Northumbria Police: Crime Data Integrity inspection 2016

Overall judgment

graded requires improvement

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

  • has worked hard to improve the knowledge and understanding of crime-recording requirements among officers and staff within its public protection department;
  • to further improve crime-recording accuracy, is introducing a process of crime-recording at the first point the force receives a report of a crime;
  • has made good progress in implementing the recommendations set out in our 2014 report and against a national action plan developed to improve crime-recording by police forces; and
  • has made substantial progress in its procedures in respect of the cancellation of recorded crimes.

Work remains to be done, however. Despite advances, the force is failing some 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 7,300 reported crimes each year. This represents a recording rate of 92.72 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.56 percent.) The 7.28 percent of reported crimes that go unrecorded include serious crimes, such as violence and sexual offences including rape. In addition, the force had not recorded all reported crimes of modern slavery. Improvements in efficiency are therefore required in some areas.

In particular, we consider that these failures are due to an insufficient understanding of crime-recording requirements by officers and staff compounded by limited supervision to correct these decisions at the earliest opportunity.

Summary of inspection findings

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

  • has improved the knowledge and understanding of crime-recording requirements among officers and staff within its public protection department;
  • has made progress with implementing changes recommended in the 2014 report; and
  • has also made good progress against the national action plan, developed by the national lead on crime statistics following the 2014 report, and which all forces have been asked to implement. This includes clear messages from senior officers throughout the force in relation to putting the victim first.

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

  • two deputy FCRs who have also completed the national course and are working towards full accreditation;
  • a small audit team; and
  • Operation Verify, which is a group of staff responsible for the daily oversight of incidents and which the force intends will improve the accuracy of its crime-recording.

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

  • The force is currently under-recording:
    • violent crimes;
    • sexual offences, including rape; and
    • crimes reported to public protection teams.

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

  • Referrals by the force to the victim support agency can take several days, letting down those victims who need the early support this agency can provide.
  • The force does not always record diversity information when it first receives a report of a crime. This means that the force does not know how likely its crime-recording decisions are to be correct for specific communities.

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

The force is aware of these deficiencies and as part of its response has taken the decision that most crimes will be recorded at the first point at which the force receives the report of a crime, usually during the initial conversation with the person reporting. At the time of the inspection it was planned to commence this process from October 2016. We welcome these developments.

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 the decisions of officers and staff and improve standards from the outset. This includes domestic abuse crimes. This means that the force is failing many victims of crime.

The force is failing to ensure it adequately records all reports of rape and sexual offences, is on some occasions not believing the victim of these reports and is incorrectly using classification N100. The force has a dedicated audit team which audits regularly such incidents but needs to improve the effectiveness of these audits to ensure such serious offences are not missed.

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, Northumbria Police should develop and operate a new process for the recording of reported crime on NPICCS (its crime-recording system). This process should ensure that:
    • multiple crimes are recorded when described within incident records;
    • resilience of staff recording crimes under the proposed new process is sufficient to secure efficient and effective crime-recording in accordance with the rules; and
    • the suitability and effectiveness of both Winscribe (voicemail reporting system) and diary cars (appointments system) within the crime-recording process are reviewed.
  • Within three months, the force should develop and implement procedures for the effective supervision of crime-recording decisions throughout the whole force.
  • Within three months, the force should take steps within its contact centre to ensure that all relevant detail from conversations between contact handlers and callers is adequately summarised in the incident log, thus providing attending officers with full facts on which to base their crime-recording decisions.
  • 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 for complex crimes such as online offences, sexual offences and rape; including the presumption that, at the point of report, the victim should always be believed; and
    • use of classification N100 in respect of reports of rape.
  • Within three months, the force should review its auditing arrangements in respect of sexual offences, rape and use of the N100 classification and ensure that they meet minimum standards for such audits.

Areas for improvement

  • Within six months, the force should improve its auditing of third party reports to better understand from these reports where it is failing in its crime recording responsibilities.
  • Within six months, the force should improve the knowledge of its frontline staff of modern slavery crimes.
  • Within six months, the force should review the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Document) and ensure its systems and processes enable it to satisfy the expectations within this code.
  • The force 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.
  • Within three months, the force should improve how it records suspect eligibility when making an out-of-court disposal decision.

