Lancashire Constabulary: Crime Data Integrity inspection 2017

Please note: This inspection was carried out before 19 July 2017, when HMIC also took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. The methodology underpinning our inspection findings is unaffected by this change.

References to HMICFRS in this report may relate to an event that happened before 19 July 2017 when HMICFRS was HMIC.

Overall judgment

graded inadequate

Lancashire Constabulary has made efforts to improve crime-recording accuracy which have led to some improvements since HMICFRS’ 2014 Crime Data Integrity inspection report.

We found that:

  • officers and staff have made progress in placing the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions;
  • the constabulary has worked hard in bringing about improvements in the knowledge and understanding of the crime-recording requirements for modern day slavery crimes among officers and staff;
  • a good level of recording accuracy for reported sexual offences is being achieved; and
  • officers and staff work hard to identify any safeguarding needs of the victim and seek to ensure these are provided.

Much work remains to be done, however. The constabulary had made progress with the recommendations for improvement made in our 2014 report but we found that not all of these improvements have been maintained. This regression is undermining the effectiveness and efficiency of its crime-recording arrangements.

Based on the findings of our examination of crime reports for the period 1 October 2016 to 31 March 2016, we estimate that the constabulary fails to record over 20,000 reported crimes each year. This represents a recording rate of 84.3 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.86 percent). The 15.7 percent of reported crimes that went unrecorded included serious crimes such as sexual offences, domestic abuse and rape. The recording rate for violent crime is a particular cause of concern at only 78.3 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 3.16 percent). This means that on too many occasions, the constabulary is failing victims of crime.

Improvements must be made in many areas. In particular, we believe that there are too many failures to make the correct crime-recording decision at the first opportunity. These failures are often due to poor crime-recording processes and an insufficient understanding of crime-recording requirements by officers and staff, compounded by limited supervision to correct these decisions at the earliest opportunity.

Summary of inspection findings

The constabulary has made some improvements in its crime-recording arrangements since our 2014 report. These include progress in:

  • implementing 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. This includes improvements to the constabulary’s use of out-of-court disposals (e.g. cautions and community resolutions);
  • the accuracy of crime-recording decisions for reported sexual offences (excluding rape); and
  • developing an understanding of modern day slavery offences among officers and staff.

Despite these advances, the constabulary’s performance in respect of crime-recording is unacceptable in the following areas:

  • The constabulary is currently under-recording too many reports of crime, including:
    • violent crimes;
    • reports of rape; and
    • reports of crime involving vulnerable victims, including those victims of domestic abuse.

The constabulary needs to act promptly to improve the accuracy of its recording of these reports. HMICFRS recognise that the victims of some of these reports still receive a service; however, the Constabulary needs to work to ensure all victims receive the service to which they are entitled and deserve.

  • Crimes reported during incidents involving domestic abuse are sometimes not being recorded.
  • Incidents which have been disclosed directly to public protection teams as part of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, and which amount to a crime in law, are not always recorded as such.
  • Delays to the recording of a reported crime are leading to delays in the referral of victims to the constabulary’s victim support service (Lancashire Victim Services), letting down those victims who need the early support this team can provide.
  • 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 (i.e. gender, sexuality or ethnicity).

Some of these failings are a consequence of insufficient progress having been made since our 2014 report. In particular, limited progress has been made to ensure officers and staff understand their crime-recording responsibilities, and there is only limited supervision of the crime-recording decisions taken by officers and staff.

Cause of concern

In Lancashire Constabulary officers and staff too often fail to make correct crime-recording decisions at the first opportunity. 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.

The constabulary is failing to ensure it properly records all reports of rape, other sexual offences and violence, including domestic abuse crimes and crimes reported directly to its public protection department.

