Thames Valley Police: Crime Data Integrity inspection 2017

Overall judgment

graded inadequate

graded inadequate

Thames Valley Police has made efforts to improve crime-recording accuracy which have led to some improvements since HMICFRS’ 2014 Crime Data Integrity inspection report. Importantly, we found a commitment to ethical crime recording that is victim-focused and free from performance pressures of any kind.

We found that the force:

  • has improved its use, supervision and scrutiny of out-of-court disposals;
  • records all modern slavery offences reported to it and disclosed during investigations; and
  • makes good decisions when considering whether or not to cancel a recorded crime.

Much work remains to be done, however. The force has only recently started to implement the recommendations for improvement made in our 2014 report and has made only limited progress against a national action plan developed to improve police crime recording. This is seriously undermining the effectiveness and efficiency of its crime-recording arrangements.

Based on the findings of our examination of crime reports for the period 1 February 2017 to 31 July 2017, we estimate that the force fails to record over 35,200 reported crimes each year. This represents a recording rate of 80.4 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.75 percent). The 19.6 percent of reported crimes that go unrecorded include serious crimes such as sexual offences, domestic abuse and rape. The recording rate for violent crime is a particular cause of concern at only 69.2 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 3.35 percent). This means that on too many occasions, the force is potentially failing victims of crime.

Immediate improvements must be made. In particular, we consider that there are too many missed opportunities for crime-recording decisions to be taken at an earlier stage and too often this leads to reported crimes not being recorded at all. These failures are due to poor crime-recording processes and an insufficient understanding of crime-recording requirements by officers and staff. They are, in addition, underpinned by inadequate supervision by the force of crime-recording decisions.

 

 

Thames Valley Police has made efforts to improve crime-recording accuracy which have led to some improvements since HMICFRS’ 2014 Crime Data Integrity inspection report. Importantly, we found a commitment to ethical crime recording that is victim-focused and free from performance pressures of any kind.

We found that the force:

  • has improved its use, supervision and scrutiny of out-of-court disposals;
  • records all modern slavery offences reported to it and disclosed during investigations; and
  • makes good decisions when considering whether or not to cancel a recorded crime.

Much work remains to be done, however. The force has only recently started to implement the recommendations for improvement made in our 2014 report and has made only limited progress against a national action plan developed to improve police crime recording. This is seriously undermining the effectiveness and efficiency of its crime-recording arrangements.

Based on the findings of our examination of crime reports for the period 1 February 2017 to 31 July 2017, we estimate that the force fails to record over 35,200 reported crimes each year. This represents a recording rate of 80.4 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.75 percent). The 19.6 percent of reported crimes that go unrecorded include serious crimes such as sexual offences, domestic abuse and rape. The recording rate for violent crime is a particular cause of concern at only 69.2 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 3.35 percent). This means that on too many occasions, the force is potentially failing victims of crime.

Immediate improvements must be made. In particular, we consider that there are too many missed opportunities for crime-recording decisions to be taken at an earlier stage and too often this leads to reported crimes not being recorded at all. These failures are due to poor crime-recording processes and an insufficient understanding of crime-recording requirements by officers and staff. They are, in addition, underpinned by inadequate supervision by the force of crime-recording decisions.

Summary of inspection findings

The force has made some improvements since our 2014 report. These include progress in:

  • creating a team dedicated to undertaking crime-recording audits;
  • changing its diary appointment system for victims of crime, which it intends will improve the service for those victims whose reports do not require an urgent response;
  • providing comprehensive crime-recording training to its contact management staff; and
  • developing an understanding of modern day slavery offences among officers and staff.

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 fully accredited for the role. The FCR is supported by a deputy FCR, assistant crime registrars (ACRs) and an audit team.

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

  • The force is currently under-recording too many reports of crime, including:
    • violent crimes (in particular offences of common assault, harassment and malicious communications);
    • reports of rape;
    • reports of crime involving vulnerable victims, including those victims of domestic abuse; and
    • public order crimes.
  • for the purpose of crime recording, officers and staff do not always believe reports of crime received from victims whom they believe are suffering from mental health issues.

The force needs to act promptly to improve the accuracy of its recording of these reports and to provide all victims with the service to which they are entitled and deserve.

