Avon and Somerset Constabulary: Crime Data Integrity inspection 2016

Overall judgment

graded requires improvement

Avon and Somerset Constabulary has made concerted efforts to improve crime-recording accuracy since HMIC’s 2014 Crime Data Integrity inspection report. Importantly, the majority of officers and staff have made progress in placing the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions. We found that the constabulary:

  • has an effective process for providing victims who need an enhanced service with quick and appropriate access to support services to which they are entitled;
  • has introduced a new crime-recording system (NICHE) which has helped the constabulary to improve the service it provides to victims;
  • has reduced the time taken before most crime-recording decisions are made to within two hours;
  • has implemented most of the recommendations set out in our 2014 report; and
  • has made good progress against a national action plan developed to improve crime-recording by police forces.

Work remains to be done, however. Despite advances, the constabulary is failing many victims of crime. Based on the findings of our examination of crime reports for the period 1 October 2015 to 31 March 2016, we estimate that the constabulary fails to record over 13,700 reported crimes each year. This represents a recording rate of 89.56 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.66 percent). The 10.44 percent of reported crimes that go unrecorded include serious crimes, such as rape, other sexual offences and violence. In addition the constabulary had not recorded all reported crimes of modern slavery. Improvements are therefore required in these areas.

In particular, we consider that there are too many failures to make the correct crime-recording decision at the first opportunity. These failures are due to an insufficient understanding of crime-recording requirements by officers and staff, compounded by limited supervision to correct these decisions at the earliest opportunity. In addition, those charged with oversight of crime-recording arrangements, the force crime and incident registrar (FCIR) and the incident assessment unit (IAU), did not have the capacity to carry out the full extent of their responsibilities.

Summary of inspection findings

The constabulary has improved its crime-recording processes since HMIC’s 2014 report. In particular, we found that the constabulary:

  • has an effective process for providing more vulnerable victims with quick and appropriate access to support services to which they are entitled;
  • has made progress with implementing changes recommended in the 2014 report, and as a result has completed many of these recommendations;
  • has also made good progress against the national action plan, developed by the national lead on crime statistics following the 2014 report and which all forces have been asked to implement; and
  • purchased the NICHE crime-recording system which has assisted in improving the service provided to victims of crime through the integration of two legacy systems into one. Initial implementation difficulties resulted in the failure to record some reported crimes but these have since been rectified.

Additionally, the FCIR – responsible for oversight and audit of crime-recording arrangements – has completed a national College of Policing course for FCIRs. At the time of our inspection, the FCIR was completing an action plan in order to gain full accreditation. Her work is supported by a designated assistant chief constable, two deputy FCIRs and the IAU. The IAU is responsible for classifying crimes and reviewing crime-related incidents to ensure the accuracy of crime-recording.

This progress is pleasing to see. Nevertheless, the constabulary’s performance in respect of crime-recording could be better in the following areas:

  • The constabulary is currently under-recording:
    • offences of rape;
    • other sexual offences;
    • violence crimes; and
    • crimes of modern slavery.
  • For the purpose of crime-recording, officers and staff do not always believe reports of crime received from victims who they believe are suffering from mental health issues.
  • The constabulary is incorrectly cancelling some recorded sexual offences (including rape), and offences of robbery and violence.
  • The FCIR provides individual feedback for officers and staff in respect of incorrect crime recording decisions. Where officers and staff do not take the necessary action required to correct an error, these matters are escalated to their manager. Only when the error is corrected do the FCIR and her team close their record. However, where this feedback is provided to officers and staff by the IAU, the IAU does not have the capacity to follow-up and check that the error has been corrected.

Those failings are often a consequence of officers and staff not understanding their responsibilities for crime-recording. They are, in addition, underpinned by limited supervision by the constabulary of crime-recording decision making. Improvements are required in these areas.

Cause of concern

Officers and staff are failing to make correct crime-recording decisions at the first opportunity. This is particularly the case where multiple crimes are being reported by one or more victim. In addition the incident assessment unit, officers and their supervisors are failing to rectify those incorrect crime-recording decisions. This is due to deficiencies in the constabulary’s crime-recording processes, insufficient understanding of crime-recording requirements, and limited supervision to correct the decisions of officers and staff and improve standards from the outset. This includes domestic abuse crimes. This means that the constabulary is failing many victims of crime.