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

graded requires improvement

Overall crime-recording rate

92.72% of reported crimes 
were recorded

Over 7,300 reports of crime 
a year are not recorded

The force 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 records of reports of crime which the force received, and for which an auditable record was created. The force informed HMIC that all crime that is recorded (excluding fraud) came through an auditable crime reporting route.

We found that the force recorded 92.72 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.56 percent). We estimate that this means the force is not recording over 7,300 reports of crime each year. Those failings are depriving many victims of the services to which they are entitled.

Of a total of 1,211 reports of crime that we audited, we found 178 crimes that we assessed to be crimes related to domestic abuse. Of these 178 crimes, the force had recorded 167. The 11 offences not recorded included sexual offences and offences of violence. In the majority of these cases safeguarding requirements had been considered. However, as domestic abuse often involves victims who are particularly vulnerable to further offences being committed against them the importance of recording reported crimes of domestic abuse cannot be overstated. This under-recording of these offences is, therefore, a cause of concern.

Factors contributing to the 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 effectively oversee crime-recording decisions.

  • Deficiencies in the force’s crime-recording processes are a cause of concern. In particular, we found that, on occasion:
    • incident records that contain multiple reports sometimes result in only one crime being recorded;
    • there is a lack of resilience in the information assessment and response unit (IARU) which is the force crime recording bureau; and
    • there are deficiencies in the process for officers to request the creation of a crime record when using the force reporting system (known as Winscribe). This system is used between midnight and 7am, and at other times when officers cannot get through to the IARU on the telephone to request the creation of a crime record on the force crime-recording system, known as the Northumbria Police Integrated Computer and Communications System (NPICCS). The Winscribe process takes longer for officers to complete and places the pending crime report into a queue, which delays creation of the crime record.
  • When dealing with complex crimes the call handlers, audit staff, supervisors and response officers are not always sure of the crime-recording requirements. Some staff lack confidence and knowledge when dealing with more complex crimes such as rape, sexual offences, cyber crime and harassment.
  • Frontline supervisors do not have the capacity to scrutinise adequately all crime related incidents (as the force expects) to satisfy themselves that crime-recording decisions are correct.
  • Some call handlers do not always record on the incident log full details of the conversation they have had with the person reporting a crime. This means the attending officer does not always have the full information on which to base a crime-recording decision.
  • A small number of staff, including sergeants and supervisors, do not always believe the account of the victim at the point of report.

The HOCR require that crimes should be recorded without delay and, in any case, within 24 hours. We found that of the reported crimes we examined, and which were recorded by the force, nine out of 107 rape offences, 75 out of 343 violence offences and 69 out of 296 sexual offences were not recorded within 24 hours. The delay to the recording of these crimes can be attributed to several factors:

  • the Winscribe process described above;
  • the use of diary cars in some areas of the force which allow for delayed visits to victims of crime, often several days after the initial report and which, in turn, lead to delays to the recording of the reported crime;
  • the lack of resilience in the IARU; and
  • workload pressure on frontline officers and supervision.

A referral to the victim support agency is made when the crime is first recorded, so any delay in recording beyond 24 hours may let down, to an unacceptable degree, those victims who need the early support this agency can provide.

We note that the FCR operates a feedback process to draw crime-recording mistakes to the attention of the relevant officer or staff member. Operation Verify staff contact the officer or staff member directly if they are on duty, along with their supervision, to require any missed crimes to be recorded. If not on duty, the details are sent to a local chief inspector and the supervisor involved for them to address. We found that this is applied consistently across the force. This is good practice and is supporting the force in improving its officers and staff’s understanding of crime-recording requirements.

We note, in concluding this section, that the force:

  • has already committed to introducing crime recording at the first point at which the force receives a report of a crime;
  • has made changes to its crime recording IT system NPICCS which will enable staff to record crime more efficiently within the contact centre;
  • is recruiting 24 extra staff to provide greater capacity and resilience within its contact centre; and
  • is providing training to new and existing contact centre staff on the crime-recording rules, in order to ensure that when they assume this responsibility they will make consistent and accurate crime-recording decisions.

