Bedfordshire Police: Crime Data Integrity inspection 2018

Overall judgment

graded requires improvement

Bedfordshire Police has made concerted efforts to improve crime-recording accuracy since our 2014 Crime Data Integrity inspection report. Importantly, we found a commitment to ethical crime recording that is victim-focused and free from performance pressures of any kind. We found that the force has:

  • developed and provided crime-recording training for all police officers and police staff who are responsible for making crime-recording decisions;
  • improved the quality of decision making when considering whether to cancel a recorded crime;
  • good crime-recording arrangements in respect of modern slavery crimes;
  • fully implemented all but one of the recommendations set out in our 2014 report; and
  • made good progress against a national action plan developed to improve crime recording by police forces.

Despite these advances the force is still failing some victims of crime. Based on the findings of our examination of crime reports for the period 1 June 2017 to 30 November 2017, we estimate that the force fails to record over 4,800 reported crimes each year. This represents a recording rate of 90.4 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.49 percent). The 9.6 percent of reported crimes that go unrecorded include crimes such as violence offences and those that result from domestic abuse.

Incorrect recording decisions are often the consequence of officers and staff not understanding the crime-recording rules. We found that, despite the additional training that has been provided, some staff and officers still have an insufficient understanding of the crime-recording requirements for common assault, harassment, malicious communications and public order offences. These errors are further compounded by limited supervision of crime-recording decisions.

Summary of inspection findings

The force has improved its crime-recording processes since our 2014 report. In particular, we found the force has:

  • co-located the crime recording bureau (CRB) and force control room to create the force contact centre, improving communication between the two units. This means that more reports are dealt with at initial contact and victims receive quicker access to services provided by the police and crime commissioner’s and the force’s victim care service (referred to as ‘signposting hub’);
  • set up a quality assurance team in the force contact centre to encourage and improve standards, service provision and crime-recording compliance;
  • improved its crime cancellation performance and increased the number of designated decision makers (DDMs) who can make these decisions;
  • fully implemented all but one of the recommendations set out in our 2014 report; and
  • made good progress against a national action plan developed to improve crime recording by police forces.

We also found that the acting force crime registrar (FCR) – responsible for oversight of crime-recording arrangements – has completed a national College of Policing course for FCRs and is fully accredited for the role. Her work is supported by a small audit team.

Despite these advances, the force’s performance in respect of crime recording must improve in the following areas:

  • frontline officers are failing to identify and record some violent crimes, including those arising from domestic abuse incidents such as common assault, harassment and malicious communications, and other crimes such as public order offences;
  • incorrect recording decisions are often the consequence of officers and staff not understanding the crime-recording rules. These errors are further compounded by limited supervision of crime-recording decisions;
  • there is poor understanding and use of the Home Office classification N100, to explain why reported incidents of rape or attempted rapes have not been immediately recorded as a confirmed crime;
  • incidents which have been disclosed directly to public protection teams by other organisations (public, voluntary and private sector) and which amount to a crime in law, are not always recorded as such;
  • late recording of reported crimes is leading to delays in referring victims to relevant support services, letting down some of those victims who need the early support that this service can provide;
  • the force must ensure that vulnerable child and adult referrals received from public, voluntary and private sector organisations containing incidents and reports of crime form part of its regular national crime recording standards (NCRS) audit programme; and
  • the force must improve the extent to which it collects information regarding the effect of criminality on identifiable groups within communities, in particular, groups with identifiable protected characteristics (e.g. sexuality, disability or religion).

Cause of concern

Bedfordshire Police is failing to ensure it records all crimes reported directly to its public protection departments. This is due to officers and staff working in the public protection units using the case administration and tracking system (CATS) database to track child protection, vulnerable adults and domestic abuse cases referred to the force. This frequently results in crimes not being recorded on the crime-recording system. In addition, officers and staff do not fully understand and apply the crime-recording rules in relation to recording professional third-party reports and there is limited supervision to correct these recording decisions at the earliest opportunity.

Recommendations

The force should immediately:

  • remind all officers and staff working in public protection units of the requirement to:
    • record all crimes initially identified and those that are disclosed during their investigations onto the force crime-recording system; and
    • correctly apply the crime-recording rules in relation to professional third-party reports
  • develop and implement procedures for the effective supervision of crime-recording decisions made by officers and staff within public protection units; and
  • ensure that vulnerable child and adult referrals received from public, voluntary and private sector organisations containing incidents and reports of crime form part of its regular NCRS audit programme.