The force crime and incident registrar does not have the capacity to undertake a full programme of audit of relevant records in order to identify, understand and address the issues that may affect crime-recording accuracy. This means that the constabulary is not always identifying opportunities for improvements to crime-recording accuracy.

The constabulary’s approach to its recording of reports of modern slavery does not provide sufficiently for the recording of crimes contained within these reports or for effective audits.

The recording of offences of rape is of significant concern. The constabulary has insufficient specially trained officers to attend to victims of rape and also fails to correctly record reports of crimes of rape; these include reports received through the constabulary’s incident system, from investigations relating to modern slavery, from third party reports (for example, those reports received from health professionals) and from investigations involving vulnerable victims.

Recommendations

  • Immediately, the constabulary should take steps to identify and address gaps in its systems and processes for identifying and recording all reports of crime which are domestic abuse-related.
  • Within three months the constabulary should develop and implement procedures for the effective supervision of crime-recording decisions throughout the whole constabulary, including communications supervisors, local policing area supervisors and incident assessment unit staff.
  • Within six months the constabulary should put in place arrangements to ensure that it records all reports of crime in accordance with the crime-recording rules, at the first point that sufficient information exists to do so and in any event within 24 hours of receipt of the report.
  • Immediately, the constabulary should ensure that in the first instance a specially trained officer attends all reports of rape, and that it records all such reports as crimes or applies appropriately the classification N100.
  • Within six months, the constabulary should review and update its approach to the recording of reports of modern slavery, to ensure that such reports are accessible and suitable for audit, and that all reported crime of this type is recorded on NICHE (its crime-recording system).
  • Within six months, the constabulary should design and provide crime-recording training that is bespoke to the level of knowledge required by officers and staff for their role. Where appropriate this should include training in the:
    • crime-recording requirements for multiple crimes, complex crimes such as online offences, sexual offences and offences of violence;
    • use of classification N100 in respect of reports of rape; and
    • standard of additional verifiable information required for the purpose of cancelling a recorded crime.
  • Within six months the constabulary should ensure sufficient audit capacity and capability is available to the FCIR to provide reassurance that the constabulary is identifying and managing any gaps in its crime-recording accuracy. This is particularly important for vulnerable victims and in those crimes where the risk to the victim is greatest, such as rape and violence.

Areas for improvement

  • The constabulary should improve the process by which it satisfies itself that the feedback provided by the IAU is acted upon, in particular that identified crime-recording errors are corrected.
  • The constabulary should improve its approach to the cancellation of recorded crimes and immediately take steps to ensure that when it cancels a recorded crime, it always informs the victim of this decision.
  • The constabulary should ensure that staff fulfil their requirements under the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, in relation to maintaining contact as agreed between the investigating officer and the victim.
  • The constabulary should improve the understanding that staff in the communications centre, SCU and on the front line have of the N100 process.

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

graded requires improvement

Overall crime-recording rate

89.56% of reported crimes 
were recorded

Over 13,700 reports of crime 
a year are not recorded

The constabulary has further work to do in order to ensure it records all reports of crime in accordance with the Home Office Counting Rules (PDF document) (HOCR). We examined reports of crime which the force received, and for which an auditable record was created. The constabulary has further work to do in order to ensure it records all reports of crime in accordance with the auditable record was created. The constabulary informed HMIC that all crime that is recorded (excluding fraud) came through an auditable crime reporting route.

We found that the constabulary recorded 89.56 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.66 percent). We estimate that this means the constabulary is not recording over 13,700 reports of crime each year. Those failings are depriving many victims of the services to which they are entitled.

Of a total of 1,277 reports of crime that we audited, we found 187 crimes that we assessed to be crimes related to domestic abuse. Of these 187 crimes, the constabulary had recorded 167. The 20 offences not recorded included sexual offences and violence. Of these, we found that safeguarding requirements had been considered and an investigation undertaken in the majority of cases, but not all. These included a report of rape against a 90-year-old victim and a breach of harassment order; in each of these cases the failure to record the crime, safeguard and investigate increased the potential risk of harm to the victims. As domestic abuse often involves victims who are particularly vulnerable to further offences being committed against them the importance of recording reported crimes of domestic abuse cannot be overstated. This under-recording of these offences is, therefore, a cause of concern.

Factors contributing to the constabulary’s under-recording of crime reports are its crime recording processes, the IAU capacity and resilience, and the crime-recording knowledge of its workforce.

