Hertfordshire Constabulary: Crime Data Integrity inspection 2017

Overall judgment

graded requires improvement

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

  • achieves high levels of recording accuracy for reported sexual offences;
  • has improved the timeliness of its crime-recording which in turn leads to the earlier referral of victims to Victim Support, thereby helping those victims who need the early support that this organisation can provide;
  • has improved its processes for cancelling crimes, leading to good performance in this area;
  • has implemented all 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, based on the findings of our examination of crime reports for the period 1 December 2016 to 31 May 2017, we estimate that the constabulary fails to record over 11,200 reported crimes each year. This represents a recording rate of 87.2 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.86 percent). The 12.8 percent of reported crimes that went unrecorded included serious crimes such as violence offences and domestic abuse. The recording rate for violent crime is a particular cause of concern at only 84.8 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.97 percent). This means that, on too many occasions, the constabulary is failing victims of crime.

We consider that too often incorrect crime-recording decisions are made. Some staff and officers have an insufficient understanding of the crime-recording requirements, compounded by limited supervision to correct decisions at the earliest opportunity.

Summary of inspection findings

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

  • improved and expanded its crime audit function;
  • introduced a crime recording bureau (CRB);
  • implemented all of the recommendations set out in our 2014 report; and
  • made good progress against the action plan, developed by the national policing lead on crime statistics following the 2014 report, and which all forces have been asked to implement. These include improvements to the constabulary’s use of out-of-court disposals and to the level of its audit of crime-recording decisions.

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

Despite these advances, the constabulary’s performance in respect of crime-recording could be better in the following areas:

  • The constabulary is currently under-recording violent crimes and must improve the accuracy of its recording of such reports.
  • The process for identifying violent incidents as crimes within the communication centre does not support accurate crime recording.
  • The public protection department must improve the recording of crimes reported directly to it by partner organisations (such as social services).
  • The constabulary 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. gender, sexuality or ethnicity).

Those failings are a consequence of officers and staff not always understanding their responsibilities for crime recording, compounded by deficiencies in the processes for crime recording within the constabulary and inconsistent and limited supervision of crime-recording decisions.

Cause of concern

In Hertfordshire Constabulary officers and staff too often fail to make correct crime-recording decisions at the first opportunity when dealing with reports of violent crime, including cases of domestic abuse. 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 means that the constabulary is letting down too many victims of crime.

Recommendations

  • Within three months, the constabulary should take steps to identify and address gaps in its systems and processes within its call centre for identifying and recording all reports of crime. This work should include:
    • a review of the incident types used in Storm – the constabulary’s incident management system – to make it clearer when the call involves the commission of a crime; and
    • a review of the process for the supervision of the closure of incident records, ensuring that this includes a check of compliance with the crime-recording rules and that sufficient supervisory capacity exists to do so.
  • Within three months, the constabulary should put in place arrangements to ensure that:
    • at the point of report, for the purpose of crime recording, greater emphasis is placed on the initial account of victims;
    • where more than one crime is disclosed within an incident record, or is identified as part of other recorded crime investigations, these are recorded.
  • Within six months, the constabulary should design and provide training for relevant staff in regard to:
    • the importance of the first account of the victim when making crime recording decisions, particularly in cases of domestic abuse;
    • offences involving malicious communications, harassment and public order;
    • recording as full an account as possible from callers within the incident record and making it clear when the incident amounts to a crime;
    • fully communicating all available information to officers deployed to incidents; and
    • the handling and recording of partner organisation referrals into the public protection teams, ensuring that where these third party reports include reports of crime that these are always recorded as such.

Areas for improvement

  • The constabulary should immediately review the processes in place for the identification and recording of reports of crime received directly into its public protection department from partner organisations (such as social services), and ensure these systems support the correct recording of these crimes in accordance with the crime-recording rules.
  • The constabulary should review its processes for the handling of reports of modern slavery so as to ensure all such reports, and associated crimes are recorded.
  • The constabulary should immediately 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 constabulary at recording reported crime?

graded requires improvement

Overall crime-recording rate

87.2% of reported crimes 
were recorded

Over 11,200 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 (HOCR). We examined reports of crime which the constabulary received, and for which an auditable record was created. The constabulary informed HMICFRS that 98.1 percent of crime that is recorded (excluding fraud) came through an auditable crime reporting route.

