Merseyside Police: Crime Data Integrity inspection 2016

Overall judgment

graded inadequate

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

  • the initial service provided to victims of rape is very good;
  • the force has made good progress against a national action plan developed to improve crime-recording by police forces;
  • where crimes are recorded, the force has effective processes to provide tailored support to victims based on their individual needs; and
  • since March 2016 the force has changed the process for crime recording so that the majority of reports of crime are recorded at the initial point of contact with the victim.

Much work remains to be done, however. Despite these advances, the force 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 force fails to record over 19,200 reported crimes each year. This represents a recording rate of 84.16 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.07 percent). The 15.84 percent of reported crimes that go unrecorded include serious crimes such as violence and sexual offences (excluding rape). The recording rate for violent crime is a particular cause of concern at only 81.37 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 3.23 percent). This means that on too many occasions the force is failing victims of crime.

In particular, we consider that there are too many failures to make the correct crime-recording decision at the first opportunity. These are often 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.

Summary of inspection findings

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

  • the initial service provided to vulnerable victims and victims of rape is very good;
  • progress has been made with implementing changes recommended in the 2014 report, and as a result the force has completed these recommendations;
  • the force has also 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 force’s use of out-of-court disposals (i.e. cautions and community resolutions) and to the level of its audit of crime-recording decisions; and
  • 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 a deputy FCR and a small audit team.

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

  • The force is currently under-recording too many reports of crime, including:
    • violent crimes; and
    • sexual offences (excluding rape).

The force must improve the accuracy of its recording of these reports.

  • The force is incorrectly cancelling some recorded violence offences.
  • The FCR and his team do not have sufficient capacity to audit properly and scrutinise crime-recording decisions.
  • The force must improve its collection of information regarding the effect of criminality on identifiable groups within communities.

Some of these failings are a consequence of officers and staff not understanding their responsibilities in terms of crime-recording. They are in addition, underpinned by limited supervision by the force to support officers and staff in making good and prompt crime-recording decisions.

The force is aware of these deficiencies and as part of its response has taken the decision that as many crimes as possible will be recorded by suitably trained staff at the first point the force receives the report of a crime, usually during the initial conversation with the person reporting it to the Force Contact Centre (FCC).

Cause of concern

Officers and staff are failing to make correct crime-recording decisions at the first opportunity. This is due to deficiencies in the force’s crime-recording processes, insufficient understanding of crime-recording requirements, and limited supervision to correct decisions made by officers and staff and improve standards from the outset. This includes domestic abuse crimes and means that the force is failing many victims of crime.

The extent of auditing carried out by the FCR must improve in order to properly establish the accuracy of crime recording decisions made by officers and staff and to identify the remedial action necessary to improve these decisions.

Recommendations

  • Immediately, the force 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 six months, Merseyside Police should ensure that crimes reported to its officers and staff are recorded accurately and without delay. In particular it must 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; and
    • multiple crimes are recorded when disclosed during the initial call, during subsequent contact with the victim or during the course of an investigation.
  • Within six months, the force should design and provide crime-recording training that is bespoke to the level of knowledge required by officers and staff for their roles. Where appropriate, this should include training in the:
    • crime-recording requirements necessary for complex crimes such as online offences and fraud; and
    • use of classification N100 in respect of reports of rape.
  • Within three months, the force should develop and implement procedures for the effective supervision of crime-recording decisions throughout the whole force.
  • Within six months, the force should review the extent of its crime-recording related auditing and implement arrangements which ensure that its auditing of these records meet the national minimum standards for such audits.

Areas for improvement

  • Within three months, the force should reinforce the need to record third party reports of rape where the person reporting the rape is a professional.
  • Within six months, the force should ensure that decisions to cancel reported crimes are correct and are appropriately supervised.
  • The force should immediately improve how it collects diversity information from all victims of crime and how it uses this to inform its compliance with its equality duty.
  • The force should immediately take steps to put in place arrangements that ensure that it identifies, records and investigates all sexual offence allegations.

