West Midlands PEEL 2018
How effectively does the force reduce crime and keep people safe?
Overall, West Midlands Police is effective at reducing crime and keeping people safe, but it needs to improve how it protects vulnerable people.
The force has a good understanding of the nature and scale of vulnerability in its area. Officers and staff are well informed about the causes and signs of vulnerability.
The force needs to improve its response when a vulnerable person calls the control room. Control room staff do not consistently apply the THRIVE risk assessment to incoming calls. The force receives a high volume of calls and needs to make sure backlogs in response do not build up. Control room supervision needs to improve.
West Midlands Police has tackled the more serious problems we identified in control room procedures in 2018. It also plans to replace the command and control system in 2019.
The force’s first response to incidents involving vulnerable people is adequate, although high demand remains a problem. The way it manages offenders is generally effective, but high staff workloads are common.
The mental health triage service is effective. The force does not use police cells to detain people who are experiencing mental health problems.
Officers attending domestic abuse incidents must complete a domestic abuse stalking and harassment (DASH) risk assessment. But they are not doing so at every incident and some assessments lack important information.
In 2016, we judged the force’s effectiveness at preventing and investigating crime as good. We didn’t inspect these areas in 2018, but we did note that high demand for the force’s services remains a challenge. In 2017, we judged the force’s effectiveness at tackling serious and organised crime to be good.
How effective is the force at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe?
This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2016 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.
How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?
This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2016 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.
How effective is the force at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, and supporting victims?
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure that control room staff consistently apply THRIVE+ and other risk assessment tools, to the correct standard and recording.
- The force should improve the quality and consistency of supervision in the control room to support effective operational work and management of backlogs of non-emergency incidents.
- The force should increase the number and quality of DASH risk assessments completed at domestic abuse incidents, giving greater support and protection for victims and their families.
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
West Midlands Police is generally good at identifying people who are vulnerable, whether this is because of their age, background or circumstances, or because of other factors that place them at greater risk of being abused or exploited. It uses the College of Policing definition of vulnerability and we found that the workforce was ~well informed about the signs and causes of vulnerability. This knowledge comes from training, internal communications and operational experience. Operation Sentinel goes further, prompting officers and staff to look beyond routine situations to find hidden vulnerability. The force is writing a new exploitation strategy, which should bring greater clarity and consistency to the way the force protects the most vulnerable people.
There are clear structures for agreeing priorities, plans and decisions. These structures hold officers and staff to account for managing the response to different types of vulnerability. Governance is in place that supports the force priority of protecting people from harm. The force exchanges data and works with partner agencies to review and analyse different types of vulnerability. These include child sexual exploitation and domestic abuse. The force uses analysis and research to produce reports and profiles that inform and direct operational policing. The force has a good understanding of the nature and scale of vulnerability in its area.
However, the force needs to improve the way it assesses risk and manages the response to vulnerable people when they contact the police. Control room staff have a good understanding of vulnerability and use the THRIVE+ structured risk assessment to assess people’s vulnerabilities and determine the appropriate response. But we found the correct use of THRIVE+ to be inconsistent. Call handlers apply the process and record outcomes to different standards, which means it is not always clear how well they have followed the THRIVE+ process.
We also found other instances where call handlers do not consistently follow processes for gathering information, assessing risk and making effective deployment decisions. For example, we found inconsistencies in the use of domestic abuse and missing person question sets and in the application of procedures to escalate higher-risk calls. During last year’s inspection, we found more serious problems which directly exposed vulnerable people to high levels of risk, and we identified this as a cause of concern. This year, we undertook a comparative review. We found that, although problems still exist in the control room, the force has improved the service and tackled the cause of concern.
The control room function needs to improve in several ways if it is to operate more effectively. The backlog of incidents awaiting a response is a major problem. This is caused by high levels of incoming call demand. Since the peaks of summer 2018, several successful operations have reduced backlogs. But the force needs to be vigilant and manage them effectively if they increase again.
Our inspection also found that the quality of supervisory oversight, monitoring staff performance and quality assurance audit work all need to improve to raise standards. Furthermore, some technical limitations exist within the current command and control system. These limitations hinder staff’s ability to identify vulnerability easily and make it harder for them to do their job efficiently. The force plans to replace the system in 2019. This will allow more efficient and streamlined working practices. Senior leaders recognise that problems exist and have allocated resources to support an improvement plan.
Some parts of the control room are working better than last year and they provide a foundation for making further improvements. Restructured room layouts, revised role profiles and new posts have led to a better use of resources and better risk management. The reference document provided to staff about how to manage different incident types (the ‘snap shot’ guide) is a comprehensive, user-friendly document that the force could improve and formalise so it could be applied more widely.
