Suffolk Constabulary Crime Data Integrity inspection 2019

Overall judgment

graded requires improvement

Since our 2014 inspection, Suffolk Constabulary has made a concerted effort to record crime more accurately. We found that officers and staff have a greater understanding of the importance of crime recording standards and of putting the victim at the centre of their crime recording decisions.

We also found the force:

  • created and implemented a crime data integrity (CDI) action plan to address our 2014 recommendations and areas for improvement;
  • introduced an investigation team which conducts initial investigations into incidents that don’t need attendance and records any associated crimes;
  • introduced an incident management unit (IMU) which reviews incidents to make sure they comply with Home Office Counting Rules (PDF document) (HOCR); and
  • implemented feedback processes, so officers and staff who make errors can learn the correct requirements for their future crime recording decisions.

Work remains to be done, however. We examined crime reports from 1 December 2018 to 31 May 2019. Based on this, we estimate that the force records 91.0 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.67 percent) of crimes reported to it. We estimate that the force fails to record over 5,300 reported crimes each year. The 9 percent of reported crimes that go unrecorded include sexual and violence offences. It is a cause of concern that the recording rate for violent crime is only 84.3 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.84 percent). And many of these unrecorded violent crimes are cases of domestic abuse.

These failures are due to not all officers and staff fully understanding the crime recording rules. This also applies to frontline supervisors, so the opportunity to correct these decisions is frequently missed.

Summary of findings

The force has improved its crime recording accuracy since our 2014 report. We found it has:

  • provided crime recording training to designated decision makers (DDMs), new officers and control room staff;
  • improved supervision of out-of-court disposals, such as cautions and community resolutions;
  • implemented a flexible and risk-based audit programme;
  • used audit results to inform training and improve crime recording standards; and
  • implemented all the recommendations from our 2014 report.

The force crime registrar (FCR) and his deputy are responsible for oversight and audit of crime recording requirements. They have both completed a National College of Policing course for FCRs and are fully accredited for the role.

The force records rape crimes, and incidents requiring an N100 classification, at first point of contact. But this isn’t the case for other reported crime types. Even when there was enough evidence to record a crime on first contact, in the vast majority of cases the recording was delayed until after an officer spoke to the caller personally. This is unnecessary and often inefficient. It leads to delays in recording crimes and too often means that reported crimes are not recorded at all. The force commonly doesn’t investigate these unrecorded crimes.

At the time of our inspection, we found a large backlog of crimes waiting for validation by the IMU. This is a risk to the force. It leads to delays in recording crimes and a reduced level of service for some victims. The force had plans to address this backlog, but these plans were yet to be introduced.

Also, the force’s crime recording arrangements still need to improve in the following areas. It must:

  • make sure that all supervisors, officers and staff working in a crime recording role fully understand the crime recording rules, particularly for reports of common assault, harassment, malicious communications, coercive and controlling behaviour, and stalking;
  • make sure it always records reports of crime received from professional third parties, particularly through the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) or multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC);
  • record more crimes within 24 hours as required by the national crime recording standard; and
  • improve how it collects equality information to help it understand and respond to the effect of criminality on identifiable groups within its communities.

We note that the force had identified some of these problems at the time of our inspection. To address them, in July 2019 it introduced a violent crime incident closure team. The team consists of experienced officers and staff who conduct ‘live time’ auditing of all violence incidents. It seeks to make sure that:

  • officers correctly identify and record all these crimes immediately after attendance; and
  • any errors are corrected at the earliest available opportunity.

When officers make mistakes, the closure team has developmental conversations with them. This is to make sure they understand why corrections are needed and to prevent it happening again. The force has also developed a mandatory training package for all frontline sergeants, to improve supervisory oversight of crime recording standards and investigations. These are welcome developments.

Cause of concern

Suffolk Constabulary is failing to make sure it correctly records all violent crimes (including domestic abuse) reported to it. At times officers and staff do not fully understand and apply the crime recording rules when dealing with crimes like common assault, harassment, malicious communications, coercive and controlling behaviour, and stalking. There is also limited supervision to correct these recording decisions at the earliest opportunity.