Areas for improvement

The force should immediately:

  • 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;
  • ensure that adequate supervision is applied to all crime-recording decisions made by officers and staff;
  • improve the understanding and use by its officers and staff of the N100 classification, for those reports of rape which are not immediately recorded as a crime; and
  • improve how it collects diversity information from victims of crime and how it uses this to inform its compliance with its equality duty.

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

graded good

Overall crime-recording rate

90.4% of reported crimes 
were recorded

Over 4,800 reports of crime a year 
are not recorded

The force has further work to do 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 force informed HMICFRS that 95.1 percent of crime that is recorded (excluding fraud) comes through an auditable route. This does not mean that 95.1 percent of crimes reported to Bedfordshire Police come through these routes but that 95.1 percent of crime is recorded this way.

We found that the force recorded 90.4 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.49 percent). We estimate that this means the force is not recording over 4,800 reports of crime each year.

We audited a total of 1,415 reports of crime and found 313 that we assessed to be related to domestic abuse. Of these, the force had recorded 242. The 71 offences not recorded included 49 violent crimes, 5 sexual crimes and 17 other crimes. Many of these were reported directly to the force but were not properly recorded. We found no clear evidence or rationale as to why they were not recorded as crimes. The importance of recording reported crimes of domestic abuse cannot be overstated, as many victims are vulnerable to further offences being committed against them.

We found that many of these crime reports were made at the first point of contact with the force, but they were not recorded and there was little rationale to explain why.

We found that safeguarding requirements had been considered in all but one of these reports. However, the absence of a crime record in the vast majority of these cases resulted in these crimes not being investigated. We also found occasions where a risk assessment had not been completed. Where risk assessments had been submitted, officers had not always completed them fully or accurately and it was clear that their supervisors had not been checking to ensure that this was the case.

The absence of understanding of the extent of domestic abuse crime, the under-recording of crimes related to domestic abuse, and the failure to provide safeguarding and a satisfactory service to some of these victims is an area for improvement.

We found that supervision of force crime-recording decisions requires improvement. In particular, force contact centre supervisors are failing to apply adequate scrutiny to all crime-related incidents to satisfy themselves that crime-recording decisions are correct.

We are pleased that the force is committed to recording all the missed crimes identified during our inspection.

Violence against the person

86.3% of reported violent crimes 
were recorded

Over 1,800 reports of violent crime a year 
are not recorded

Victims of violence and serious violence often require substantial support. This should come from the reporting and investigating officers and other appropriate organisations, such as the signpost hub. Under these circumstances, crime recording is even more important. Failing to record a violent crime properly can result in the signpost hub not being notified that a person has become a victim of violence. That in turn deprives victims of the support they need and deserve.

We found that 86.3 percent of violent crimes reported to the force are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.79 percent). This is lower than the overall crime-recording rate noted above. By our estimate, this means the force fails to record over 1,800 violent crimes that are reported to it each year. Violent crime can be very distressing for the victim. This is therefore an area in which the need for better recording of reported crime is particularly important.

In most cases, where violent crimes were not recorded, we found that:

  • some frontline officers and staff in the CRB are still unsure of the basic crime-recording rules relating to common assault, harassment, malicious communications and public order offences;
  • following a deployment, officers do not always record a comprehensive explanation for why a crime should not be recorded; and
  • there is limited supervision to correct these decisions at the earliest opportunity.

Sexual offences

94.4% of reported sex offences 
were recorded

Over 60 reports of sex offences a year 
are not recorded

We found that the force records 94.4 percent of sexual offence crimes (including rape) that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.08 percent). We estimate that this means the force is not recording over 60 reported sexual offence crimes each year.

This recording rate is good and illustrates the improved scrutiny given to reports of sexual offences since our 2014 report. This is particularly important as many of these crimes are very serious in nature and cause significant harm to their victims.

The force failed to record a small number of sexual offences, including five reports of sexual assault. One of these sexual assaults was against a child, and five other offences involved sexual activity with a child. The other three missed crimes were exposure offences.

The causes of that under-recording are similar to those identified above for violent crime, which are:

  • frontline officers and staff in the CRB are not always sure of the basic crime-recording rules relating to sexual offences; and
  • there is limited supervision of crime recording to correct these decisions at the earliest opportunity.

Rape

91 of 100 audited rape reports were accurately recorded

Rape is one of the most serious sexual offence crimes a victim can experience. The accurate recording of such reports is especially important. It helps to ensure victims receive the service and support they deserve and have a right to expect. It also allows the police to identify the nature and extent of sexual violence in their local area.