Since last year, the force has improved the way it agrees priorities, plans and decisions. The force holds threat and risk management reviews several times a day to prioritise resources to the most vulnerable people. Management interventions are also becoming more regular and structured. We note the number of control room staff who were positive about their work and who have a strong desire to make improvements and provide a better service to the public. Accepting the need to change and wanting to improve control room performance is commendable, but the force must now turn these wishes into tangible benefits for the public.
Responding to incidents
The initial response by West Midlands Police to incidents involving vulnerable people is adequate, although high demand remains a problem. Sometimes, the force does not meet target attendance times. This is because the volume of calls, combined with the number of incidents requiring a police response, is consistently high. Demand often exceeds available resources.
We found that the force generally responds to incidents involving vulnerable people in a timely way because it prioritises these types of incident. If no response officer is available to attend an incident, the control room will send officers from neighbourhood teams or other departments. We also found improving levels of co-ordination between control room supervisors and response teams to prioritise limited resources to attend the highest-risk incidents. Similarly, specialist teams that deal with missing people and people suffering with mental health problems provide a prompt and thorough response. But even though the force has reviewed working practices to try and increase flexibility, we found resources were consistently stretched in all parts of the force.
Officers are making greater use of risk assessments at domestic abuse incidents, but this still needs further improvement. Officers attending domestic abuse incidents must complete a DASH risk assessment. The assessment is important because it gives officers guidance about immediate safeguarding interventions. Other specialist officers and partner agencies also use it to provide longer-term safeguarding for victims and their families. It is now mandatory for officers to complete DASH assessments.
Although we found that the force has improved both content and completion rates, officers don’t always complete DASH assessments at every domestic abuse incident. Some assessments still lack important information on aspects such as whether children are present. It has become easier for officers to complete the assessments now that the forms are available on their hand-held digital devices. Supervisory oversight is also better, but the problems we identified mean that the safeguarding of domestic abuse victims is still not as effective as it could be.
We found there is a presumption among the workforce that officers should take positive action when dealing with domestic abuse offenders in order to protect victims. We found that officers use their arrest powers at a rate broadly in line with other forces in England and Wales. But the time they have available to search for an offender who is not at the scene of the incident is often limited. The force maintains an up-to-date list of wanted domestic abuse offenders. At the time of our inspection, the force was looking for over 1,000 domestic abuse offenders, of all risk types, for arrest or voluntary interview. Daily risk meetings co-ordinate the efforts of different departments to make arrests, including prioritising higher risk offenders. However, the size of the list reduces the time that can be spent finding each offender. This means investigations can take longer and victim co-operation may sometimes wane.
The mental health triage service, which the force runs jointly with NHS partner agencies, is effective and well regarded by officers and staff. Triage service vehicles are staffed by a police officer, a paramedic and a community psychiatric nurse, and respond to calls for help from people with mental health problems. As the service has become more established, the three agencies have worked more closely, shared information better and increased problem solving. In turn, this has led to better outcomes for people in crisis, with more appropriate use of the correct mental health pathways and an end to using police cells to detain people with mental health problems. Several evaluations have been completed to understand how well the service is working and to inform future developments. Officers and staff across the force recognise the triage service as a much better way of dealing with people who have mental health problems. It is indicative of good relationships between police and partner organisations. This can be seen in high-risk and urgent cases in particular.
Supporting vulnerable victims
A clear commitment to supporting vulnerable victims is evident across the force. In general, officers and staff provide good levels of support. They understand the importance of helping vulnerable people, and guidance that defines how officers and staff should provide support is available. Neighbourhood teams use information systems to understand who needs help in their local areas and to prioritise the people who are most at risk. The force uses legal powers, such as domestic abuse protection notices and disclosure schemes, to try and prevent further harm. These powers provide information about an offender’s history.
The force is reviewing how it uses these civil legal powers with a view to increasing their effectiveness. When an offender is arrested, the force often uses pre-charge bail conditions to try and keep victims safe. It has adapted its management and oversight processes in response to recent changes in legislation. The ability of some investigators to provide continuing support to victims is limited by the size of their caseload. It is hoped this might improve when the force introduces a new operating model for its public protection department in early 2019, with revised case assessment and allocation procedures.
Joint working arrangements with partner agencies are effective. This means that information is shared and action is taken to protect people where necessary. The force works well with local authority, NHS and other partners in seven multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASH). Staff in these hubs assess referrals about vulnerable people and decide what action each agency should take to offer the best support and protection. Officers often refer police information to partner agencies using an online portal that allows them to quickly flag any concerns they might have about a person. Targeted projects, such as Operation Encompass (where police notify schools through the MASH when pupils have witnessed domestic abuse at home), are also becoming more widespread. This provides a better collective response for the people who need it.