  • Deficiencies in the crime-recording processes are a cause of concern. In particular, we found that on occasion:
    • when there is no requirement for an officer to attend a reported incident, or when further offences come to light after the initial deployment or during subsequent investigation, the constabulary does not always record reported crimes;
    • for the purpose of crime-recording, officers and staff do not always believe reports of crime received from victims who they believe are suffering from mental health issues; and
    • officers and staff do not always record a good or valid explanation for why a crime should not be recorded.
  • The IAU does not have sufficient capacity and resilience to scrutinise all crime-related incident records and, when appropriate, to ensure a corresponding crime record is created on the constabulary crime-recording system, NICHE.
  • When dealing with complex crimes the call handlers, IAU staff and response officers are not always sure of the crime-recording requirements.

We note that the FCIR and IAU both operate a feedback process to draw crime-recording mistakes to the attention of the relevant officer or staff member. We found this to be an effective process in cases where feedback is given by the FCIR and her team. However, where the feedback is provided through the IAU, the unit does not have the capacity to follow-up and check that errors have been corrected; this means that these records may be filed without correction.

A further problem relates to the constabulary’s inconsistent supervision of its crime-recording decisions. Supervision of incidents on the constabulary incident recording system (STORM) is carried out by staff in the communications centre and by local policing area (LPA) supervisors. While we found that communications supervisors understood their responsibilities, some LPA supervisors wrongly believed that they had no responsibility to ensure their staff made accurate crime recording decisions. We also found that even when some form of supervision of these incident logs occurs, crime-recording errors are not always identified and corrected.

We note, in concluding this section, that the constabulary has developed two predictive analytic tools, one of which looks for crime allegations recorded on STORM where no crime record has been created, and the other on NICHE. The constabulary anticipates that this should help it to improve its crime recording performance.

Violence against the person

88.47% of reported violent crimes 
were recorded

Over 4,000 reports of violent crime a year are not recorded

We found that 88.47 percent of violent crimes reported to the constabulary are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 3.00 percent). This is slightly lower than the overall crime recording rate noted above. By our estimate, this means the constabulary fails to record over 4,000 violent crimes that are reported to it each year. As violent crime can be particularly distressing for the victim this is an area in which the need for better recording of reported crime is particularly acute.

In the majority of cases, where violent crimes were not recorded, we found the principal causes to be:

  • the processes that are currently in place for the recording of a reported crime (described earlier);
  • officers and staff not understanding adequately the crime-recording rules; and
  • an absence of adequate supervision of crime-recording decisions.

Victims of violent crime, and in particular victims of more serious violence, often require substantial support. This support should come not only from the police but from other appropriate agencies, such as Victim Support. In those circumstances, crime-recording takes on a heightened importance. Failing to properly record a violent crime can result in victim support agencies receiving no notification that a person has become a victim of violent crime. That, in turn, deprives victims of the support they need and deserve. This finding is, therefore, a cause of concern.

Sexual offences

91.88% of reported sex offences 
were recorded

Over 270 reports of sex offence crime 
a year are not recorded

The constabulary’s recording of reports of sexual offences (other than rape) could be better. We found that the constabulary records 91.88 percent of sexual offence crimes that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.63 percent). By our estimate, the constabulary fails to record over 270 reported sexual offences that are reported to it each year.

Those failings are significant given the very serious nature of sexual offences and the harm that they cause to their victims. We found, for example, that the constabulary had failed to record reports of sexual offences against both adults and children.

The causes of that under-recording are the same as were identified above in respect of violent crime. These are:

  • the deficiency of the processes that are currently in place for the recording of a reported crime;
  • a lack of adequate knowledge surrounding the crime-recording rules by officers and staff; and
  • an absence of adequate supervision of crime-recording decisions.

We also found that the procedures for the recording of crimes reported by third parties during multi-agency meetings and case conferences are not effective and as a result too many crimes, often involving vulnerable victims, are not recorded.

Rape

124 of 142 audited rape reports were accurately recorded

We found 142 reports of rape that should have been recorded, but only 124 had been recorded. These include reports that originated from the constabulary incident system, from investigations relating to modern slavery, from third party reports (for example, those reports received from health professionals) and from investigations involving vulnerable victims conducted by safeguarding coordination units (SCUs).