  • Frontline officers, including supervisors, have a poor level of understanding of how the NICHE crime-recording system works. The force relies on this system to accurately record crime and assess crime demand and yet officers clearly do not understand how crimes are created and what entries on NICHE constitute crimes.
  • Officers and supervisors who work outside the contact management centre have a poor understanding of the National Crime Recording Standards (NCRS) and have not received sufficient crime-recording training.
  • Reports of crime received into the contact management centre are not always fully outlined on the incident record made at the time of the report, so the attending officer does not always have the full information on which to base a crime-recording decision.
  • Crimes reported during incidents involving domestic abuse are not always being recorded.
  • Incidents which have been disclosed directly to public protection teams, in particular those reported by professional third parties, and which amount to a crime in law, are not always recorded as such.
  • Delays to the recording of a reported crime are leading to delays in the referral of victims to the force’s victim support service (Victims First), letting down those victims who need the early support this team can provide.
  • The force must improve the extent to which it collects information regarding the effect of criminality on identifiable groups within communities.

Some of these failings are a consequence of insufficient progress having been made to deal with deficiencies identified within our 2014 report. In particular, limited progress has been made to ensure officers and staff understand their crime-recording responsibilities. They are, in addition, underpinned by inadequate supervision by the force of crime-recording decisions.

Cause of concern

In Thames Valley Police there is a failure of officers and staff 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 inadequate supervision to correct the decisions of officers and staff and improve standards from the outset. This means that the force is letting down many victims of crime.

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

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.
    • take steps to ensure that reports of crime received in respect of vulnerable adults and children from other agencies or disclosed during investigation are recorded as crimes at the point of reporting.
    • put in place improvements to the recording practices for reports of rape and ensure the correct use of rape classification N100.
  • Within three months, the force should:
    • develop and implement procedures for the effective supervision of crime-recording decisions throughout the whole force.
    • put in place arrangements to ensure that where more than one crime is disclosed within an incident record, or is identified as part of other recorded crime investigations, these are recorded at the earliest opportunity.
  • Within six months, the force should design and provide training for officers who make crime-recording decisions. This should include training in regard to:
    • the extent of the information required to provide for a crime-recording decision to be made;
    • the expectation that reported crime is recorded at the first point that sufficient information exists to record a crime, which in the majority of cases will be at the point of report;
    • the importance of believing the first account of victims whom officers believe are suffering from mental health issues;
    • the proper use of classification N100 for reports of rape and recording crimes of rape involving multiple offenders;
    • the additional verifiable information required in order to make crime cancellation decisions;
    • how to correctly record crimes that are reported by third parties and, in particular, those reported by professional third parties;
    • offences involving the public order act, malicious communications, harassment and common assault; and
    • how to correctly record crimes on the NICHE crime recording system.

Areas for improvement

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.
  • develop and implement an effective feedback process for all officers and staff involved in making crime-recording decisions.

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

graded inadequate

Overall crime-recording rate

80.4% of reported crimes 
were recorded

Over 35,200 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 (HOCR). We examined reports of crime which the force received, and for which an auditable record was created. The force informed HMICFRS that 96.5 percent of all crime that is recorded (excluding fraud) came through an auditable crime reporting route.

We found that the force recorded 80.4 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.75 percent). We estimate that this means the force is not recording over 35,200 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 1,970 reports of crime that we audited, we found 509 that we assessed to be crimes related to domestic abuse. Of these 509 crimes, the force had recorded 314. The 195 offences not recorded included offences of violence, crimes involving harassment and malicious communications, public order and sexual offences.

We found that on nearly every occasion the force had correctly identified at the outset of reported domestic abuse case that it was dealing with a domestic abuse report. Many of these reports involved the reporting of a crime at the first point of contact, but these crimes were not recorded. In addition, we found that on occasions the reported crime was not fully outlined on the incident record made at the time of the report, so the attending officer did not always have the full information on which to base a crime-recording decision.

Failure to record these crimes resulted in:

  • those victims not being provided with the service to which they are entitled and deserve; and
  • no subsequent investigation being carried out, thereby increasing the potential risk of harm to the victims.

The force must introduce an effective system of supervision of incident-related crime-recording decisions.

However, we found that in these domestic abuse cases, while call takers had documented on the vast majority of incident logs the proper regard to safeguarding, on occasion, officers did not always record what actions they had taken to safeguard victims once they had attended and spoken to them. We also found that where the force had failed to record domestic abuse crimes no subsequent investigation was conducted.