Cases involving high risk victims of domestic abuse are discussed at one of eight multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARAC). The volume of referrals rose by 11 percent in the past year to over 4,300 cases heard at 242 meetings. Police referrals made up over 80 percent of the total caseload. The police contribution to the MARAC process is significant. It will further improve in April 2019 with the investment of additional resources funded by the police and crime commissioner (PCC).
The force’s approach when using feedback from vulnerable victims to design improved services needs to be better. For example, although the force meets with domestic abuse support groups, and surveys a minority of domestic abuse victims, it doesn’t yet have an effective way of converting the findings into better victim services. The force has begun a study to assess the experiences of vulnerable victims and partner agencies so it can feed the results into a redesign. But this work is not complete, so it is unclear how it will improve services.
Managing offenders who pose a risk to vulnerable people is generally effective, but high workloads are commonplace. Each sex offender manager (SOM) is responsible for about 77 registered sex offenders (RSO). This ratio is high, but a combination of good supervision and risk prioritising means that SOMs are generally able to conduct both announced and unannounced visits to RSOs and maintain records to the required standard. This is an improved picture compared with last year, when we identified that RSO management needed to improve.
The force makes good use of preventative legal powers, such as sexual harm prevention orders, and it monitors offenders appropriately to check if they have breached these orders. The value of the force’s prevention work could improve if information were shared more effectively between the units responsible for managing dangerous and sexual offenders and policing teams working in neighbourhoods. If the force provided relevant and timely information more consistently to other policing teams, this would increase the quality of monitoring and intelligence-gathering work.
SOMs’ large workloads contribute to a backlog in conducting risk assessments for sex offenders (known as ARMS). The force told us it has only completed 36 percent of those due (out of over 4,000 in total), although it is appropriately concentrating on the offenders who pose the greatest risk and is working to clear the whole backlog within 18 months. Separately, the team that investigates offenders who share indecent images of children online is managing all of its high-risk cases, but is struggling to meet the wider demand of other, lower-risk cases that have been referred to it. There is limited opportunity to share this type of work with other teams because of the specialist and demanding nature of these investigations. The force either needs increased capacity or different ways of working to ensure this important public protection work remains effective.
Last year, we identified that the force needed to improve how it manages missing people. Our particular areas of focus were managing missing and absent children and safeguarding missing people. Since then, West Midlands Police has introduced the force-wide Locate team, bringing dedicated resources and a more focused approach to missing person investigations. The force has also adopted the College of Policing guidance for missing persons and was due to end its use of the ‘absent’ category for missing children shortly after our inspection. These changes are positive. There is evidence that the force now manages missing person investigations more consistently and better understands the risks involved.
However, there is still work to do to improve the initial recording and risk assessment of missing people in the control room. Equally, we were not able to assess the impact of removing the ‘absent’ category for missing children during our inspection. For these reasons, although the force has invested both leadership time and resources, we are not yet able to say that it has fully addressed the problems we identified last year. We will continue to monitor the force response to missing people and re-inspect this area again next year.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 2017 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.
How effective are the force’s specialist capabilities?
Understanding the threat and responding to it
West Midlands Police has a good understanding of the potential harm facing the public. Its APSTRA conforms to the requirements of the code and the College of Policing guidance. The APSTRA is published annually and is accompanied by a register of risks and other matters of interest. 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 role that armed officers perform. The majority of armed incidents in the West Midlands are attended by officers trained to an armed response vehicle (ARV) standard. However, incidents sometimes occur that require the skills and specialist capabilities of more highly trained officers.
We found that West Midlands Police has good arrangements in place to mobilise specialist officers should their skills be required. It is a sizeable force and has sufficient specialist capabilities. The force’s capabilities align well with the threats and risks identified in its APSTRA.
As a consequence of the terrorist threat, West Midlands Police has received Home Office funding as part of a programme to enhance armed policing in certain parts of England and Wales. We established that the force has fulfilled its commitment to the programme by increasing the availability of ARVs.
Working with others
It is important that effective joint working arrangements are in place between neighbouring forces. Armed criminals and terrorists are not limited 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.
This is an area where West Midlands Police performs well. It has sufficient ARV officers and specialist capabilities to meet the threats that exist in the West Midlands. It also has tried and tested procedures in place to work with neighbouring forces on joint armed operations.
We also examined how well prepared forces are to respond to threats and risks. Armed officers in West Midlands Police are trained in tactics that take account of the types of recent terrorist attacks. The force also 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 recorded and improvements are made for the future.
In addition to debriefing those training exercises, we also found that West Midlands Police reviews the outcome of all the firearms incidents that officers attend. This helps ensure that best practice and areas for improvement are identified. We found that this knowledge is used to improve training and operational procedures.Summary for question 5