But we found that the constabulary recorded 87.2 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.86 percent). We estimate that this means the constabulary is not recording over 11,200 reports of crime each year. Those failings are depriving many victims of the services to which they are entitled.

Of a total of 1,215 reports of crime that we audited, we found 331 that we assessed to be crimes related to domestic abuse. Of these 331 crimes, the constabulary had recorded 283. The 48 offences not recorded included 34 violent crimes, 1 sexual offence and 22 other crimes.

We found that many of these reports involved the reporting of a crime at the first point of contact with the constabulary, but these crime reports were often recorded as a non-crime incident with little rationale to explain why. 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.

We were pleased to find that safeguarding requirements had been considered in nearly all of these reports. Those reports missing evidence of safeguarding involved only low risk crimes. However, we also found that the absence of a crime record resulted in only around half of these reports of crime being investigated, thereby increasing the potential risk of harm to the victim.

The under-recording of crimes related to domestic incidents, and the failure to provide a satisfactory service to these victims are causes of concern. This is because domestic abuse often involves victims who are particularly vulnerable to further offences being committed against them.

Following our latest PEEL effectiveness inspection, the constabulary reviewed its processes for dealing with domestic abuse incidents. This has led to a revised procedure for its deployment of officers to such incidents and how they are supervised. It should continue to monitor this change to reassure itself that the crime-recording improvements needed are being achieved and sustained.

Factors contributing to the constabulary’s under-recording of crime reports are its crime-recording processes, the crime-recording knowledge of its workforce, resourcing pressures within its call-handling function, the capacity for supervision of crime-recording decisions and IT limitations.

  • Deficiencies in the crime-recording processes need to be addressed. In particular, we found that:
    • following a deployment officers and staff do not always record a good or valid explanation for why a crime should not be recorded;
    • call handlers do not always record on the incident log full details of the conversation they have had with the person reporting a crime and where they do record this information it is not always passed on to officers attending the crime. This means the attending officer does not always have the full information on which to base a crime-recording decision;
    • limitations on the type of incident codes available in Storm means crime-related reports are not always coded in such a way as to enable close supervision of crime-related incidents. This means that some incidents are not appropriately reviewed by supervisors for a crime-recording decision to be taken, resulting in many of these reports of crime not being recorded; and
    • when further offences come to light after the initial deployment or during subsequent investigation, the constabulary does not always record reported crimes.
  • We found that call-handlers, frontline officers and staff in the CRB are not always sure of crime-recording requirements. In particular:
    • basic crime-recording principles and knowledge of the crime-recording rules relating to harassment, malicious communications and public order are not always understood; and
    • there is a lack of experience and knowledge of the crime-recording rules among some recently recruited staff responsible for call-handling.
  • We also found that the call centre demand was limiting the extent to which its staff were able to answer calls and provide a quality service to all callers. The constabulary is aware of this and is increasing its call-handling resources by 30 staff.
  • A further problem relates to the constabulary’s supervision of its crime-recording decisions. In particular, communication centre supervisors and small teams set up to scrutinise certain types of incidents do not have the capacity to scrutinise adequately all crime-related incidents to satisfy themselves that crime-recording decisions are correct. Again, the constabulary is aware of this and is to change its operating arrangements with the introduction of a new incident management unit (IMU) later this year.
  • The constabulary’s crime-recording system does not assist staff in making good crime-recording decisions. For example, the system does not have any interface with Storm which could assist with automatic creation of crime records from crime-related incidents. The constabulary is one of several which will be introducing a new integrated IT system (called Athena), which includes crime-recording and is scheduled to be implemented in early 2018.

The stated intentions of the constabulary demonstrate the extent to which it already understands some of the material issues affecting its crime-recording arrangements. We welcome this awareness and the actions intended to address these issues.

Violence against the person

84.8% of reported violent crimes 
were recorded

Over 3,700 reports of violent crime a year 
are not recorded

We found that 84.8 percent of violent crimes reported to the constabulary are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.97 percent). This is lower than the overall crime recording rate noted above. By our estimate, this means the constabulary fails to record over 3,700 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 improvement is particularly acute and therefore a cause of concern.