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. This work should include a review of the means by which the initial investigation unit (IIU) identifies crimes needing to be recorded, and also provide a consistent and structured approach to call-handling quality assurance processes that is compliant with the National Crime Recording Standards.
  • Within three months, the constabulary should review the operating arrangements of its control room to ensure that, where possible, reports of crime are created at the point where they are made.
  • Within three months, the constabulary should develop and implement procedures for the effective supervision of crime-recording decisions throughout the whole constabulary.
  • Within three months, the constabulary should put in place arrangements to ensure that 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 three months, the constabulary should ensure sufficient audit capacity and capability is available to the force crime registrar (FCR) to provide reassurance that the constabulary is identifying and managing any gaps in its crime-recording accuracy. This is particularly important for reports of crime involving vulnerable victims and those crimes where the risk to the victim is greatest, such as rape, modern slavery and violence.
  • Within six months, the constabulary should design and provide training for all staff and officers who make crime-recording decisions. This should include training in regard to:
    • the extent of the information required to provide for a crime-recording decision to be made;
    • the expectation that reported crime is recorded at the first point that sufficient information exists to record a crime, which in the majority of cases will be at the point of report; and
    • offences involving malicious communications, harassment and common assault.

Areas for improvement

  • 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.
  • The constabulary should immediately put in place improvements to the recording practices for reports of rape and ensure the correct use of rape classification N100.
  • The constabulary should immediately put in place arrangements to improve the process for informing victims when their recorded crime has been cancelled.

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

graded inadequate

Overall crime-recording rate

84.3% of reported crimes 
were recorded

Over 20,000 reports of crime a year 
are not recorded

The constabulary has considerable 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 all crime that is recorded (excluding fraud) came through an auditable crime reporting route.

We found that the constabulary recorded 84.3 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.86 percent). We estimate that this means the constabulary is not recording over 20,000 reports of crime each year. Those failings are depriving many victims of the services to which they are entitled and are a cause of concern.

Of a total of 1,438 reports of crime that we audited, we found 398 that we assessed to be crimes related to domestic abuse. Of these 398 crimes, the constabulary had recorded 277. The 121 offences not recorded included offences of violence and crimes involving harassment and malicious communication.

We found that many of these reports involved the reporting of a crime at the first point of contact with the constabulary, but these crimes were not recorded. In addition, on occasions the reported crime was not fully outlined on the incident record made at the time of the report, so the attending officer was unaware of what had been said. Also, some officers believed (wrongly) that if the victim wished for there to be no formal action taken, there was no requirement for a crime to be recorded, even when one had taken place.

However, we found that in these domestic abuse cases, safeguarding had been conducted on nearly every occasion and it was clear that officers and staff fully understood their responsibilities in this respect. In some cases officers also took positive action in line with the victim’s wishes despite not recording the crime.

The under-recording of crimes related to domestic abuse and the consequent absence of understanding of the full extent of domestic abuse crime by the constabulary are a serious concern. This is because domestic abuse often involves victims who are particularly vulnerable to further offences being committed against them.

Factors contributing to the constabulary’s under-recording of crime reports are its crime-recording processes, the crime-recording knowledge of its workforce and the limited capacity of supervisors to provide effective oversight of crime-recording decisions.

Deficiencies in the constabulary’s crime-recording processes are a concern. In particular, we found that:

  • when further offences come to light after the initial attendance of an officer or during subsequent investigation, the constabulary does not always record these crimes;
  • incident records that contain multiple reports of crime often result incorrectly in only one crime report being recorded; and
  • a software programme called the staging database, intended to ensure that reports of crime which had not been recorded within 24 hours were automatically recorded has become unreliable, wrongly classifying many of the crimes which it records. This has placed added pressure on the data audit unit (DAU), responsible for ensuring that crimes are correctly classified.

We found that call-handlers (who receive reports of crime by telephone), and frontline officers and staff, are not always sure of crime-recording requirements. In particular:

  • basic crime-recording principles and knowledge of crime-recording requirements relating to common assault, malicious communications and harassment are not always understood. For example, we found that officers and staff were unsure of the crime-recording rules regarding common assault where there is no physical assault but the threat of one; and
  • at the point of report, on occasion, when assessing whether on the balance of probability an offence has been committed, insufficient emphasis has been given to the initial account of the victim.

We also found that supervision of its crime-recording decisions requires improvement. This is because:

  • call-handling supervisors do not routinely include a check of crime-recording decisions during dip-sampling of call handler work;
  • the force crime registrar (FCR) and the DAU have limited capacity to conduct auditing in connection with crime recording, particularly within some of the risk areas such as reports of crime involving vulnerable victims and victims of domestic abuse; and
  • the constabulary believes rightly that officers and staff should be relied upon to perform their duties to a good standard and, therefore, do not require their crime-recording decisions scrutinised. However, this absence of supervision is further compounded by limited audit of crime-recording decisions and this lack of intervention at any stage means that no corrective action is taken, nor can any training or development needs be identified and managed.