We found 100 reports of rape that should have been recorded. These included reports that originated on the force incident system, received directly by specialist officers from third-party professionals, and from our review of N100 records (see below). Only 91 of these reports had been recorded as crimes.

We found that eight of the missed crimes of rape were incorrectly recorded as an N100 record. Five of these N100 classifications originated from professional third parties, and unfortunately, on these occasions, the victims declined to support a police investigation. Despite this, where possible, adequate safeguarding was provided in all these cases.

The remaining case was an allegation of an historic rape which, despite being recorded on the incident log, was not subsequently recorded as a crime and therefore no investigation took place. However, there was clear evidence that the victim had received support through the force safeguarding arrangements. The force has re-established contact with the victim and the crime has now been recorded and is being investigated.

The reasons for these nine crimes not being recorded were:

  • officers and staff not understanding adequately the crime-recording rules that apply to third-party professional reports
  • officers and staff not understanding adequately the crime-recording rules that apply to recording crimes of rape and using the N100 classification; and
  • limited supervision of crime recording to correct these decisions at the earliest opportunity.

There are clearly deficiencies in the force’s use of the Home Office classification N100. Introduced in April 2015, the N100 is a record created to explain 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 instances where additional information confirms the rape did not occur, or where the rape occurred in another force area and was therefore transferred to the relevant force to record and investigate.

We found 26 reports where the force should have applied an N100 classification. It was applied on eight of these occasions. We also reviewed 21 sample records where an N100 classification had been used. Among these, we found three reports which the force had subsequently correctly recorded as crimes of rape and five others which should have been recorded as a crime of rape. All the others were correctly classified. There were also three N100s over-recorded, two of which should have been recorded as sexual offences and one where an N100 classification had been used after the rape crime had been recorded as well.

In Bedfordshire Police, there is widespread inappropriate use of N100 records when rape crimes should be recorded. The use of N100s is poorly understood by officers responding to incidents and by staff in the CRB and elsewhere. The fundamental misunderstanding of the application and management of N100s is therefore an area for improvement for the force.

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

graded requires improvement

Crime reports held on other systems

17 of 32 vulnerable victim crimes were recorded

To be confident that vulnerable victims always receive the support they need, the force must improve its recording of crimes reported directly to its public protection teams, including referrals received from partner organisations. It must ensure that all officers and staff fully understand and correctly apply the crime-recording rules in relation to professional third-party reports.

We examined 50 vulnerable victim records. Of these, we found that 32 crimes should have been recorded, of which 17 had been. The missing 15 crimes included offences against both children and adults and all of them were professional third-party reports. Despite these crimes not being recorded, most vulnerable victims had received support through the force safeguarding arrangements, and investigations were completed, wherever it was possible to do so.

Offences reported through this route are often high risk and we found a high number of crimes that had gone unrecorded. This is a cause of concern. The force should therefore ensure that vulnerable victim records are included within its NCRS audit programme.

Modern slavery

Offences relating to modern slavery are an important, 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 force’s understanding of the origin of such reports.

We found that the force has good crime-recording arrangements for modern slavery crime. Our audit showed that 18 modern slavery crimes were reported and the force recorded 17 of them. The missed modern slavery crime was a second crime for one victim where the force had already properly recorded another modern slavery crime. The force had also correctly recorded four additional rape crimes and one crime of common assault.

We did find that there were two missed crimes: one of theft and one of forced marriage.

We also examined 20 modern slavery referrals received from other organisations. From these there were no crimes that required recording. However, the force failed to record one N100 for a woman forced into prostitution abroad.

The force has an identified lead for modern slavery who works with other forces and partner organisations.

Modern slavery is included within the force strategic assessment and the force is completing a problem profile to understand better the extent of modern slavery in the county. The force has a robust process for dealing with reports of modern slavery that it receives via the national referral mechanism.

Additionally, the force has a modern slavery co-ordinator. This co-ordinator works with other organisations, attends joint meetings and is exploring options for providing specialist support to victims of modern slavery with several charitable organisations. This is good practice.

Timeliness

Where the information obtained at the first point of contact satisfies the crime-recording decision-making process, the expectation is that identified crimes will be recorded without delay. In any case recording must take place within 24 hours.

We found that many of the reports of crime that had been recorded by Bedfordshire Police had not been completed within 24 hours. Only 278 out of 478 reports of violent crime, 140 out of 237 sexual offences and 475 out of 570 other offences had been recorded in the required timeframes.

While some victims may be referred to support agencies by other means, the delay in recording a reported crime also delays the referral of the victim to the Signpost Hub. As some victims would benefit from the early support this team can provide, these delays are unacceptable.