In the majority of cases where violent crimes were not recorded these were found to be common assault, malicious communications and harassment, and the principal causes were:

  • the processes currently in place for the recording of a reported crime (described earlier);
  • officers and staff not fully understanding the crime-recording rules, particularly for some violence offences such as harassment and malicious communications. This results in the failure to record many such reports of crime; and
  • an absence of adequate supervision of crime-recording decisions in the call centre.

Victims of violent crime and, in particular, victims of more serious violence, often require substantial support. This support should come not only from the reporting and investigating officers, but from other appropriate agencies, such as Victim Support. Under those circumstances, crime recording takes on a heightened importance. Failing to record properly a violent crime can result in Victim Support 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.

Sexual offences

96.0% of reported sex offences 
were recorded

We found that the constabulary records 96.0 percent of sexual offence crimes (including rape) that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.42 percent). We estimate that this means the constabulary fails to record over 70 reported sexual offence crimes each year.

This recording rate is one of the highest we have seen to date and is indicative of the effort made by the constabulary to improve crime-recording since our 2014 report. This is particularly important in respect of sexual offence crimes, many of which are very serious in nature and cause significant harm to their victims. Nevertheless, we note that the constabulary failed to record a small number of reported offences including sexual assault and inciting a child to engage in sexual activity over social media.

We found that the constabulary has effective processes and good oversight which helps to ensure reports of sexual offences that are received directly into the call centre are recorded as crimes. This is because only one incident code can be applied in the case of reports of sexual offences. Additionally, the CRB and call centre quality team scrutinise all incidents of a sexual nature, and the FCR and his deputy carry out regular audits of sexual incidents. This is good practice.

Rape

75 of 79 audited rape reports were accurately recorded

Rape is one of the most serious sexual offence crimes a victim can experience. Therefore, the accurate recording of such reports is especially important; it allows the police to identify the nature and extent of sexual violence in their local area. In turn, this enables the police to operate with the highest practicable levels of efficiency to identify and deal effectively with perpetrators. We found that although a crime may not always have been correctly recorded, the Constabulary provided support and safeguarding in all of these cases, including referrals to partner organisations when appropriate, and carried out an investigation in all.

In Hertfordshire Constabulary, reported crimes of rape are recorded at the first point of contact in the call centre. This, along with the effectiveness of the oversight of reports of sexual offences, means that the constabulary’s performance in respect of the recording of reports of rape is good.

We found 79 reports of rape that should have been recorded, and that 75 of these had been recorded. These include reports that originated on the constabulary incident system, reports received directly by the public protection unit (PPU) from third party professionals, and from a review of N100 classification records (see below).

Of the four rapes that were not recorded, one was an investigation involving two offenders. The constabulary had failed to record a crime in respect of the second offender. Two involved historic reports of rape in which the victims did not want any police action but for which a crime record should still have been created, and the last involved a patient in a mental health hospital. This person made an allegation of rape but was too unwell for the constabulary to establish the full facts. These three reports were recorded as N100s. Importantly, all four victims were appropriately safeguarded and all possible investigations carried out.

However, we found deficiencies in the constabulary’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 19 reports for which the constabulary should have applied an N100 classification. It was applied on 7 of these occasions.

Separately, we also reviewed 20 sample records where an N100 classification had been used. Among these, we found four reports which the force had subsequently correctly recorded as crimes of rape and one which should have been recorded as a crime of rape. All the others were correctly classified.

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

graded requires improvement

Crime reports held on other systems

21 of 46 vulnerable victim crimes were recorded

In order to be confident that vulnerable victims always receive the support they need, the constabulary must improve its recording of crimes reported directly to its public protection teams.

In Hertfordshire Constabulary we examined 68 vulnerable victim records. Of these, we found that 46 crimes should have been recorded, of which 21 had been. The unrecorded crimes include crimes committed against both vulnerable adults and children, including some serious offences of child neglect and assault occasioning actual bodily harm against children. We were pleased to find that all relevant safeguarding was undertaken and investigations were carried out in all cases. However, the recording of these reports of crime is still important as it allows the police to identify and understand the nature and extent of crime experienced by vulnerable adults and children, and to ensure it has adequate resources in place to protect these victims from harm. This is an area for improvement.