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

graded inadequate

Overall crime-recording rate

84.16% of reported crimes 
were recorded

Over 19,200 reports of crime a year are not recorded

The force has considerable 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 force informed HMIC that 96.1 percent of crime that is recorded (excluding fraud) came through an auditable record was created. This does not mean that 96.1 percent of crimes reported to Merseyside Police came through these routes but that 96.1 percent of crime is recorded this way.

We found that the force recorded 84.16 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.07 percent). We estimate that this means the force is not recording over 19,200 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 1,554 reports of crime that we audited, we found 255 crimes that we assessed to be crimes related to domestic abuse. Of these 255 crimes, the force had recorded 200. The 55 offences not recorded included five sexual offences, nine other offences and importantly, 41 offences of violence. 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. A review of those offences which had not been recorded did however reveal that attending officers, where needed, did complete risk assessments and considered the safeguarding needs of victims. Nevertheless, the under-recording of domestic related violence offences is a cause of concern.

Factors contributing to the force’s under-recording of crime reports are its crime-recording processes, the crime-recording knowledge of its workforce, and the limited capacity of supervision to oversee crime-recording decisions effectively.

  • Deficiencies in the force’s crime-recording processes are a cause of concern. In particular, we found that, on occasion:
    • when there is a need to deploy an officer to attend an incident, the decision regarding whether or not to record a crime is left to the officer. Our audit showed that the crime-recording decisions made by attending officers are too often wrong and display a lack of understanding of the crime-recording standards. A large number of the failures identified were in relation to offences of violence, which are almost always attended by an officer in the first instance, and this is of particular concern;
    • attending officers do not understand some of the more complex offences such as harassment, malicious communications and public order;
    • supervision of the force’s response to reports of crime and its later crime-recording decisions are inconsistent. It is the responsibility of the staff in the FCC to ensure that the rationale for not recording a crime is correct. This is clearly not happening. Many log entries on the force incident system, STORM, contained the entry “The CRDM is the attending officer, the call handler’s role is purely to deploy to the incident.” CRDM stands for Crime Recording Decision Maker, and this makes it clear that attending officers are responsible for many of those occasions where there is a failure to record a crime. The absence of intervention by the FCC staff, including supervisors, to ensure that all identified crimes are recorded is letting down victims of crime and is unacceptable; and
    • supervisors at a local level also believe that they have no responsibility for ensuring their officers correctly record reports of crime. Consequently, crime-recording standards are not clearly set and officers are not being made aware of incorrect crime-recording decisions.
  • Many unrecorded crimes result from incidents where more than one crime or victim is identified. On too many occasions, attending officers and staff are failing to identify these additional offences and ensure they are recorded. Again, the lack of effective supervision at both FCC and local levels fails to rectify the situation by identifying these crimes.
  • The FCR has insufficient capacity to properly establish the accuracy of crime recording decisions being made by officers and staff or identify the remedial action necessary to improve these decisions.

We note in concluding this section that the force decided in October 2015 to remove its log closure team, which had been responsible for ensuring that crime recording decisions were correct. This was to be replaced by trained staff within the FCC, making crime recording decisions at the initial point of contact. This did not commence until March 2016 and so for the period of time in between there was no additional scrutiny. It is highly likely that the decision to remove this scrutiny without adequate contingency to cover the intervening period, has led in part to the results identified in our audit.

HMIC welcomes the move to crime recording at the point of contact, which will improve the service to victims of crime, in particular where the decision to record the crime generates a referral to support services.

Violence against the person

81.37% of reported violent crimes 
were recorded

Over 5,600 reports of violent crime a year are not recorded

We found that 81.37 percent of violent crimes reported to the force are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 3.23 percent). This is lower than the overall recording rate noted above. By our estimate, this means the force fails to record over 5,600 violent crimes that are reported to it each year. As violent crime can be particularly distressing for the victim, this is an area where the need for improvement is particularly acute.

