Sussex Police: Crime Data Integrity inspection 2016

Good

Addendum

Published 9 February 2017

In January 2017, HMIC completed a review of our crime data integrity inspection rolling programme. The 16 original inspection criteria which inform the overall judgment of the inspection are unchanged. However, HMIC introduced two changes to the way in which an overall graded judgment is determined:

  1. a slight lowering and broadening of the recording rates for each of the four possible graded judgments; and
  2. to enable separate graded judgments to be applied to the statistical and non-statistical elements of this inspection, the introduction of three core questions that are based around the 16 inspection criteria, each of which contribute to the overall graded judgment.

While the contents of the existing report remain valid, in order to make sure that all forces have published grades for the three questions, HMIC has applied this updated approach to our assessment of the published inspection findings for Sussex Police. This resulted in the following assessment:

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

graded good

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

graded requires improvement

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

As a result, the published overall graded judgment for the crime data integrity inspection of Sussex Police, and as shown at the top of this publication, remains as Good.

The judgment criteria page provides further information about how these criteria are applied.

Judgment

Sussex Police has made concerted efforts to improve crime-recording accuracy since HMIC’s 2014 Crime Data Integrity inspection report. Importantly, officers and staff have made progress in placing the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions. As a result, 94.59 percent of reports of crime are being recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.70 percent). In particular, we found that:

  • the force recorded every reported rape;
  • its decisions to cancel recorded crimes of rape, violence and other sexual offences were correct; and
  • it has made good progress in implementing the recommendations set out in our 2014 report.

However, further work is now necessary. Despite improvements, the force is still failing some victims of crime. Based on the findings of our examination of crime reports for the period 1 August 2015 to 31 January 2016, we estimate that the force fails to record over 5,300 reported crimes each year. The 5.41 percent of reported crimes that go unrecorded include serious crimes, such as violence and sexual offences.

Improvements in efficiency are therefore required in some areas. In particular, we consider that there are too many failures to make the correct crime-recording decision at the first opportunity. These failures are due to officers and staff not fully understanding crime-recording requirements and 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:

  • recording accuracy is very good in some areas, such as reports of rape;
  • the force has made progress with implementing changes recommended in the 2014 report, and as a result has completed some of these recommendations;
  • the force crime registrar (FCR) – responsible for oversight of crime-recording arrangements – has completed a national College of Policing course for FCRs. At the time of our inspection, the FCR was completing an action plan in order to gain full accreditation. His work is supported fully by the deputy chief constable, the force’s crime management unit (CMU) and the recently introduced incident management team (IMT). These units are responsible for the daily oversight of reported incidents to maintain accuracy in crime-recording and currently help the force achieve a higher level of recording accuracy by correcting around 3,000 incorrect recording decisions each year; and
  • 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. This includes well-communicated messages from senior officers in relation to putting the victim first when making crime-recording decisions.

Despite those advances, the force’s performance in respect of crime-recording requires further improvement in the following areas:

  • The force is currently under-recording:
    • violent crimes;
    • sexual offences; and
    • crimes reported to safeguarding investigation units (SIUs).

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

  • The CMU and IMT do not oversee all incidents. The IMT does not oversee incidents, such as those reported directly to a patrolling officer or at a police station public enquiry office. The extent of the investment in these units is only necessary because, too often, staff and officers are making poor crime-recording decisions. Even if the CMU or IMT subsequently correct a decision not to record a crime, these delays may compromise the service the force provides to victims and the effectiveness of its subsequent crime investigations.
  • The CMU provides information to divisions on crime-recording performance, including individual feedback for officers and staff. However, not all divisions are providing this feedback to their officers and staff.
  • We found that Sussex Police must improve its collection of information regarding the effect of criminality on identifiable groups within communities.

These failings are often a consequence of the officers and staff not understanding their responsibilities for crime-recording. They are, in addition, underpinned by inadequate supervision by the force of crime-recording decisions. Improvements are required in these areas.

Findings

Overall crime-recording rate

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 (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 95.8 percent of crime that is recorded (excluding fraud) came through an auditable crime reporting route. This does not mean that 95.8 percent of crimes reported to Sussex Police came through these routes but that 95.8 percent of crime is recorded this way.

We found that the force recorded 94.59 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.70 percent). We estimate that this means the force is not recording over 5,300 reports of crime each year. Those failings are depriving the victims of services to which they are entitled.

94.59% of reported crimes 
were recorded

Over 5,300 reports of crime a year are not recorded

One factor contributing to the force’s under-recording of crime reports is the lack of knowledge amongst some of its officers and staff regarding the relevant duties placed on them by the HOCR (PDF document). In particular, we found that on occasion:

  • staff fail to record crimes due to confusion as to where the responsibility for recording lies;
  • call handlers do not always understand the rules sufficiently to enable them to make appropriate crime-recording decisions;
  • response officers do not understand what is required when dealing with complex crimes; and
  • within safeguarding investigation units (SIUs), some staff do not understand clearly their role in relation to the recording of crimes received from third parties, such as social services and health professionals.