We note, in concluding this section, that before this inspection, and following intervention from the FCR, the constabulary had started changing its crime-recording arrangements. In particular, it plans to increase the number of staff working within the DAU and has trained call-handling staff to make crime-recording decisions and create the subsequent crime records. However, we also note that this latter arrangement was suspended due to call-handling demand, and in order to reinstate this approach and better manage demand the constabulary has recently conducted a recruitment campaign to increase control room staffing.

In addition, the constabulary has determined that it will place the crime-recording decision at the point of contact with the victim, and to this end is trialling a process whereby initial investigation unit staff will work in the control room. These staff are recording crime directly upon receipt of the report, and providing crime-recording advice to staff. HMICFRS welcomes these developments.

Violence against the person

78.3% of reported violent crimes 
were recorded

Over 8,500 reports of violent crime a year 
are not recorded

We found that 78.3 percent of violent crimes reported to the constabulary are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 3.16 percent). This is lower than the overall crime-recording rate noted above. By our estimate, this means the constabulary fails to record over 8,500 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.

Many of these crimes involve injury, which can cause even further distress for the victim. Where violent crimes are not recorded, a high proportion of these relate to domestic abuse crimes (see above). We therefore find the under-recording of reports of violent crime by the constabulary to be a serious cause of concern.

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

  • 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, malicious communications and the more straightforward offence of common assault. This results in the failure to record many such reports of crime; 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 reporting and investigating officers, but also, possibly, from Lancashire Victim Services. Under those circumstances, crime recording takes on a heightened importance. Failing to record properly a violent crime can result in Lancashire Victim Services receiving no notification that a person has become a victim of violent crime. That in turn, deprives victims of the support they may need and deserve.

Sexual offences

93.6% of reported sex offences 
were recorded

Over 220 reports of sex offences a year 
are not recorded

We found that the constabulary records 93.6 percent of sexual offence crimes that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.44 percent). We estimate that this means the constabulary fails to record over 220 reported sexual offence crimes each year.

This recording rate is encouraging and better than many forces that we have inspected to date. Nevertheless, the need to record all sexual offences is important given the very serious nature of sexual offences and the harm they cause to their victims. We found that the constabulary failed to record some reports of sexual assault against both adults and children.

The causes of that under-recording are similar to those described earlier:

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

Rape

114 of 124 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, Lancashire 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 Lancashire Constabulary we found 124 reports of rape that should have been recorded, but only 114 of these had been recorded. These include reports that originated on the constabulary incident system, reports received directly by specialist officers from third party professionals, and from a review of N100 classifications.

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.

The constabulary operates a process whereby it creates a classification N100 at the outset in respect of every report of rape. These are overseen by the FCR and DAU and are generally assessed and then, if deemed appropriate, converted into recorded crimes of rape. This is not an efficient process and relies upon the FCR and DAU always having time to complete this task. It also has a negative impact upon the timeliness of the recording of reports of rape.

The causes of the under-recording of the ten rape crimes are the same as were identified above in respect of other sexual offences. These are:

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

There are, in addition, some issues surrounding the constabulary’s use of the Home Office classification N100.

We found 14 incident reports for which an N100 classification should have been applied but it was only applied on eight occasions.

Separately, we also reviewed 20 sample records where an N100 classification had been used. We found that 14 were completed to a good standard, three should never have been recorded from the outset and three had been correctly changed to crimes of rape by the FCR and her team.

Because the process for creating an N100 rests with the IIU, we found little understanding among officers and staff in relation to the need for an N100 and the difference between these and a recorded crime of rape.

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

graded requires improvement

Crime reports held on other systems

18 of 31 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.

We found that the force had only recorded 18 crimes from 31 vulnerable victim reports of crime. This came from an examination of 50 vulnerable victim records, and ten referrals received by email into the multi-agency referral units from third party professionals (such as health professionals and social services). The missing 13 crimes included offences against children and adults.