Many of these crimes involve injury, which can cause further distress for the victim. We therefore find the recording of reports of violent crime by the force is a serious cause of concern.

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

  • a failure to record a crime at the first point of contact, thereby relying on attending officers, many of whom do not understand adequately the crime-recording rules;
  • a failure to identify additional crimes and victims when dealing with incidents;
  • a lack of understanding of the complexities found in some violence offences such as harassment, resulting 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 serious violence, often require substantial support. This support should come not only from the police but from other appropriate agencies, such as Victim Support. Under 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. This in turn deprives victims of the support they need and deserve. This finding is therefore, a cause of concern.

Sexual offences

91.18% of reported sex offences 
were recorded

Over 220 reports of sex offence crime a year are not recorded

The force’s recording of reports of sexual offences (excluding rape) must improve. We found that the force records 91.18 percent of sexual offence crimes that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/-2.94 percent). This means that each year we estimate that the force fails to record over 220 reported sexual offence crimes that are reported to it.

Those failings are significant given the very serious nature of sexual offences and the harm they cause to their victims. We found, for example, that the force had failed to record reports of sexual assaults against 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 understanding of the complexities found in some sexual offences such as some online sexual offences, resulting in the failure to record many such reports of crime;
  • a lack of adequate knowledge regarding crime-recording rules by officers and staff; and
  • an absence of adequate supervision of crime-recording decisions.

Rape

84 of 85 audited rape reports were accurately recorded

We found that Merseyside Police recorded 84 out of 85 reports of rape that we audited during this inspection. Although incorrectly classified, the remaining single report of rape had been recorded as a serious sexual offence, with an investigation undertaken and the victim provided with the service and support necessary.

Of the 84 reports of rape, we found that 69 reports originated on the force incident system, nine were third party reports initially created as classification N100 (see below), two originated from reports of modern slavery and four originated from vulnerable victim reports.

In this respect, we found that officers and staff understood well their crime-recording responsibilities. The force has worked hard to ensure this and has effective systems in place to validate its rape crime-recording decisions. Rape investigators work within a unit called UNITY and staff are available for advice and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Frontline officers who generally attend most reports of rape spoke positively about the work of the UNITY team.

However, we found that only 57 out of the 85 rapes had been recorded within 24 hours of receipt of the report, as required by the rules. While we found no delays in commencing rape investigations, the force should ensure that the delays to the recording of reported crimes of rape are not due to officers failing to believe the victim’s first report, choosing instead to investigate before recording the reported crime.

There are in addition, some issues surrounding the force’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 force area and was therefore transferred to the relevant force to record and investigate.

We found 19 incident reports for which the force should have applied an N100 classification. However, it was only applied on 11 occasions. Four of the missing N100 classifications related to crimes transferred to other police forces to investigate as the offences had occurred in their area. The other four related to unsubstantiated third party reports.

Separately, we also reviewed 20 sample records where an N100 classification had been used. Nine were correctly used and of a good standard. Two were incorrectly used as they were not rape allegations and the remaining nine were converted to rape crimes. Eight of these should have been recorded as rape crimes from the outset as they were third party reports from professionals, such as social services. Despite these recording errors, we found that there was no delay in providing the necessary support to the victim or in commencing an investigation.

Understanding of the purpose and use of classification N100 was found to be inconsistent within the FCC, and among those staff involved in safeguarding investigations. The force must ensure that it consistently uses classification N100 on 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 requires improvement

Crime reports held on other systems

58 of 61 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 the force’s public protection teams are always recorded. We were pleased to find that the force works hard to ensure that this is the case.

We examined 50 vulnerable victim records on the force’s database (called NICHE). Of these, we found that 61 crimes should have been recorded, of which 58 had been. The three crimes which were not recorded were two sexual offences and a breach of a non-molestation order. These were multiple offences, disclosed during investigation. The victims were being supported by officers and staff.

