areas (known as ‘imported’ lines). Monthly NCLCC reports on OCGs and county lines can often paint a dated picture, relying on information that can be one month old or more. This necessitates the FIB making direct contact with other forces to get information about county lines. The force has started to use the drug harm matrix to score county lines and identify gaps. A county lines triage process has identified 11 priority lines from a total of 112 that have been identified for SNTs to manage locally. The ROCU reviews all high-threat groups. These processes help the force to better understand and tackle county lines.
Serious and organised crime prevention
There is evidence of the force doing good work to both prevent SOC and identify those locally who are at risk of being drawn into organised crime.
Operation Fearless is a PCC-funded schools initiative. It is designed to increase awareness of the risks relating to SOC through lived experience. The force also sends police cadets to visit schools and talk with peers. The force has identified locations of interest and worked locally to raise awareness of exploitation risks in those areas. This helps it to improve public understanding of its ‘Protect’ activities in those areas. (‘Protect’ is a force brand for communicating key messages.)
The force works with housing and mental health partners to protect vulnerable people who are at risk of cuckooing. It also works with fire and rescue partners, and homelessness charities. It has used MSHT legislation to protect a child victim of county lines.
The OCGMU has developed a database that captures all methods of diversionary activity, intervention and support recommended in national guidance. There are good examples of prevention activity across the force. The director of intelligence and problem-solving co-ordinators are exploring how to tailor ‘Prevent’ activities to address the SOC risks in specific areas. This tailoring will enable the force to better understand the effectiveness of prevention activities and the impact on SOC.
The FIB works with the regional prison intelligence team to disrupt OCG members in prison. One example of this is a recent prosecution of an inmate for drugs supply. The force has also been successful in securing a lifetime offender management order. At the time of our inspection, the force reported having 11 serious crime prevention orders (SCPOs) in place. Most of these subjects are currently in prison. The force reviews SCPOs in its monthly OCGM meeting. The OCG portal encourages local responsible officers (LROs) to consider a range of orders. There is evidence that the force uses orders to manage some OCGs.
Operation Zest has used a community protection warning and notice to tackle an OCG. This problem-solving tactic is more traditionally applied to ASB. The force is also considering a CBO for this group. The force cannot yet give an overview of all orders that it is using to prevent SOC. But it is working to produce this.
The force regularly communicates with the public about SOC. It does this through social and traditional media, and through community messaging. It has also hosted partnership events to raise awareness of SOC and to develop its ‘Protect’ brand.
The force communicates directly with victims. It also communicates through schools, community groups and other forums. This communication includes coverage of days of action (high-profile operations involving enforcement and prevention activities) and the results of successful prosecutions.
The force consults partner agencies on joint media strategies. For example, it is communicating MATES activity through joint messaging. Such communications help the public to be vigilant and prevent SOC.
Disruption and investigation
The force’s disruption and investigation of SOC are effective. The local policing ACC governs the SOC agenda, with support from the director of intelligence. The force identifies SOC as a control strategy priority. It has partnership arrangements at both strategic and tactical levels. However, partnership approaches are still developing across some areas of the force and need time to become fully established. But partners report that the frequent changes of police representatives make it difficult to build good relationships and to agree shared, long-term approaches. SOCJAGs and their work are also heavily police led. Nevertheless, SOCJAGs are active, well attended and increasingly give good direction and oversight of partnership activity to tackle SOC. The force wants to encourage partners to chair SOCJAG meetings in order to move away from the police-led agenda. The force intends to support and mentor partners through this process to help improve the effectiveness of SOCJAGs.
The force is good at managing OCGs. The TTCG and OCGMU offer effective forums for the management of OCG threats. The force prioritises and tasks OCGs through these forums. It does this using OCG scoring, MoRILE assessment and professional judgment. The force prioritises county lines using similar methods, together with assessment against the drugs harm matrix. The force gives information to the NCLCC and creates a monthly county lines operational profile.
The force assigns detective chief inspectors as LROs. It gives them structured training, together with continuing professional development, to maintain their skills. Senior responsible officers (SROs) support LROs. SROs are also local policing commanders and tactical leads who carry out daily OCG management. LROs can access specialist advice, tactical options and OCG support from both the FIB and ROCU. The force holds LROs and SROs to account through the monthly TTCG and OCGM processes, where their work is scrutinised.
LROs use ‘Four P’ plans (pursue; prevent; protect; prepare) and a good range of tactics to manage the risks relating to SOC. They record these risks on the new OCG portal. The portal is based on the force risk management system. This makes it easy for officers to use with minimal instruction.