We note that the force operates a feedback process to draw crime-recording mistakes to the attention of the relevant officer or staff member. However, we found little consistency in its application. There are important differences across divisions, where some officers receive feedback and others do not. As a result the force does not use the feedback process to its full potential. This is an area for improvement.

A further problem relates to the force’s supervision of crime-recording decisions. That supervision is inconsistent. The force has a large number of constables carrying out the role of temporary sergeant. This inevitably results in a dilution of the knowledge and experience of the supervisory role required to achieve accurate crime-recording across the whole force.

The force has taken steps to try to improve its overall crime-recording accuracy. This includes centralising its process for receiving calls from members of the public. However, some inexperienced staff responsible for receiving calls lack the necessary knowledge of the crime-recording requirements to always make correct crime-recording decisions.

The force has also provided some training in crime-recording. This training has been largely ad hoc, relying on NCALT for the majority of staff and subject matter experts, such as the FCR, to provide specialist training. As training is not the FCR’s primary role, we consider it unlikely that intensive FCR involvement in training is sustainable in the longer term.

We note, in concluding this section, that the overall crime-recording rate for the force would have been far worse without the important work of the CMU and the IMT. In December 2015, those units reviewed 3,238 reported incidents and identified 358 which had been incorrectly closed without creating a crime record. In January 2016, these units identified 419 out of 3,263 reported incidents that had been incorrectly closed without a crime record being created.

We welcome the role that the CMU and IMT have played in improving crime-recording by the force. However, overreliance on those units is inefficient. The force should address this by improving frontline decision-making and ensuring effective supervision of crime-recording.

Violence against the person

95.67% of reported violent crimes 
were recorded

Over 1,100 reports of violent crime a year are not recorded

We found that 95.67 percent of violent crimes reported to the force are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.74 percent). That is slightly higher than the overall average noted above. However, we do not think this is high enough. By our estimate, the force fails to record more than 1,100 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.

In the majority of cases where violent crimes were not recorded, we found two principal causes. First, frontline officers and staff in SIUs and the Public Contact Centre (PCC) did not understand adequately the crime-recording rules. Second, crime-recording decisions were not supervised appropriately.

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. 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.

Sexual offences

95.61% of reported sex offences 
were recorded

Over 130 reports of sex offence crime 
a year are not recorded

The force’s recording of reports of sexual offences requires improvement. We found that the force records 95.61 percent of sexual offence crimes that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.56 percent). This means that each year we estimate that the force fails to record more than 130 sexual offences that are reported to it.

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 assaults against vulnerable victims and in one case inciting sexual activity with a child.

The causes of that under-recording are the same as were identified above in respect of violent crime. There is, firstly, a lack of adequate knowledge surrounding the crime-recording rules by some officers and staff within the force. There is, secondly, a lack of appropriate supervision for crime-recording decision-making.

As a result of these underlying problems, reporting officers often seek advice from specialist departments before recording the crime. This practice affects the timeliness of the recording of sexual offences. Sixteen percent of sexual offences recorded by the force were recorded outside the 24 hours permitted in the HOCR (PDF document). Moreover, we found that a great deal of the force’s recording of sexual offences was attributable to the intervention of the CMU or the IMT. At first receipt of a report of an offence, a worrying proportion of reported offences were not recorded at all. This leaves victims potentially vulnerable and is an area for improvement.

Rape

All audited rape reports were accurately recorded

We found that Sussex Police recorded all reports of rape that we audited during this inspection.

We found that in respect of reports of rape, officers and staff had a clear understanding of their responsibilities for crime-recording. The force has worked hard to ensure that this is the case and has introduced effective systems to validate its rape crime-recording decisions. We consider this performance to be good.

However, there are still some underlying issues in respect of the timeliness of recording crimes of rape, with a small number only being recorded after intervention by the CMU. Nevertheless, we found no delays in commencing rape investigations.

There are, in addition, some issues surrounding the force’s use of the Home Office classification N100. Introduced in April 2015, an 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 26 incident reports for which an N100 classification should have been applied. However, it was only applied on 17 occasions. Seven of the missed N100 classifications resulted from a single incident in which multiple offences of rape were reported.

Separately, we also reviewed 20 sample records where an N100 classification had been used. Among these we identified three reports that the force had subsequently recorded as a crime of rape. These reports should have been immediately recorded as rapes but were only corrected after CMU or IMT intervention.

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. This is, therefore, an area for improvement.