The absence of understanding of the full extent of domestic abuse crime, the under-recording of crimes related to domestic incidents, and the failure to provide a satisfactory service to these victims are a serious concern. This is because domestic abuse often involves victims who are particularly vulnerable to further offences being committed against them.

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

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

  • 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;
  • when officers are required to make crime-recording decisions they do not always make the correct decision, or provide sufficient information to explain why a crime record is not required;
  • frontline officers, including supervisors, have a poor understanding of how the NICHE crime-recording system works;
  • when further offences come to light after the initial attendance of an officer or during subsequent investigation, the force does not always record those additional crimes; and
  • incident records that contain multiple reports of crime often result incorrectly in only one crime report being recorded.

We found that frontline officers and staff are not always sure of crime-recording requirements. In particular:

  • basic crime-recording principles and knowledge of crime-recording requirements relating to common assault, malicious communications, harassment and public order are not always understood. For example, we found that officers and staff were unsure of the crime-recording rules regarding common assault where there is no physical assault but the threat of one;
  • the crime-recording rules concerning the recording of third party professional reports of crime are not fully understood; and
  • for the purpose of crime recording, officers and staff do not always believe reports of crime received from victims whom they believe are suffering from mental health issues.

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

  • there is little evidence of active supervision of the quality of the log entries or of the decisions being made by officers regarding whether or not to record a crime;
  • too often crime-recording decisions are wrong, and are not challenged in any way; and
  • this lack of intervention means that no corrective action is taken, nor can any training or development needs be identified and managed.

We note, in concluding this section, that the force had already identified several of the deficiencies we found in its crime-recording processes through its own internal audits. And, in response to our findings, the force has set up a gold group chaired by the deputy chief constable and has developed a plan to address them.

Violence against the person

69.2% of reported violent crimes 
were recorded

Over 13,900 reports of violent crime a year 
are not recorded

We found that 69.2 percent of violent crimes reported to the force are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 3.35 percent). This is lower than the overall crime-recording rate noted above and one of the worst recording rates for violent crime we have found so far in this inspection programme. By our estimate, this means the force fails to record over 13,900 violent crimes that are reported to it each year. As violent crime can be particularly distressing for the victim, this is an area in which the need for improvement is particularly acute.

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

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

  • the processes currently in place for the recording of a reported crime (described earlier);
  • officers and staff not understanding adequately the crime-recording rules, particularly around the complexities of some violence offences such as harassment, malicious communications and the more straightforward offence of common assault. This results in the failure to record many such reports of crime; and
  • an absence of adequate supervision of crime-recording decisions.

Victims of violent crime and, in particular, victims of more serious violence, often require substantial support. This support should come not only from the reporting and investigating officers, but also, possibly, from Victims First. Under those circumstances, crime recording takes on a heightened importance. Failing to record properly a violent crime can result in Victims First receiving no notification that a person has become a victim of violent crime. That in turn, deprives victims of the support they may need and deserve.

Sexual offences

90.2% of reported sex offences 
were recorded

Over 490 reports of sex offences a year 
are not recorded

The force’s recording of reports of sexual offences (including rape) is a cause of concern. We found that the force records 90.2 percent of sexual offence crimes that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.48 percent). We estimate that this means the force fails to record over 490 reported sexual offence crimes each year.

Those failings are significant because of the very serious nature of sexual offences and the harm they cause to their victims. We found that the force failed to record some reports of sexual assault, digital penetration, inciting a child to commit a sexual act, sexual activity with a child, engaging in a sexual act in the presence of a child under 16, exposure and outraging public decency.

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

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

Sexual offence victims require significant support from the outset. The failure to record such crimes, to provide appropriate support to the victim, or any delay in attendance or investigation will often result in a lack of confidence in the police and reluctance on behalf of the victim to engage in subsequent stages of the criminal justice system. The force must improve its performance in this respect.

Rape

152 of 174 audited rape reports were accurately recorded

Rape is one of the most serious sexual offence crimes a victim can experience. Therefore, the accurate recording of such reports is especially important. It helps to ensure victims receive the service they have a right to expect and deserve, and it allows the police to identify the nature and extent of sexual violence in their local area. In turn, this enables the police to operate with the highest practicable levels of efficiency to identify and deal effectively with perpetrators.