The force intends that these developments will remove most crime recording decisions from frontline staff who attend incidents, to provide greater consistency in its contact centre staff’s crime-recording decisions, and to further improve the overall efficiency of its crime-recording arrangements. HMIC welcomes these developments.

Violence against the person

93.72% of reported violent crimes 
were recorded

Over 1,400 reports of violent crime a year are not recorded

We found that 93.72 percent of violent crimes reported to the force are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.46 percent). This is slightly higher than the overall crime-recording rate noted above. By our estimate, the force fails to record over 1,400 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 further improvement to the recording of reported crime is particularly important.

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

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

Victims of violent crime, and in particular those victims who receive physical injuries, often require substantial support. This support should come not only from the police but may also come from other appropriate agencies, such as Victims First Northumbria. In those circumstances, crime-recording takes on a heightened importance. Failing to properly record a violent crime can result in victim support agencies receiving no notification that a person has become a victim of violent crime. That, in turn, deprives victims of the support they need and deserve. This finding is, therefore, an area for improvement.

Sexual offences

91.93% of reported sex offences 
were recorded

Over 240 reports of sex offence crime 
a year are not recorded

The force’s recording of reports of sexual offences is a cause of concern. We found that the force records 91.93 percent of sexual offence crimes that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.68 percent). This means that we estimate that the force fails to record over 240 sexual offences that are reported to it each year.

Those failings are significant given the very serious nature of sexual offences and the harm that they cause to their victims. We found, for example, that the force had failed to record reports of sexual assault against both adults and children, sexual activity with a child and incitement of children to commit a sexual act.

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

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

We are also concerned that the validation and audit process is not sufficiently effective to identify these incorrect recording decisions.

Rape

107 of 120 audited rape reports were accurately recorded

We found 120 reports of rape that should have been recorded but only 107 had been recorded. These include reports that originated on the force incident system and from a review of records used to justify not recording a report of rape (known as N100s). Three of these thirteen missed crimes involved particularly vulnerable victims. We found that the level and extent of the service provided to these victims falls substantially short of acceptable standards. These cases were immediately brought to the attention of the force to address. Four of the missed rape crimes had been incorrectly recorded as other serious sexual offences.

The causes of that under-recording and misclassification are the same as were identified above in respect of sexual offences. These are:

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

As with sexual offences, we are again concerned that the validation and audit process is not sufficiently effective to identify these incorrect recording decisions.

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 14 incident reports for which the force should have applied an N100 classification. However, it was only applied on six occasions.

Separately we also reviewed 20 sample records where an N100 classification had been used. Among these we found five reports that the force should have recorded as crimes of rape. We found that on three occasions the reason for this failure to record a crime of rape was because of a practice to undertake to investigate the reported crime before making the recording decision. Crimes can and should be recorded at the first point of contact with the police in all but the most exceptional circumstances; and at this point there should be a presumption that the victim should always be believed. The practice of investigating first and recording later should be abandoned immediately.

Staff in the audit team had a clear understanding of what type of incident required an N100 classification. However, we found that frontline officers and, in particular, contact centre staff, had very little knowledge of the purpose and use of this classification. Knowledge among specialist staff in the public protection department was better. The force must ensure that it consistently uses classification N100 on all relevant occasions in order to minimise the delay in recording an offence of rape.

The recording of a report of rape is important. Victims generally require significant support from the very outset and any delay in providing support can be detrimental to the recovery of the victim and any investigation, which in turn can influence negatively any future judicial proceedings. The failure to record some reports of rape, including the incorrect use of the classification N100 is, therefore, a cause of concern.

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

graded inadequate

Crime reports held on other systems

17 of 20 vulnerable victim crimes were recorded

In order to be confident that vulnerable victims always receive the support they need, the force must ensure that it always records crimes reported directly to its public protection teams.

We examined 50 vulnerable victim records on the force’s NPICCS database. Of these we found that 11 crimes should have been recorded, of which 8 had been. The missed crimes included assault occasioning actual bodily harm and a modern slavery offence.

We also examined 20 referrals from other agencies (such as health or social services) that were received by email into the public protection department. Within these we found 9 crimes that should have been recorded, all of which were recorded. However, of these only four were recorded within 24 hours of receipt of the report, as required by the rules. The timeliness of the recording of these crimes is important as any delay may affect the service and support provided to the victim, many of whom are vulnerable.