Crime reports held on other systems

8 of 11 vulnerable victim crimes were recorded

In order to be confident that vulnerable victims always receive the support they need, the force must improve its recording of crimes reported directly to its SIUs. We examined 50 child protection cases recorded on SIU systems; of these we found that 11 crimes should have been recorded, yet only eight had been. The three crimes which were not recorded included two minor assaults and one case of inciting sexual activity by an adult towards a child.

We also found that the oversight of recording decisions within the SIUs is inconsistent. One cause of that inconsistency is staffing resilience within those teams, which is creating workload pressure that compounds errors in crime-recording decisions. The force is aware of this pressure and is looking to increase staff resilience. However, this pressure, along with inadequate understanding of the crime-recording rules by some officers and staff, is leading to inconsistency of approach, and increases the risk that crime reported to the force by third parties (such as health professionals or social services) is not recorded.

We note with approval, however, the force’s recognition of the potential for crimes to be committed against young people who are reported as missing from home. The force has agreed with all relevant local authorities that their staff will speak to all missing children upon their return. Staff involved in such interviews have received crime-recording training by the force.

Offences referred to the SIUs are serious in nature. They often involve the most vulnerable victims in society. As a result, any failure by the force to record reports of those offences increases the risk of harm to victims. We were pleased to find that third party child protection referral records in the SIU are now subject to close scrutiny by a deputy FCR. This has led to notable improvements since the 2014 report. In order to improve crime-recording further, the force should apply the same level of scrutiny to other areas of vulnerability, such as those reports involving vulnerable adults.

The seriousness of the risks associated with under-recording reports of crime made to the SIUs renders the gap in the recording that we found 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.

The force recorded nine modern slavery offences; however we found that two of these reports should not have been recorded as a crime.

We found that staff had a good, basic knowledge of modern slavery and 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 where they could find further information.

However, the force has a limited understanding of the origins of reports about modern slavery. Despite policing one of the UK’s largest airports at Gatwick and its proximity to large ferry ports and the Channel Tunnel, the force received no reports from UK Border Agency or neighbouring forces. To better understand the problem and improve its response to this growing threat, the force has allocated responsibility to a senior detective who developed Operation Eagle. This operation involves multi-agency forums in improving and sharing understanding of modern slavery.

Cancelled crimes

Where additional verifiable information is obtained to show that a recorded crime did not occur, the crime record can be cancelled. In this respect, we found Sussex 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, and other sexual offences and 14 cancelled recorded crimes of robbery. We found that the FCR had clear oversight of rape and serious sexual offence cancellations, and that these cancellations were faultless. We also found all violent crime cancellations to be correct.

In respect of robbery, we found that 3 out of 14 crimes were cancelled incorrectly. Those failings were due to a poor understanding of the process on the part of the member of staff making the decision. At the time of our inspection, the force responded immediately to this finding by providing additional guidance to its officers and staff. Furthermore, the force is reducing the number of staff with the authority to cancel crimes to a small cohort within the CMU. This will further tighten the control and quality of its cancellation decisions.

Where a crime has been cancelled, victims should always know the status of their reported crime, and 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 the force, after it records a crime, sends victims a standard letter which provides them with information about the offence to which they have been subject and directs them to other organisations which can provide them with the support they may require.

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 Sussex Police of their experience in respect of crime-recording. Some 328 respondents completed the survey. We were pleased to find that the majority of officers and staff 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 feel under any pressure to minimise the number of crimes recorded on the basis of performance targets.

Previous recommendations

The force has implemented some of the changes recommended in the 2014 report (PDF document). However, it must make further progress to ensure that it:

  • provides all officers and staff with the training necessary to understand their crime-recording responsibilities; and
  • improves the effectiveness of frontline supervision of crime-recording decisions.

These outstanding areas for improvement as set out in our 2014 report are addressed by the areas for improvement set out below.

The force should now address the areas for improvement highlighted in this report and as set out below:

Areas for improvement

  • The force should design and provide crime-recording training that is bespoke to the level of knowledge required by officers and staff for their role.
  • The force should develop and implement procedures for the effective supervision of crime-recording decisions throughout the whole force.
  • The force should improve its auditing of third party reports to ensure it includes adult as well as child vulnerable victims.
  • The force should formalise how it provides feedback to staff regarding their crime-recording decisions by implementing common practices across all divisions and departments.
  • The force should improve its understanding and use of classification N100 and introduce processes to ensure that it records all reports of rape within the timeframes permitted within the crime-recording rules.
  • The force should improve how it collects diversity information from victims of crime and how it uses this to inform its compliance with its equality duty.

Conclusion

Sussex Police has made progress in its crime-recording processes since 2014. However, improvements must continue to be made.

We found strong leadership from senior officers with regard to crime-recording expectations, and an approach among officers and staff which places the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions.

However, the force is still letting down some victims. It needs to address this by 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 its recording of crimes reported through non-incident routes, particularly those from third parties and which involve vulnerable victims.

What next?

HMIC expects the force to make progress against the areas for improvement we identify 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.