West Mercia Police - Crime Data Integrity inspection 2019

Overall judgment

graded good

Since our 2014 inspection, West Mercia Police has made changes to its systems and processes to improve crime recording. These changes, supported by relevant training and messages from the chief officers, the force crime registrar (FCR) and her deputy, have improved the crime recording standards it is achieving.

We found the force has:

  • created and implemented a crime data integrity (CDI) action plan to address our 2014 recommendations and areas for improvement;
  • developed a positive culture toward crime recording among officers and staff;
  • introduced a centralised crime bureau, which quality assures every incident and crime record to make sure crimes are correctly identified and recorded;
  • introduced resolution teams to record and investigate less serious reports of crime;
  • robust crime recording governance and performance management arrangements; and
  • an effective feedback process, so officers and staff who make errors can learn the correct requirements for their future crime recording decisions.

We examined crime reports from 1 October 2018 to 31 March 2019. Based on this, we estimate that the force records 90.7 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.78 percent) of crimes reported to it. We estimate that the force fails to record over 8,900 reported crimes each year.

However, the force acknowledges that it still has more work to do. It recognises that it still doesn’t always make the correct crime recording decisions. And it must work to:

  • improve recording standards for violent crime, particularly harassment, stalking, coercive and controlling behaviour, and domestic abuse-related crimes;
  • ensure it only uses out-of-court disposals when it is appropriate;
  • ensure it always records reports of crime received from professional third parties; and
  • correctly identify and record modern slavery crimes originating from modern slavery referrals it receives.

Summary of findings

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

  • has made crime recording training available to all officers and staff who make crime recording decisions;
  • has an effective feedback process for officers and staff through the crime bureau, which supports its commitment to continual improvement;
  • has invested in additional resources to increase its ability to audit crime recording;
  • makes good use of audit results to inform training and make improvements;
  • has strong governance arrangements to make sure that it maintains the improvements it has made to its crime recording; and
  • has completed all but one of the recommendations from our 2014 report.

The FCR and her deputy are responsible for oversight and audit of crime recording requirements. They have completed a national College of Policing course for FCRs and the FCR is fully accredited for the role. Her deputy awaits final accreditation.

Despite these advances, the force needs to:

  • record more crimes within 24 hours as required by the national crime recording standard;
  • ensure that all supervisors, officers and staff who work in a crime recording role complete the crime recording training that has been made available to them;
  • improve how it collects equality information to help it understand and respond to the effect of criminality on identifiable groups within its communities; and
  • make sure it only uses out-of-court disposals when it is appropriate.

Areas for improvement

The force should immediately:

  • improve how it records violent crimes, particularly harassment, stalking, coercive and controlling behaviour, and domestic abuse-related crimes;
  • arrange to provide training in the Home Office Counting Rules for all officers and staff in crime recording roles;
  • improve how it identifies and records modern slavery crimes from reports received through the national referral mechanism; and
  • improve how it collects and analyses equality data through its crime reporting and recording systems.

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

graded good

Overall crime recording rate

90.7% of reported crimes were recorded


Over 8,900 reports of crime a year are not recorded

The force has made good progress with its processes, ensuring it now records more 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 it had created an auditable record. The force told us that 99.1 percent of crime it records (excluding fraud) comes through an auditable route. This doesn’t mean that 99.1 percent of crimes reported to West Mercia Police come through these routes, but that 99.1 percent of crime is recorded this way.

We found that the force recorded 90.7 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.78 percent). We estimate that this means the force is not recording more than 8,900 reports of crime each year.

We found that supervision and oversight of crime recording decisions by the crime bureau was effective. This layer of scrutiny has allowed the force to identify and record some crimes that it might otherwise have missed, improving its crime recording since our 2014 inspection.

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 stalking and harassment offences;
  • it doesn’t always follow the rules for recording crime reports received from third party professionals;
  • when incident records contain multiple crime reports, it often fails to identify and record one or more of these crimes; and
  • after a deployment, officers don’t always record a proper explanation for why they haven’t recorded a crime reported during the initial contact with the force.

Of the 1,077 reports of crime that we audited, we assessed 293 as related to domestic abuse. Of these, the force had recorded 264. The 29 offences not recorded included 25 violent crimes and four other crimes. Many of these were reported at the first point of contact with the force, but it didn’t record them and didn’t properly explain why.

The force has a diary appointment system to deal with low-risk domestic abuse incidents. These incidents should be attended within 48 hours of the report. However, we found that in many cases the force is not meeting this timeframe. As a result, there are unacceptable delays to recording crimes and some crimes aren’t being recorded at all. This is depriving some domestic abuse victims of the support they need and deserve.

The force completed safeguarding actions in most cases. But its failure to record these crimes led to most of these victims being let down, because it didn’t investigate their crimes.

The under-recording of crimes related to domestic abuse, and the failure to provide a suitable service to some of these victims, is an area for improvement.

Violence crimes

87.9% of reported violent crimes were recorded

Over 4,200 reports of violent crime a year are not recorded

We found that 87.9 percent of violent crimes reported to the force are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.85 percent). By our estimate, this means the force fails to record over 4,200 violent crimes that are reported to it each year. As violent crime can be particularly distressing for the victim, and many of these crimes involve injury, better recording is particularly important.

In most cases where the force 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 some public order offences.

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

More than 95.2% of reported sex offences were recorded

The force records 95.2 percent of sexual offence crimes (including rape) that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.84 percent). This is a good standard of crime recording accuracy. We estimate that this means the force is not recording over 180 reported sexual offence crimes each year. The unrecorded crimes included offences of inciting a child to commit a sexual act, causing or inciting sexual activity with a child, and sexual assault of an adult.