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 consider that the constabulary could strengthen its crime-recording arrangements in respect of modern slavery crime. Our audit showed that 22 out of 24 modern slavery crimes reported had been recorded. The constabulary had also correctly recorded two associated rape crimes, but had not recorded five other crimes including grievous bodily harm, common assault and sexual assault. This is, therefore, an area for improvement.

The constabulary has an identified lead for modern slavery who works at constabulary, regional, national and international levels with other forces, partner organisations and overseas police organisations. Modern slavery is understood by officers at a local level. We were provided with details of effective operations which the constabulary had conducted.

Additionally, the constabulary has a dedicated team operating under the name of Operation Tropic which works with victims and partner agencies to tackle modern slavery. This team also provide advice and support to other officers and staff regarding modern slavery cases. This is good practice.

Timeliness

The HOCR require that reports of crime are recorded within 24 hours of the receipt of the report. We found that, of the reports of crime that had been recorded by Hertfordshire Constabulary, 404 out of 463 reports of violent crime, 171 out of 194 sexual offences and 392 out of 412 other offences had been recorded within 24 hours of the receipt of the report.

This means that generally, when the constabulary makes correct crime recording decisions, its recording procedures are effective at ensuring the crime is recorded within 24 hours, as permitted by the rules. This timely recording enables the constabulary to make early referrals to Victim Support for those victims in need of the support that is available. This is welcome.

Cancelled crimes

Where additional verifiable information (AVI) is obtained to show that a recorded crime did not occur, the crime record can be cancelled.

The constabulary operates a system whereby only the FCR and his two dedicated decision makers (DDMs) can cancel recorded crimes and we found these arrangements to be effective.

We reviewed a sample of cancelled recorded crimes of rape, other sexual offences, violence and robbery. We found that the FCR and his staff had authorised correctly the cancellation of 20 out of 20 offences of rape, 19 out of 20 sexual offences, 19 out of 20 violence offences and 18 out of 20 robbery offences. This is good.

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 almost all occasions. Again, 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 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, contacts all victims either by phone or letter providing them with information about the offence to which they have been subject.

The constabulary’s victim care centre (called Beacon) comprises police staff working alongside Victim Support staff. While some victims can refer themselves to the team the majority of referrals come when a crime is recorded on the constabulary’s crime system. An initial victim needs assessment is conducted by this team. A second detailed victim needs assessment is conducted by staff within the team, and those who require more support receive this. We found this to be a good process which considers victim needs effectively.

We also found that staff are aware of their responsibilities under the code.

Equality

HMICFRS found that the constabulary must improve in its 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 constabulary records information regarding the characteristics of victims of crime in order 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.

Importantly, so long as the constabulary fails to record such information, it will be unable to understand clearly whether its crime-recording decisions are consistent across different community groups. This, therefore, is an area for improvement.

Officer and staff survey

We conducted a survey of officers and staff in Hertfordshire Constabulary of their experience in respect of crime recording. Some 220 respondents completed the survey. We were pleased to find that the vast majority of respondents believe that doing the right thing for the victim is the aim of the constabulary and this has been reinforced by senior managers. They also reported that the constabulary’s approach to 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 outstanding

The culture and leadership with regard to crime recording in the constabulary is outstanding.

Senior officers demonstrate strong leadership with regard to crime-recording expectations. Without exception, we found an approach among officers and staff which places the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions.

We also found evidence of strong governance in respect of crime recording. The FCR regularly attends force-level performance meetings at which crime-recording is discussed, one of which the deputy chief constable chairs.

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

The constabulary has also made good progress against the national action plan, developed by the national lead on crime statistics following our 2014 report and which all forces have been asked to implement. The introduction of the CRB, and the IMU along with the increase in resourcing in the call centre are good examples of how the constabulary is working to ensure it achieves and maintains the best possible crime-recording standards.

Conclusion

Hertfordshire Constabulary has made progress in its crime-recording processes since 2014 and continues to work on further improvements. This is particularly necessary in regard to the recording accuracy for victims of violent crime.

The strong leadership and positive approach among officers and staff towards victims of crime is welcome, and some of the systems and processes used to ensure good crime-recording decisions are taken are to be commended.

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

What next?

HMICFRS expects the constabulary 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.