Recommendations

The force should immediately:

  • take steps to identify and address gaps in its systems and processes for identifying and recording all reports of violent crimes (in particular those that are related to domestic abuse);
  • review the crime recording processes for MARAC meetings to make sure crimes are not missed;
  • make sure IMU staff in the MASH are fully trained and crime recording decisions are scrutinised, so that all reports of crime from professional third parties are recorded;
  • provide further crime recording training for all supervisors, officers and staff working in a crime recording role, to include the recording rules for common assault, harassment, malicious communications, coercive and controlling behaviour, and stalking; and
  • make sure that it adequately supervises all crime recording decisions made by officers and staff.

Areas for improvement

The force should immediately make sure that it:

  • reviews its backlog of crime records waiting for validation, acts appropriately to deal with the backlog, and validates records promptly in the future;
  • records more crimes within 24 hours as required by the national crime recording standard; and
  • improves how it collects diversity information from crime victims and uses this to inform its compliance with its equality duty.

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

Overall crime recording rate

graded inadequate

91.0% of reported crimes were recorded

The force must do more to make sure it records all crime reports in accordance with the HOCR.

We examined reports of crime which the force received, and for which it had created an auditable record. The force told us that 86.5 percent of crime it records (excluding fraud) comes through an auditable crime recording route. This doesn’t mean that 86.5 percent of crimes reported to Suffolk Constabulary come through these routes, but that 86.5 percent of crime is recorded this way.

We found that the force recorded 91.0 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.67 percent). We estimate that this means the force is not recording more than 5,300 reports of crime each year. This is not simply a failure of administration. In many of these cases victims are being deprived of the services they are entitled to, investigations are not taking place and offenders are not being brought to justice.

In most cases where the force still doesn’t record crimes, we found this was because:

  • officers and staff don’t always fully understand and apply changes made in April 2018 to the recording requirements for coercive and controlling behaviour, malicious communications, stalking and harassment;
  • officers and staff don’t always follow the crime recording rules for non-injury assaults or reports received from third party professionals;
  • officers and staff don’t always record a proper explanation for why they haven’t recorded a crime;
  • when victims don’t wish to support an investigation, officers sometimes don’t record the crime; and
  • incident records that contain multiple reports of crime often result incorrectly in only one crime report being recorded.

Of the 1,203 reports of crime we audited, we assessed 373 as related to domestic abuse. Of these, the force had recorded 299. The 74 missed crimes included:

  • 66 violent crimes;
  • two sexual offences; and
  • six other crimes.

The force hadn’t safeguarded some of the victims of these unrecorded crimes and didn’t investigate most of them.

In many of these cases, there was enough information provided at first contact to record the crime. But the force didn’t record them as crimes, and we found no clear explanation as to why.

Domestic abuse often involves victims who are particularly vulnerable to further offences being committed against them. So, it is vital that the force records such reports of crime and carries out a proportionate investigation.

Violent crimes

84.3% of reported violent crimes were recorded

Over 3,600 reports of violent crime a year are not recorded

We found that 84.3 percent of violent crimes reported to the force are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.84 percent). By our estimate, this means the force fails to record over 3,600 violent crimes that are reported to it each year.

In most cases where the force still doesn’t record violent crimes, this is because some frontline officers fail to identify and record certain crimes. These include common assault, harassment, stalking, malicious communications, and coercive and controlling behaviour.

Victims of violent crime often need a lot of support. This should come from the force, and other appropriate agencies such as Victim Support. In these circumstances, crime recording is even more important. If the force fails to record a violent crime properly, it can mean victims aren’t referred to Victim Support. This deprives victims of the support they need and deserve.

Sexual offences

97.3% of reported sex offences were recorded

The force records 97.3 percent of sexual offence crimes (including rape) that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.13 percent). This is an excellent standard of crime recording accuracy. We estimate that this means the force is not recording over 60 reported sexual offence crimes each year.

This recording rate shows the closer attention the force has chosen to give to reports of sexual offences compared to other reports of crime. It is working hard to make sure sexual offence victims receive the service and support they deserve. This includes a dedicated resource responsible for reviewing all reports of sexual offences to ensure crimes are recorded. This is welcome and is particularly important as many of these crimes are very serious in nature and cause significant harm to their victims.

Suffolk Constabulary has one of the best sexual offence recording rates out of the 41 forces we have inspected to date.

Rape

80 of 85 audited rape reports were accurately recorded

Rape is one of the most serious crimes a victim can experience, so it is especially important that reports of rape are recorded accurately. It helps to make sure victims receive the service and support they deserve. And it helps the police identify the nature and extent of sexual violence in their local area.