We note, with approval, that the force has worked hard to improve the knowledge and understanding of crime-recording requirements among officers and staff within its public protection department. They have received tailored training from the FCR and his staff. Detective sergeants are now designated as responsible for assessing third party referrals from partner agencies and ensuring accurate crime-recording. We found a very positive approach among staff in this department, who clearly understood the need and importance of accurate crime-recording.

The FCR audits regularly vulnerability records. Many of these reports of crime are serious matters, often involving vulnerable adults and children. Therefore the audits should provide important assurance for the force as to the robustness of its public protection arrangements. As our audit shows that the force still has some work to do to ensure accurate crime recording within this department, particularly in regard to the recording of third party reports of crime, 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 forces’ understanding of the origin of such reports.

In addition to the one missing recorded crime of modern slavery identified in our audit of reports made direct to public protection teams, we also reviewed nine modern slavery crime records held by the force. We found all were correctly recorded. We also found that three additional offences of violence related to these reports were correctly recorded as crimes, but that two further offences, one of violence and one of criminal damage were not recorded.

We also looked at 16 modern slavery reports from the force modern slavery database. From these, we found eight modern slavery crimes correctly identified and recorded. We also found other additional crimes correctly identified and recorded including one rape, ten sexual offences, one crime of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and one of blackmail. The force failed to record from this database one crime of common assault.

The force has a limited understanding of the origins of reports about modern slavery. It accepts that it needs to do more work both nationally and regionally to better understand the issues of modern slavery so that it can improve its response. It is developing links with charities specialising in this area in order to improve how it deals with such incidents. Notably, the force is working with Hope For Justice and West Yorkshire Police in order to develop a regional response to this issue.

The force has a well established approach to managing its modern slavery investigations within either its serious and organised crime unit (SOCU) or within Operation Sanctuary, a force-wide operation for investigating child and adult exploitation. We note, however, that most non-specialist staff have a very limited knowledge of modern slavery offences. This is, therefore, an area for 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. In this respect we found that the force has made substantial progress since the 2014 report.

The force has introduced a system in which those staff able to make a crime cancellation decision, known as designated decision makers (DDMs), must now be of the rank of chief inspector. This is a positive decision which should lead to more consistent decisions that comply with the crime-recording rules.

We reviewed 20 cancelled recorded crimes of rape, other sexual offences and violence, and four cancelled recorded crimes of robbery. We found that the FCR had clear oversight of rape cancellations, all of which were found to be correct, but that of the remaining records audited one sexual offence and one violent crime were incorrectly cancelled.

Frontline staff have good knowledge of AVI and are confident in 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 nearly all occasions. This is good and demonstrates appropriate consideration of victims’ needs.

Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Document) provides clear guidance to police forces regarding the service that should be provided to all victims of crime. We have concluded that the force is not complying with all of its responsibilities.

The delays in the force’s recording of some crimes means that its referrals to the victim support agency Victims First Northumbria are often delayed. A large number of victims are not being provided with the opportunity to access this support at an early stage.

We also found that the force does not have a process to ensure that it provides all victims of crime with a written acknowledgement that they have reported a crime, including the basic details of the offence recorded. As this is compulsory under the code, this needs addressing. We note, however, that the force is considering a digitised solution which will involve either an automated email or text message to all victims of crime containing the necessary information. We encourage the force to make progress in this regard without delay.

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.

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, therefore, is an area for improvement.

Officer and staff survey

We conducted a survey of officers and staff in Northumbria Police of their experience in respect of crime-recording. Some 353 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 majority of officers and staff which places the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions.

The force has made good progress against the national action plan, developed by the national lead on crime statistics following the 2014 report, and which all forces have been asked to implement. This includes clear messages from senior officers throughout the force in relation to putting the victim first.

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

Conclusion

Northumbria 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 officers and staff toward victims is welcome, however, the force needs to improve the crime-recording process and ensure that its staff and officers fully understand the crime-recording standards expected of them, and that these standards are supervised effectively. The 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 force, as with all forces, may be subject to a further unannounced crime data integrity inspection at any time.