In Thames Valley Police we found 174 reports of rape that should have been recorded, but only 152 of these had been accurately recorded. This is a further cause of concern.

The unrecorded crimes of rape include reports that originated on the force incident system, reports received directly by specialist officers from third party professionals, and from a review of N100 classifications (see below). Of the 22 that were not recorded 7 were misclassified and recorded as something else, e.g. sexual assault, 6 were occasions where the force had failed to record crimes in respect of second or additional perpetrators, and 9 had not been recorded at all.

From an examination of the incident records that the force did create we were able to establish that no investigation took place in the 9 cases where no rape crime was recorded. Four of these were because victims refused to engage with the police; two were cases where the victims had mental health issues, one was transferred to another force for investigation and one was because the victim primarily contacted the police for safeguarding advice. In the remaining case the officer’s understanding about consent in rape crimes was lacking, which led to this offence not being recorded or investigated. This underpins the importance of the correct recording of reported crime and is wholly unacceptable.

We did find that in all of the cases safeguarding was provided to victims, and this included referrals to partner organisations where appropriate.

The causes of the under-recording of the 22 rape crimes are:

  • unwarranted failures to record the crimes;
  • officers failing to record multiple reports of crimes;
  • officers and staff not understanding adequately the crime-recording rules; and
  • an absence of adequate supervision of crime-recording decisions.

The force must look at how it manages the recording and investigation of offences of rape to ensure it has a clear picture of demand and offending behaviour, and is able to satisfy itself that the service and support the victims of rape have a right to expect is always provided.

Introduced in April 2015, the N100 is a record created to explain why reported incidents of rape or attempted rapes, whether from victims, witnesses or third parties, have not been immediately recorded as a confirmed crime. This can include instances where there is credible evidence to the contrary immediately available, or where the rape occurred in another force area and was therefore transferred to the relevant force to record and investigate.

We found three incident reports for which an N100 classification was correctly applied and then upgraded to a full crime once confirmation from the victims had been received.

Separately, we examined 20 N100s and found that 16 were correctly recorded. The remaining four were correctly upgraded to rapes (of which two should have been recorded as rapes from the outset) and one should have been turned into a rape but was not. We also found three N100s which were over recorded, for instance as well as a rape crime.

Because the contact management centre is responsible for creating an N100, we found little understanding among officers and staff of the need for an N100 and the difference between an N100 and a recorded crime of rape. It is important that the force improves the understanding of N100 classifications among officers and staff if it is to fully satisfy itself that the correct recording decisions are always taken in regard to reports of rape.

As with other sexual offences, the recording of a report of rape is important. Victims generally require significant support from the outset and any delay in providing support can be detrimental to both the recovery of the victim and to any investigation. This, in turn, can negatively influence future judicial proceedings.

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

graded requires improvement

Crime reports held on other systems

9 of 20 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 public protection teams.

We examined 53 vulnerable victim records. Of these, we found that 20 crimes should have been recorded, of which nine had been. The missing 11 crimes included offences against children and adults.

While safeguarding was completed in all of these cases, investigations were not carried out in seven of these 11 cases because the victims declined to support an investigation. Three of the crimes were investigated but not recorded and the remaining crime was not investigated at all. The failure to record these crimes is of serious concern given the vulnerability of the victims.

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

Modern slavery

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

We examined 20 modern slavery crimes. From these we found that 14 modern slavery crimes should have been recorded and they were all correctly recorded. One additional crime of possession with intent to supply drugs had also been correctly recorded. We also found that the force is over recording modern slavery crimes, recording six that should not have been recorded at all as they happened abroad.

In addition, we examined a further 20 modern slavery reports and assessed them to contain four modern slavery crimes which were all correctly recorded. One additional crime of common assault had also been correctly recorded. There were two missed crimes; one offence of rape and one of actual bodily harm. We also found a further eight modern slavery crimes that should not have been recorded at all, of which seven happened abroad.

We found that officers and staff have a good basic knowledge of modern slavery offences. We also found that they have a good understanding of their respective responsibilities in relation to the investigation of such offences and where they can find further information. The force has nominated specific points of contact for advice on modern slavery matters in local policing areas, investigation and neighbourhood teams.