These failures have occurred despite the constabulary’s audit procedures to identify such crime-recording gaps. Regardless of the route by which the constabulary receives a report of rape, it must have efficient and effective arrangements to secure a high standard of crime-recording accuracy of reported rapes. The deficiencies in the current audit arrangements are, therefore, a cause of concern.

Reports of rape should involve the attendance of a specially trained officer (STO) to speak with the victim. However, we found there to be insufficient trained officers and that too often as a result untrained officers are attending these reports. All such reports must be attended by an STO to ensure the victim receives the service and support necessary. STOs understand that it is their responsibility to create the crime report following initial attendance; other officers may not, resulting in crimes not being recorded.

There are, in addition, some issues surrounding the constabulary’s use of the Home Office classification N100. Introduced in April 2015, the N100 classification is a record created to describe why reported incidents of rape or attempted rapes, whether from victims, witnesses or third parties, have not been immediately recorded as a confirmed crime. This can include where additional information confirms the rape did not occur, or where the rape occurred in another constabulary area and was therefore transferred to the relevant constabulary to record and investigate.

We found five incident reports for which an N100 classification should have been applied but none were. We also found a modern slavery record that involved an allegation of rape where an N100 classification should have been applied, but again this was not done.

Separately we also reviewed 15 sample records where an N100 classification had been used. All were of a good standard and correctly recorded.

IAU staff had a clear understanding of what type of incident required an N100 classification but we found that frontline officers, and officers and staff working in the safeguarding coordination units (SCUs) had little knowledge of the purpose and use of this classification. The constabulary must ensure that it consistently uses classification N100 on all relevant occasions in order to minimise the delay in recording an offence of rape. This is, therefore, an area for improvement.

How efficiently do the systems and processes in the force support accurate crime recording?

graded inadequate

Crime reports held on other systems

4 of 13 vulnerable victim crimes were recorded

In order to be confident that vulnerable victims always receive the support they need it is important that crimes reported directly to its public protection teams are always recorded. We were disappointed to find that the constabulary does not ensure that this is the case.

We examined 51 vulnerable victim records on the NICHE database; of these we found that 13 crimes should have been recorded, but only four had been. One of the crimes that had not been recorded was an historic rape reported by a 16-year-old girl. The constabulary found that seven of the nine missed crimes had been identified as crimes but that a technical error on the NICHE crime-recording system had meant the crime records had not been created. This has now been corrected. It is concerning that the constabulary failed to identify these errors at a much earlier stage.

As with the recording of sexual offences, we found that one of the shortcomings of the constabulary’s recording of reports of crime involving vulnerable victims is how it identifies and records crimes reported by third parties during multi-agency meetings and case conferences.

The constabulary has recognised that it must improve its performance in relation to vulnerable victim reports and has taken steps to do so. It has identified routes through which the SCU receives reports of crime. It has ensured, through training, that staff are aware of these routes and that they fully understand their responsibilities for crime-recording when reports of crime are made.

Modern slavery

Offences relating to modern slavery are an important and recent addition to the crimes that forces must record and investigate. We therefore reviewed the recording of reports of modern slavery offences. We also examined the constabulary’s understanding of the origin of such reports.

We examined seven recorded crimes of modern slavery. In these, we found that the constabulary should have recorded 18 crimes of various types, yet had only recorded seven. Notably, nine of the crimes that were not recorded were offences of rape. The remaining two crimes that were not recorded were sexual offences. Although the constabulary was providing support to victims, its failure to record so many crimes is a cause of concern.

We also looked at 14 modern slavery incident records and from these we found one report of modern slavery that had not been recorded as a crime. This missing crime-record related to a female victim who had been held in servitude. However, the victim had also reported an offence of rape which had been recorded and consequently she was being provided with the necessary support.

The constabulary has an improving understanding of the origins of reports of modern slavery. It has an identified lead who works at constabulary and regional levels with other partner agencies. The constabulary is working ever more closely with local authorities, and is also part of a Home Office pilot into multi-disciplinary panels looking at modern slavery issues and which has involved enhanced training for some officers.

Cancelled crimes

Where additional verifiable information (AVI) is obtained to show that a recorded crime did not occur, the crime record can be cancelled. In this respect, we found that the constabulary’s performance requires improvement. This is particularly the case in respect of the most serious offences.

The constabulary has introduced a system in which those staff able to make a crime cancellation decision, known as designated decision makers (DDMs), are supervisors based in the IAU, a deputy FCIR or the FCIR. This is a positive step which should have lead to more consistent decision-making that complies with the crime-recording rules. However, we found that not all crime cancellation decisions are correct.