The causes of the under-recording of these 13 crimes are the same as were identified above in respect of sexual offences and violence. As a result of HMICFRS’ audit, the constabulary will introduce crime-recording training into regular continuous professional development days which are held for all public protection team staff. This is reassuring.

Despite this, the extent to which reports of crime received by public protection teams are not being recorded, and the seriousness of the risks associated with the under-recording of these reports of crime, are causes of concern.

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 20 modern slavery crimes, all of which were correctly recorded together with 12 other associated offences. This is excellent.

We also examined a further 20 reported incidents of modern slavery and assessed them to contain three reports of modern slavery crimes, none of which had been recorded as crimes. The constabulary had identified this before our audit and now includes a member of the crime audit team in modern slavery investigations from the outset.

The constabulary works regionally, nationally and internationally in its efforts to tackle modern slavery. We found that officers and staff have a good, basic knowledge of modern slavery offences, of their respective responsibilities in relation to the recording of such offences, and where they can find further information.

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 Lancashire Constabulary, 55 out of 114 reports of rape, 451 out of 498 reports of violent crime and 233 out of 292 sexual offences (excluding rape) had been recorded within 24 hours of the receipt of the report.

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

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 performed well.

We reviewed 20 cancelled recorded crimes each of rape, violence, sexual offence crimes (excluding rape) and robbery crimes. Of these, we found that the FCR had correctly cancelled all 20 crimes of rape. Other crime cancellation decisions are the responsibility of three designated staff, known as designated decision makers (DDMs). The DDMs had correctly cancelled 19 out of 20 sexual offences, 19 out of 20 violence offences and all 20 robbery offences. This is very good.

Where a crime has been cancelled or transferred to another force for investigation, 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 of the 42 victims who should have been informed of the transfer or cancellation, 34 had been. This is an area for improvement.

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 all victims of crime. We have concluded that the constabulary is aware of its responsibilities under this code.

All victims of crime whose reports of crime are recorded by Lancashire Constabulary (except victims of domestic abuse, rape and serious sexual offences who are referred to other more specialist services) are offered the services of Lancashire Victim Services and can receive the relevant information by text, email or letter. These communications contain information about individual victims’ cases and, in addition to directing them to these services, also provide them with details of other relevant organisations that can provide them with support.

The delays we found in the recording of some reports of crime together with the failure to record a high number of reported crimes means that referrals to Lancashire Victim Services are either delayed or not made at all.

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. We found that the constabulary only records basic equality information in relation to the victim such as age and gender.

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 is, therefore, an area for improvement.

Officer and staff survey

We conducted a survey of officers and staff in Lancashire Constabulary of their experience in respect of crime-recording. 43 respondents completed the survey. Of these 43, the majority of respondents believed that doing the right thing for the victim is the aim of the constabulary and stated that this has been reinforced by senior managers.

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

graded good

We found that crime-recording expectations had been publicised to officers and staff by senior leaders. Messages to officers and staff were clear and unambiguous.

We also found that officers and staff are placing the needs of the victim at the heart of their crime-recording decisions. However, the constabulary needs to reinforce among officers and staff that all reports of crime must be recorded even in cases where the victim chooses not to support an investigation or prosecution.

Progress has been made 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. However, whilst the constabulary had made progress with the recommendations for improvement made in our 2014 report; we found that not all of these improvements have been maintained. This regression is undermining the effectiveness and efficiency of its crime-recording requirements.

The constabulary has improved its use of out-of-court disposals (such as cautions or community resolutions). Inspectors were impressed with the process for monitoring all such disposals, including the use of independent scrutiny panels. Procedural documents are clear and concise; these ensure that considerations as to the suitability of the use of the disposal for both the victim and offender are very good.

Conclusion

We conclude that Lancashire Constabulary’s overall crime-recording arrangements are inadequate. The constabulary also needs to address shortcomings in its auditing procedures and improve resilience in this area.

The strong leadership and positive approach among officers and staff toward victims of crime is welcome, and we note the areas of good practice in regard to the cancellation of recorded crimes and the recording of reports of modern slavery.

HMICFRS also 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 urgently to make progress implementing recommendations we make in this report.

The serious causes of concern found during this inspection are such that HMICFRS will re-visit the constabulary in 2018 to assess progress.