The force has developed multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASHs) that work in partnership with other agencies to support vulnerable adults and children. Staff had a clear understanding of their responsibilities with regards to crime-recording matters disclosed to them during meetings, case conferences and ongoing investigations. There is also good oversight from supervisors including reviews of minutes from meetings to ensure all disclosed crimes are recorded. This is borne out by the good level of compliance disclosed during our audit.

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 force’s understanding of the origin of such reports.

We reviewed 14 modern slavery crime records and found all were correctly recorded. We found that 11 additional offences related to these crimes were correctly recorded; these included four crimes of rape.

We also looked at 21 modern slavery incident records from the force modern slavery database. From these we found two reports of modern slavery that were not recorded on the force’s crime-recording system (NICHE). However, we found that the victims had been safeguarded as other crimes had been recorded on their behalf, and were being investigated.

The force has a good understanding of the origins of reports about modern slavery but accepts that there is more work needed to better understand the issues of modern slavery both nationally and regionally, so that it can improve its response. We note that staff, however, had a good basic knowledge of modern slavery offences. We also found that staff had a good basic knowledge of their respective responsibilities in relation to the recording of such offences and knew where they could obtain further information.

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 Merseyside Police’s performance to be good. This is particularly the case in respect of the most serious offences.

We reviewed 20 cancelled recorded crimes of rape, violence, other sexual offences and recorded crimes of robbery. The FCR had oversight of all cancelled crimes and we found that all rape and robbery offences were correctly cancelled. We also found that 19 out of 20 sexual offences were correctly cancelled, but only 15 out of 20 offences of violence were correctly cancelled. The FCR attributed the incorrectly cancelled crimes to a newly recruited auditor, but accepted that supervision of that staff member should have been more effective.

Nevertheless, by ensuring that only the FCR and his team can cancel crimes, the force does generally make correct decisions.

Frontline staff have good knowledge of AVI and are confident submitting cancellation requests. They also understand clearly the process for doing so.

Where a crime has been cancelled, victims should always know the status of their reported crime. In the case of a decision to cancel a recorded crime, the very least victims should expect is an explanation of the reason for this decision. We found that the force had informed victims of this decision on all but two 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 they should provide to the victims of crime. We have concluded that the force is aware of its responsibilities under this code. In particular, we found that, after the force records a crime, it provides victims with their crime number. It also refers all victims to Victim Support, unless they choose to opt out of this offer.

Additionally, the force completes an initial assessment of needs and later a detailed assessment of needs. Where appropriate, victims are also referred to additional support organisations commissioned by the police and crime commissioner to provide this support.

HMIC found this to be a good service for victims of crime.

Equality

HMIC found that the force must improve its collection of information regarding the effect of criminality on 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 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 force collects this information routinely in hate crime investigations (for example religious hatred or hatred predicated on a person’s ethnicity) where the protected characteristic is deemed to be a motive for the crime. It analyses and maps this information and uses it to adapt the service it provides to its communities. However, the force does not routinely collect this information for those crimes which are not identified as hate crimes. Importantly, so long as the force 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 Merseyside Police of their experience in respect of crime-recording. Some 221 respondents completed the survey. We were pleased to find that the majority of respondents reported that the force’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 with regard to crime-recording expectations, and an approach among the vast majority of officers and staff that places the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions.

The force has made good progress against the action plan, developed by the national policing lead on crime statistics following our 2014 report, and which all forces have been asked to implement. These include improvements to the force’s use of out-of-court disposals (i.e. cautions and community resolutions) and to the level of its audit of crime-recording decisions.

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

Conclusion

Merseyside Police 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 vast majority of officers and staff toward victims is welcome. However, the force needs to improve the crime-recording process, ensuring that its staff and officers fully understand the crime-recording standards expected of them, and that these standards are supervised effectively. The force also needs to address shortcomings in, and the resilience of, its auditing procedures.

What next?

HMIC expects the force to make progress with implementing the recommendations we make in this report. We will monitor this progress.

The serious causes of concern found during this inspection are such that HMIC will re-visit the force during 2017 to assess progress.