We reviewed a sample of cancelled recorded crimes of rape, other sexual offences, violence and robbery. We found that DDMs had authorised correctly the cancellation of 19 out of 21 offences of rape, 16 out of 20 sexual offences, 14 out of 20 violence offences and 18 out of 20 robbery offences. The FCIR intervened in both of the rape cancellations which had not been authorised by her, but not before one of the victims had been told. The incorrect decisions in respect of sexual offences, violence and robbery are not acceptable. The incorrect decisions in respect of rape are particularly concerning. This is, therefore, an area for improvement.

Frontline staff have a good knowledge of AVI and are confident to submit cancellation requests. They also have a clear understanding of the process for doing so.

Where a crime has been cancelled a victim should always know the status of his or her reported crime. In the case of a decision to cancel a recorded crime, the very least the victim should expect is an explanation of the reason for this decision. We found that the constabulary had informed victims of this decision on all but three occasions. This is good and demonstrates appropriate consideration of victims’ needs.

Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Document) provides clear guidance to police forces regarding the service that should be provided to the victims of crime. We have concluded that the constabulary is aware of its responsibilities under this code. In particular, we found that the constabulary, after it records a crime, sends victims a standard letter which provides them with information about the offence to which they have been subject.

Where the constabulary assess that a victim is in need of enhanced service under the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, they are automatically referred to a victim services unit (known as Lighthouse) which provides this enhanced support. HMIC considers this to be a good process for these victims but is concerned that those victims not assessed as requiring an enhanced service may not receive the support they require.

We also found that staff are aware of their responsibilities under the code. We found many examples of the constabulary providing a good and on occasions an enhanced service. Contact with victims should be agreed and recorded but we found that many officers did not understand how to use the victim contact element of NICHE. As this is compulsory under the code, this is a further area for improvement.

Equality

Protected characteristics, such as gender, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, religion and age do not necessarily increase the vulnerability of an individual to the risk of crime. However, it is important that the constabulary records information regarding the characteristics of victims of crime in order that it may identify any patterns which may exist between different community groups and their vulnerability to (or their relative likelihood to report) different types of crime.

We found that the constabulary is developing NICHE to allow it to collect information intended to assist its understanding of the extent to which crime is affecting identifiable groups within its communities. The constabulary intends that these initial improvements will help to inform its understanding of crimes affecting people of different religions. It aspires to develop this to include crimes affecting people with disabilities.

HMIC is encouraged by this development as it will assist the constabulary to understand clearly whether its crime-recording decisions are consistent across different community groups and to respond effectively to crime committed against these communities.

Officer and staff survey

We conducted a survey of officers and staff in Avon and Somerset Constabulary of their experience in respect of crime-recording. An impressive 1,528 respondents completed the survey. We were pleased to find that the majority of respondents reported that the constabulary’s approach in respect of crime-recording had improved or significantly improved since our 2014 inspection. Furthermore, staff were clear that they no longer felt under any pressure to minimise the number of crimes recorded on the basis of performance targets.

How well does the force demonstrate the leadership and culture necessary to meet the national standards for crime recording?

graded good

We found strong leadership from senior officers in regard to crime-recording expectations, and an approach among the majority of officers and staff which places the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions.

The constabulary has made good progress against the national action plan, developed by the national lead on crime statistics following the 2014 report and which all forces have been asked to implement.

Additionally, good progress has been made with implementing changes recommended in our 2014 report, and as a result these recommendations have been completed.

Conclusion

Avon and Somerset Constabulary has made progress in its crime-recording processes since 2014. However, improvements must continue to be made.

The strong leadership and positive approach among the majority of officers and staff toward victims is welcome, however, the constabulary needs to improve the crime-recording process and ensure that its staff and officers fully understand the crime-recording standards expected of them, and that these standards are supervised effectively. The constabulary also needs to address shortcomings in its auditing procedures and improve resilience in this area.

What next?

HMIC expects the constabulary to make progress with implementing the recommendations we make in this report. We note that following our audit the chief officer lead for crime-recording took immediate steps to ensure the crime-recording failures we had identified were corrected, and also commenced work to identify how further improvements to the crime-recording arrangements could be made. We welcome this and will continue to monitor progress.

The constabulary, as with all police forces, may be subject to a further unannounced crime data integrity inspection at any time.