We found 85 reports of rape that the force should have been recorded and it had correctly recorded 80 of these. All five unrecorded rapes were incorrectly recorded under the Home Office classification N100 (see below). However, the force provided adequate safeguarding and investigated all of them.

The Home Office classification N100 was introduced in April 2015. Its purpose is to explain why reported incidents of rape or attempted rape, whether they are reported by victims, witnesses or third parties, haven’t immediately been recorded as a confirmed crime. This can include instances where additional information confirms the rape didn’t take place, or where the rape took place in another force area and was transferred to the relevant force to record and investigate.

We found 30 incident reports for which the force should have applied an N100 classification, and it did so on 28 occasions. Separately, we also reviewed a sample of 17 records where it had applied an N100 classification. We found:

  • one that should have been recorded as a rape from the outset; and
  • one that should have been later converted into a recorded crime of rape but was not.

The FCR’s audit team reviews all such reports daily. We found that it often needs to take remedial action to make sure that they are recorded.

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

graded requires improvement

Crime reports held on other systems

60 of 77 vulnerable victim crimes were recorded

For vulnerable victims to get the support they need, it is important that crimes reported directly to public protection teams are always recorded.

The MASH has its own dedicated IMU. The unit quality assures all the crimes reported to the MASH to make sure that it correctly identifies and records them. This layer of scrutiny is good practice. However, the IMU in the MASH has a six-week backlog. Its staff are relatively inexperienced and some of them haven’t received any training. This means there are delays to recording crimes in the MASH. And too many crimes are not being recorded when they should be. Also, there isn’t enough scrutiny of the IMU staff’s crime recording decision making, particularly when they wrongly close a case as a non-crime incident.

We examined 25 adult vulnerable victim records, 25 child vulnerable victim records and 25 partnership referrals. We found that the force should have recorded 77 crimes, of which it had only recorded 60.

The 17 unrecorded crimes included:

  • five common assaults, including one on a child;
  • six reports of controlling and coercive behaviour;
  • two rapes;
  • one report of blackmail; and
  • one theft.

One of the victims received no safeguarding. Some victims received insufficient safeguarding by the police and many of the missed crimes were not investigated.

15 of the 17 unrecorded crimes were reported by third party professionals as part of the MARAC process. The staff responsible for identifying and recording these crimes are inexperienced. And there is no scrutiny of their crime recording decision making. After learning of our finding, the force responded immediately and introduced oversight arrangements. This is encouraging.

Modern slavery

Offences relating to modern slavery are an important and recent addition to the crimes that forces must record and investigate. So, we examined how well the force records reports of modern slavery offences. We also examined the force’s understanding of the origin of such reports.

We examined 20 modern slavery records and found all 19 modern slavery crimes that should have been recorded had been. The force also correctly recorded a further 17 crimes and three classification N100s associated with these reports.

In addition, we reviewed 20 reports received through the modern slavery referral mechanism. We found nine modern slavery crimes should have been recorded. But the force only recorded five of these. It also correctly recorded a further five crimes and two classification N100s associated with these reports.

Suffolk Constabulary has worked hard to improve its workforce’s knowledge and understanding of modern slavery. Training and information for officers dealing with modern slavery reports is easily accessible via the force intranet. And there are modern slavery champions across the force who provide constant support to frontline officers.

Timeliness

If the information the force gets at the first point of contact satisfies the national crime recording standard, the force should record crimes straight away and, in any case, within 24 hours. The force needs to improve in this respect.

We found that of the crimes Suffolk Constabulary had recorded, it had only recorded the following number within 24 hours of receiving the report:

  • 352 out of 490 violent crimes;
  • 129 out of 143 sexual offences; and
  • 191 out of 329 other offences.

Although some victims might be referred to support agencies in other ways, recording reported crimes late can lead to delays in referring victims to Victim Support. This is unacceptable, as some victims would benefit from the early support this team can give.

Cancelled crimes

If additional verifiable information shows that a recorded crime didn’t take place, the record can be cancelled. A recorded crime can also be cancelled when it was committed in another force area and is subsequently transferred.

We reviewed a sample of cancelled recorded crimes of rape, other sexual offences, violence and robbery.

We found that the FCR had correctly authorised all 20 cancelled offences of rape. DDMs are responsible for other crime cancellation decisions. They had correctly authorised the cancellation of:

  • 19 out of 20 sexual offences;
  • 19 out of 20 violence offences; and
  • 9 out of 10 robbery offences.