We found crime-recording delays were caused by backlogs in the CRB which was under-resourced during the period of our incident and crime audit. We are pleased to report that under-resourcing within the CRB has since been resolved. As a result, the force is now recording significantly more reports of crime within 24 hours, however this still requires further improvement.

Cancelled crimes

Where additional verifiable information (AVI) is obtained to show that a recorded crime did not occur, the crime record can be cancelled. This includes when a crime has been committed in another force area and is subsequently transferred.

We reviewed a sample of cancelled recorded crimes of rape, other sexual offences, violence and robbery. We found that the FCR had authorised correctly the cancellation of nine out of nine offences of rape.

Other crime cancellation decisions are the responsibility of designated staff, known as designated decision makers (DDMs). In Bedfordshire, at the time of our inspection, these were detective chief inspectors (DCIs). The DDMs had authorised correctly the cancellation of 14 out of 15 sexual offences, 14 out of 20 violence offences and 9 out of 11 robbery offences. Six of the nine cancellation decisions that were incorrect related to the absence of sufficient AVI to demonstrate that the crime did not occur.

The force has improved the quality of decision making, particularly regarding rape cancellations, since our 2014 report. It has an established process for dealing with crime cancellation requests, however it recognises that the DCIs have not always had sufficient capacity or afforded enough priority to this aspect of their role. The force has increased the number of DDMs to now include chief inspectors in addition to the DCIs.

Where a crime has been cancelled or transferred to another force for investigation, a victim should always be informed. In the case of a decision to cancel a recorded crime, the very least a victim should expect is an explanation of the reason for this decision. We found that of the 30 victims who should have been told of the transfer/cancellation, 21 were told of the decision. The force needs to ensure that all victims are informed of the decision to cancel a crime.

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 force is aware of its responsibilities under this code.

With effect from 1 April 2018, the force has a new signpost hub which the police and crime commissioner funds. When victims report a crime to the police they are asked a few questions to find out how they have been affected by the crime and their personal circumstances, to see if there is any additional support they might need from the hub. Victim care co-ordinators based in the hub use this information to decide the best way to support victims. They may contact victims by phone or in writing.

In addition, officers give every victim a form which contains the basic details of the crime, a summary of the code, contact details of the investigating officer and an agreed victim contact contract. This is good practice.

Equality

HMICFRS found that the force must improve collection of information regarding crimes affecting identifiable groups within communities.

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 force records information regarding the characteristics of victims of crime. This will enable them to 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 the force routinely records age and gender details as well as ethnicity in most cases if a crime is recorded. However, it only records other protected characteristics where these are determined to be relevant to the offence.

If the force does not record such information, it will be unable to understand clearly whether its crime-recording decisions are consistent across different community groups. This is, therefore, an area for improvement.

Officer and staff survey

We conducted a survey of officers and staff in Bedfordshire Police of their experience of crime recording. Some 195 respondents completed the survey. We were pleased to find the vast majority of respondents believe that the chief officer team clearly communicates the need for ethical crime recording and doing the right thing for the victim. They also believe the force’s approach to crime recording has improved or significantly improved since our 2014 inspection. Furthermore, the vast majority of respondents said they had never experienced any pressure not to record crime.

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

graded good

Overall, we found good leadership from senior officers in Bedfordshire Police regarding crime-recording expectations. There is an approach among most officers and staff that places the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions.

The FCR reports directly to the deputy chief constable (DCC) and has regular one-to-one meetings with him. The FCR also attends other senior management meetings which are chaired by the DCC.

The DCC is currently reviewing the existing crime-recording governance arrangements to ensure that these will lead to improved crime-recording performance. This is welcome.

The force has made good progress implementing changes recommended in our 2014 report. As a result, all but one of these recommendations have been fully completed. The remaining recommendation has been superseded by a new recommendation contained within this report.

The force has also made good progress against the national action plan. This was developed by the national lead on crime statistics following our 2014 report. All forces have been asked to implement this action plan.

Conclusion

Bedfordshire Police has made progress in its crime-recording processes since 2014 and continues to work on further improvements. This is particularly evident in the recording accuracy for sexual offences and modern slavery crimes.

HMICFRS welcomes the continuing efforts of the force to address the remaining gaps in the crime-recording arrangements identified in this inspection.

What next?

HMICFRS expects the force to make progress implementing recommendations we make in this report.

The cause of concern found during this inspection is such that HMICFRS may re-visit the force later in this inspection programme to assess its progress.