Timeliness

The HOCR require that reports of crime are recorded within 24 hours of the receipt of the report. We found that, of the reports of crime that had been recorded by Thames Valley Police, 429 out of 495 reports of violent crime, 301 out of 398 sexual offences (including rape) and 633 out of 671 other offences had been recorded within 24 hours of the receipt of the report.

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

Cancelled crimes

Where additional verifiable information (AVI) is obtained to show that a recorded crime did not occur, the crime record can be cancelled. In this respect we found that the force performed well.

We reviewed 20 cancelled recorded crimes each of rape, violence, sexual offence crimes (excluding rape) and robbery crimes. Of these, we found that the FCR had correctly cancelled all 20 crimes of rape. Other crime cancellation decisions are the responsibility of assistant crime registrars (ACRs). The ACRs had correctly cancelled all 20 sexual offences, 19 out of 20 violence offences and 18 out of 20 robbery offences. This is very good.

Where a crime has been cancelled or transferred to another force for investigation, a victim should always know the status of his or her reported crime. In the case of a decision to cancel a recorded crime, the very least the victim should expect is an explanation of the reason for this decision. We found that of the 49 victims who should have been informed of the transfer or cancellation, 47 had been. This demonstrates good attention to victim care.

Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime provides clear guidance to police forces regarding the service that should be provided to all victims of crime. We have concluded that the force is aware of its responsibilities under this code and ensures these are carried out on those occasions where a reported crime is recorded.

Victims First was created and continues to be maintained and funded by the office of the police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley. All victims of crime whose reports of crime are recorded by Thames Valley Police are offered the services of Victims First and can receive the relevant information by text, email or letter. These communications contain information about individual victims’ cases and also provide them with details of other relevant organisations that can provide them with support. Victims of crime can also self-refer via the Victims First website.

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

Equality

HMICFRS found that the force must improve in its collection of information regarding crimes affecting identifiable groups within communities.

Protected characteristics, such as gender, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, religion and age do not necessarily increase the vulnerability of an individual to the risk of crime. However, it is important that the force records information regarding the characteristics of victims of crime in order to identify any patterns which may exist between different community groups and their vulnerability to (or their relative likelihood to report) different types of crime. We found that the force only records basic equality information in relation to the victim such as age and gender on every occasion and ethnicity in some cases but not all.

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 Thames Valley Police of their experience in respect of crime-recording. Some 158 respondents completed the survey. Of these 158, we were pleased to find that the vast majority who responded stated that the chief officer team in Thames Valley Police clearly communicates the need for victim-focused ethical crime recording and that they have not experienced pressure of any sort not to record crime accurately.

Furthermore, the vast majority of respondents stated that the chief officer team encourages officers and staff to challenge activities or behaviours that are unethical, unacceptable or unprofessional in respect of the recording of reported crime.

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

graded requires improvement

We found that senior leaders had publicised crime-recording expectations to officers and staff. These messages were clear and unambiguous. However, while officers and staff fully understand what was expected, they do not have the knowledge and understanding of the crime-recording rules to meet these expectations. This lack of knowledge is exacerbated by the absence of supervision of their crime-recording decisions.

Importantly, the force needs to reinforce among officers and staff that all reports of crime must be recorded even in cases where the victim chooses not to support an investigation or prosecution.

We also found that insufficient attention had been given to implementing and sustaining changes recommended in the 2014 report and in ensuring the force meets the expectations of the action plan developed by the national policing lead on crime statistics, produced following the publication of the 2014 report. It is disappointing to find that some of the causes of the under-recording of crime found during this inspection reflect these earlier recommendations.

However, the progress made in the use of out-of-court disposals is notable. Effective processes are now in place for monitoring all such disposals, including the use of independent scrutiny panels. Procedural documents are clear and concise; these ensure that considerations as to the suitability of the use of the disposal for both the victim and offender are very good.

Conclusion

Thames Valley Police’s crime-recording arrangements are inadequate. The force needs to improve its crime-recording processes, ensuring that reports of crime are always recorded in a timely fashion, that its staff have the knowledge and understanding to meet the crime-recording standards expected of them, and that these standards are supervised effectively.

HMICFRS notes the immediate response from the force to this inspection and is reassured by the steps now being taken to address the gaps in its crime-recording arrangements.

What next?

HMICFRS expects the force urgently to make progress implementing recommendations we make in this report.

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