The Four P plans are good in terms of the ‘pursue’ strand. However, some of the ‘prevent’ and ‘protect’ actions are quite generic and could be equally applied to any OCG. But actions do include local policing priority teams carrying out operational activities to target and disrupt OCGs. SNTs also carry out activity to disrupt and tackle organised criminal activity. This includes working with trading standards to support operations targeting rebated gas oil (often called ‘red diesel’) and illicit tobacco sales, and collaborating with housing partners to carry out visits to cuckooing addresses.
The force has introduced a covert asset management meeting to discuss the allocation of force and regional resources to operations. LROs know how to access covert and overt tactical options. The force has given evidence of effective and successful financial activity to tackle OCGs. It has also tackled foreign national OCG offenders, in partnership with immigration services.
The force actively identifies county lines risks. It takes effective measures to reduce the impact on vulnerable people at local level. During our inspection, there was a lot of evidence to indicate that SNTs are involved in the effective management of county lines and OCGs. Threats to life also feature as a priority in TIM and DMMs. These arrangements ensure good co-ordination of activity to tackle SOC.
The force records 1.95 disruptions per OCG. This is lower than the England and Wales rate of 2.7 disruptions per OCG. The force scrutinises its disruption activities at OCGM meetings as well as in the ROCU. Work continues to improve the classification of disruptions.
The TTCG and OCGMU offer a forum in which to share learning. However, the forum is informal. Beyond the OCG portal and Four P plans, there is no corporate record of what works. The force does not yet measure or analyse the community impact or effect of its activities to tackle OCG, county lines and USGs. However, it has plans to do so. Recently, it recruited a new lead for organisational learning who will guide the force in the development of a range of learning opportunities. These will include lessons learned from what works in disrupting and tackling SOC.Summary for question 4
How effective are the force’s specialist capabilities?
Understanding the threat and responding to it
West Mercia Police operates joint arrangements with Warwickshire Police to provide armed policing as part of the strategic alliance. These arrangements are likely to terminate in October 2019 when the alliance between the two forces formally ends.
The force has an adequate understanding of the potential harm facing the public. The force’s APSTRA, which is jointly compiled with Warwickshire Police, 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.
However, previously we have identified an area where the APSTRA could be improved: namely, that it should include analysis of how promptly armed response vehicles (ARVs) respond to armed incidents. This information is important because it helps to determine whether or not the force has sufficient armed officers to meet operational demands. It is disappointing that the APSTRA still doesn’t contain this information. It is a shortcoming that we expect the force to address.
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 West Mercia are attended by officers trained to ARV standard. However, incidents sometimes occur that require the skills and specialist capabilities of more highly trained officers.
At the time of our inspection, we found that West Mercia Police has good arrangements in place to mobilise specialist officers should their skills and equipment be required. The force’s capabilities align well with threats set out in the APSTRA. These capabilities are based on its effective collaboration arrangements with Warwickshire Police. Furthermore, if, for any reason, specialist capabilities are not immediately available, agreements are in place to seek the assistance of specialist officers from the regional counter-terrorist unit.
Working with others
It is important that effective joint working arrangements are agreed between neighbouring forces. Armed criminals and terrorists are not restricted by 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.
The arrangements in place with Warwickshire Police mean that the standards of training, armed deployments and command of armed operations are consistent in both forces.
Armed officers can deploy rapidly and effectively in both forces. However, current arrangements are due to end with the termination of the strategic alliance. The force must ensure that it has sufficient armed policing capabilities, ARV officers and access to specialist officers to meet the threats set out in the APSTRA. It is essential that future plans continue to adequately safeguard the public from firearms threats. The force is revising its APSTRA to make an accurate assessment of its future requirements. This includes how best to work with other forces in the region, and the counter-terrorist unit, in the future. We will monitor this carefully.
We also examined how well prepared forces are to respond to threats and risks. Armed officers in West Mercia Police are trained in tactics that take account of the types of recent terrorist attacks. Also, the force has an important role in designing training exercises with other organisations that simulate these types of 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 West Mercia Police reviews the outcome of all firearms incidents that officers attend. This helps ensure that best practice or areas for improvement are identified. We found that this knowledge is used to improve training and operational procedures.
It is important that, at the start of each shift, ARV officers are provided with up-to-date information that is relevant to their role. They can then have a positive effect in disrupting the activity of OCGs and other armed criminals. We found that, on most occasions, ARV officers are provided with up-to-date information enabling them to use their patrols to good effect.Summary for question 5