This is a very good standard.

If a crime has been cancelled or transferred to another force to investigate, victims should always know the status of their reported crime. If the force decides to cancel a recorded crime, the very least the victim should expect is an explanation of why it decided this. We found that of the 29 victims who should have been told of the transfer or cancellation, 26 had been.

Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Document) gives police forces clear guidance about the service they should give crime victims. We have concluded the force is aware of its responsibilities under this code.

For victims in Suffolk, help is available from Norfolk and Suffolk Victim Care – a service commissioned by the police and crime commissioners for Norfolk and Suffolk and run by Victim Support. It provides free, confidential support to victims and witnesses of crime. When Suffolk Constabulary records crimes, it asks all victims if they wish to be referred to Norfolk and Suffolk Victim Care.

The force’s website provides details of a range of services and support agencies victims can contact for further advice and support.

Equality

We found that the force must improve the way it collects information about crimes affecting identifiable groups within communities.

Protected characteristics, such as gender, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, religion and age, don’t necessarily make someone more vulnerable to the risk of crime. However, it is important that the force records information about victims’ characteristics. This helps to identify any patterns between different groups and how vulnerable they are to (or how likely they are to report) different types of crime.

The force routinely captures information on victims’ age, gender and ethnicity. But it only records disability, religion and sexual orientation if they are relevant to the crime itself.

If the force fails to record such information, it won’t be able to fully understand and respond to the effect of crime on identifiable groups in its communities. So, this is an area for improvement.

Officer and staff survey

We carried out a survey of officers and staff in Suffolk Constabulary about their experience of crime recording. Some 288 respondents took part. We were pleased to find that most officers and staff are victim focussed and put the victim at the centre of their crime recording decisions. Most thought that the chief officer team clearly communicates the need for ethical crime recording. And most agreed that they understand crime recording to a level appropriate for their role.

Nearly three quarters of the respondents involved in recording crime said that they had received some crime recording training in the past two years.

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

graded outstanding

Since our last CDI inspection of Suffolk Constabulary in 2014, the force has focused on improving its crime recording across all departments and districts. It introduced an improvement plan, linked to a monthly CDI meeting chaired by a deputy chief constable (DCC). The DCC is the executive CDI lead.

The force has made concerted efforts to improve crime recording accuracy and has made progress against its CDI action plan. As a result, it has implemented all force specific and national recommendations from the 2014 inspection.

Messages from chief officers have been consistent and unambiguous. And officers and staff fully understand the importance of crime recording and the positive impact it can have on services to victims. The force has used innovative methods, such as a regular online CDI quiz, to reinforce this knowledge.

The force uses crime recording audit results to inform training and raise standards. It has also implemented feedback processes, so officers and staff who make errors can learn the correct requirements for their future crime recording decisions. This is good practice and demonstrates the force’s commitment to achieving further crime recording improvements.

The force has focused particularly on improving its recording of sexual offences. This has resulted in its high recording rate in this area. However, it now needs to replicate this performance across all areas of crime recording, particularly violent crime. The force acknowledges that, in the past, it didn’t allocate enough resources to getting crime recording right or improving its crime recording performance and is acutely aware that more work remains to be done. However, we are encouraged that the force is now addressing this by increasing resources within its IMU.

The force understands that the IMU has a vital role in crime recording and is recruiting more staff into this unit to create enough capacity. The recent introduction of the CAD closure team is intended to make sure that crimes are correctly identified and recorded. This is a welcome addition.

We also note that the force has responded immediately to our audit by creating a new action plan to address the findings from this inspection.

Conclusion

The force has improved its crime recording since our 2014 inspection. But further improvements are still needed.

The leadership team in Suffolk Constabulary is clearly committed to good crime recording and the positive approach among officers and staff towards victims is welcome. However, the force needs to further improve its crime recording processes. It should also make sure that its staff and officers fully understand the crime recording rules, and that the oversight of crime recording decisions is adequate and effective.

What next?

We note that after our audit, the force took immediate steps to retrospectively record all unrecorded crimes we found and to assess them for investigation. It also began work to identify how it could further improve its crime recording. This includes plans to introduce further training for staff in crime recording roles. We welcome this and will continue to monitor progress.

As with all police forces, we may carry out another unannounced crime data integrity inspection of this force at any time.

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