This recording rate shows the close attention the force gives to reports of sexual offences. It ensures victims receive the service and support they deserve. This is welcome and is particularly important as many of these crimes are very serious in nature and cause significant harm to their victims.

Rape

58 of 62 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 62 reports of rape that the force should have recorded, and it had correctly recorded 58 of these. Of the unrecorded crimes:

  • one was wrongly classified as sexual activity with a child; and
  • three were incorrectly recorded under the Home Office classification N100 (see below).

The force completed safeguarding actions in all cases and appropriately investigated three of them. But the victim of the remaining offence disengaged after lack of police contact for over six months.

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 ten incident reports for which the force should have applied an N100 classification, and it did so on nine occasions. Separately, we also reviewed 20 sample records where it had applied an N100 classification. We found that two of these should have been recorded as a crime of rape from the outset.

The force has a process where all reports of rape are immediately notified to the crime bureau, which records and quality assures them. Because of this, rapes and N100s are generally well understood and well managed in the crime bureau. But we found little knowledge or understanding of N100s among frontline officers and staff.

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

graded good

Crime reports held on other systems

28 of 31 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 force has worked hard to make sure that staff working in its harm assessment units (HAUs) understand their crime recording responsibilities. This includes crimes disclosed during meetings or case conferences with third party professionals, and those identified during ongoing investigations.

We examined 25 vulnerable victim adult records and 25 vulnerable victim child records. We also examined 20 email referrals the HAU received. From these we found that the force should have recorded 31 crimes, of which it had recorded 28. This level of recording accuracy is encouraging.

The three missed crimes were one crime of coercive and controlling behaviour against an adult and two common assaults against children. The force acted to safeguard all the victims. But its failure to record these crimes led to those victims being let down, because it didn’t investigate their crimes.

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 19 modern slavery crimes and 17 other crimes that should have been recorded. Of these, 33 crimes were correctly recorded. The three unrecorded crimes were all against children. They comprised:

  • one crime of making, taking or distributing indecent images of children; and
  • two crimes of sexual activity with a child.

In addition, we reviewed nine reports received through the modern slavery referral mechanism. We found eight crimes that should have been recorded, but only two had been. The six that were unrecorded were all modern slavery crimes. The referral process doesn’t always result in the force correctly identifying modern slavery crimes. So this is an area for improvement.

The force has worked hard to improve its workforce’s knowledge and understanding of modern slavery. Training has been provided, and information is easily accessible via the force intranet or an app on officers’ hand-held devices.

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 West Mercia Police had recorded, it had only recorded the following number within 24 hours of receiving the report:

  • 313 out of 430 violent crimes;
  • 131 out of 178 sexual offences; and
  • 229 out of 302 other offences.

Although some victims might be referred to support agencies in other ways, recording reported crimes late leads 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 ten out of 11 cancelled offences of rape. Designated decision makers (DDMs) are responsible for other crime cancellation decisions. They had correctly authorised the cancellation of:

  • 19 out of 20 sexual offences;
  • 18 out of 20 violence offences; and
  • all seven robbery offences.

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 were pleased to find that of the 24 victims who should have been told of the transfer or cancellation, 21 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.

In April 2019, West Mercia Police introduced Victim Advice Line, a service specifically developed to provide emotional and practical support for victims of crime. The service is free and confidential and is available for all victims irrespective of whether they report a crime. A needs and risk assessment is completed to decide exactly what kind of help and support victims need.

Victims are also assigned a care co-ordinator, who will support them throughout. This makes sure their needs are met, and that they always have someone to talk to. The care co-ordinators can also refer victims to other specialist services, such as Victim 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.

We found that the force routinely captures information on victims’ age and gender, but not on ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation. It can only get this information from the narrative or audio recording of the call when the victim happens to disclose it.

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 West Mercia Police about their experience of crime recording. Some 351 respondents took part. We were pleased to find that two thirds of respondents agreed that the chief officer team clearly communicates the need for ethical crime recording. And most are aware of their responsibilities to challenge unethical activities and behaviours.

Just over half of the respondents said that they hadn’t experienced pressure not to record crime accurately. But less than half of the respondents involved in recording crime remembered having received any 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 good

The deputy chief constable (DCC) is the strategic lead for CDI. Together with the FCR, she has been particularly visible in communicating crime recording expectations and its link to better victim services. She also chairs a strategic governance group for crime recording, known as the CDI core group.

There are a range of other governance arrangements that consider crime recording issues. These include the:

  • service improvement board;
  • senior detective forum;
  • CDI tactical group; and
  • daily management meetings.

The force makes good use of its internal crime recording audits. It reviews them in strategic meetings, circulates them to supervisors and reports the findings to its learning and development group to inform future training requirements. This is good practice.

The FCR and her deputy are fully supported by the chief officers. They are empowered to make the required decisions to maintain and further improve crime recording.

West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police have a joint CDI action plan which includes all force and national recommendations from our 2014 reports. West Mercia Police has made good progress against this plan and fully implemented most of the recommendations.

The two forces developed a new joint CDI action plan in October 2017. The plan addresses the last outstanding recommendation from 2014, which relates to out-of-court disposals. It also includes further areas for improvement which the force has found. We were pleased to see that the action plan already includes some of the areas for improvement we identified in this inspection. This demonstrates the force’s commitment to continuous improvement.

Conclusion

The force has made good progress in improving its crime recording since our 2014 inspection.

The leadership team in West Mercia Police is clearly committed to good crime recording. This has made sure that more victims receive the service they are entitled to and can access support and safeguarding where needed.

We are confident that the force’s leadership and governance arrangements will enable it to address the remaining areas for improvement identified in this inspection.

What next?

We welcome the steps taken by West Mercia Police to improve its crime recording arrangements. We expect the force to continue to make progress and to build on its improvements made so far. We will monitor this progress.

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