West Midlands Police: Crime Data Integrity inspection 2017

Please note: This inspection was carried out before 19 July 2017, when HMIC also took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. The methodology underpinning our inspection findings is unaffected by this change.

References to HMICFRS in this report may relate to an event that happened before 19 July 2017 when HMICFRS was HMIC.

Overall judgment

graded inadequate

West Midlands Police has taken action to improve crime-recording accuracy since HMICFRS’ 2014 Crime Data Integrity inspection report. We found that:

  • most officers and staff have made progress in placing the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions;
  • it has worked hard to improve the knowledge and understanding of crime-recording requirements for modern slavery crimes among officers and staff;
  • it has implemented most of the recommendations set out in our 2014 report; and
  • it has made good progress against a national action plan developed to improve crime-recording by police forces.

More work remains to be done, however. Despite advances, based on the findings of our examination of crime reports for the period 1 July 2016 to 31 December 2016 we estimate that the force fails to record over 38,800 reported crimes each year. This represents a recording rate of 83.8 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.88 percent). The 16.2 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 77.9 percent (with a confidence interval of +/- 3.36 percent). This means that on too many occasions, the force is failing victims of crime.

The force must make improvements in several areas. There are too many failures to make the correct crime-recording decision at the first opportunity. Not all staff and officers have a good understanding of crime-recording requirements, and limited supervision means poor crime-recording decisions are not corrected at the earliest opportunity.

Summary of inspection findings

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

  • progress has been made with implementing changes recommended in the 2014 report and, as a result, the force has completed most of these recommendations;
  • the force has also made good progress against the action plan developed by the national policing lead on crime statistics following the 2014 report, which all forces have been asked to implement. These include improvements to the force’s use of out-of-court disposals (e.g. cautions and community resolutions) and to the level of its audit of crime-recording decisions; and
  • the force crime registrar (FCR), – responsible for oversight of crime-recording arrangements – has completed a national College of Policing course for FCRs and is now fully accredited for the role. His work is supported by an accredited deputy FCR and a small audit team.

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

  • The force is currently under-recording too many reports of crime, including:
    • violent crimes;
    • reports of rape; and
    • other sexual offences.

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.

  • Incidents which have been disclosed directly to public protection teams as part of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, and which amount to a crime in law, are not always recorded as such.
  • Delays in recording a reported crime are leading to delays in referring victims to Victim Support, letting down those victims who need the early support this organisation can provide.
  • The force is incorrectly cancelling some recorded violence and robbery offences.
  • 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 officers and staff not understanding their responsibilities for crime recording. In addition, there is limited supervision of the crime-recording decisions taken by officers and staff.

Cause of concern

In West Midlands Police, officers and staff fail to make correct crime-recording decisions at the first opportunity. This is due to deficiencies in the force’s crime-recording processes, insufficient understanding of crime-recording requirements and limited supervision to correct decisions and improve standards from the outset. This means that the force is failing many victims of crime.

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

Recommendations

  • Within six months, West Midlands Police should take steps to identify and address gaps in its systems and processes to ensure that when officers have attended incidents all reported crimes are recorded. This should include satisfying itself as to the effectiveness of its arrangements for the recording of crimes by officers through the crime service team. The force also needs to implement a consistent and structured approach to call-handling quality assurance processes that includes checking compliance with the National Crime Recording Standards.
  • Within three months, the force should review its operating arrangements to ensure that these arrangements secure the recording of all reported crimes at the first point at which sufficient information exists to make a crime-recording decision, and in any event within 24 hours of receipt of the report.
  • Within three months, the force should develop and implement procedures for the effective supervision of crime-recording decisions throughout the whole force.
  • Within six months, the force should put in place arrangements to ensure that:
    • at the point of report, particularly in domestic abuse cases, greater emphasis is placed on the initial account of the victims;
    • where more than one crime is disclosed within an incident record, or identified as part of other recorded crime investigations, these are recorded.

Areas for improvement

  • Immediately, West Midlands Police should ensure that reports of rape are recorded at the first point that sufficient information exists to record a crime, which in most cases will be at the point of report. This should include the recording of classification N100.
  • Immediately, 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.

How effective is the force at recording reported crime?

graded inadequate

Overall crime-recording rate

83.8% of reported crimes 
were recorded

Over 38,800 reports of crime a year 
are not recorded

West Midlands Police 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 all crime that is recorded (excluding fraud) came through an auditable crime reporting route.

We found that the force recorded 83.8 percent of these crimes (with a confidence interval of +/- 1.88 percent). We estimate that this means the force is not recording over 38,800 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 1,465 reports of crime that we audited, we assessed 429 to be crimes related to domestic abuse. Of these 429 crimes, the force had recorded 313. The 116 offences not recorded included 64 assaults, three offences of coercive behaviour, two stalking offences and two offences of threats to kill.

We found that many of these reports involved the reporting of a crime at the first point of contact with the force, but these crime reports went unrecorded with insufficient justification to explain why.

We found no record of safeguarding requirements having been considered in around half of the 116 unrecorded domestic abuse crimes, and in the vast majority of these 116 crimes no investigation had been carried out. This included cases involving assaults, threats to kill, stalking and coercive behaviour. The absence of investigation may significantly increase the potential risk of harm to these victims.

The under-recording of crimes related to domestic abuse incidents, and the failure to provide safeguarding and a satisfactory service to these victims, are a cause of 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:
    • Where reports of crime are recorded after the victim has been seen by an officer during a scheduled appointment, or following a telephone investigation, not all reported crimes are being recorded.
    • Attending officers are sometimes unclear on who has responsibility for the recording of a report of crime when the investigation of the crime rests elsewhere, this results in crimes not being recorded.
    • When further offences come to light after the initial deployment or during subsequent investigation, the force does not always record reported crimes.
    • Reporting officers often have difficulty contacting the crime services team (the force crime-recording team) by telephone to report crimes. Additionally, there is a limit on how many crimes can be recorded with one phone call; this can mean that on some occasions officers have to end a call to then call back to record further reports of crime.

The force has already taken steps to address some of these deficiencies through the introduction of an initial investigation team. Although new, we found that this team has a good understanding of crime-recording requirements. This is welcome. The force should continue to monitor performance in this area to satisfy itself that the introduction of this team results in the intended improvements to crime-recording accuracy.

However, in addition:

  • We found that call handlers (who receive reports of crime by telephone) and frontline officers are not always sure of crime-recording requirements, and there is a lack of experience and knowledge in some recently recruited staff.

    In particular:

    • basic crime-recording principles and knowledge of crime-recording requirements relating to common assault and third-party reports (i.e. those reported by social services or health professionals) are not always understood;
    • at the point of reporting, on occasion, when assessing whether, on the balance of probability, an offence has been committed, insufficient emphasis has been given to the account of the victim; and
    • new team members in the crime service team have not received any formal crime-recording training.

At the time of the inspection the force was rolling out a comprehensive online training package in crime recording. The force would benefit from reviewing the content and effectiveness of this training in light of the findings of this report.

  • A further problem relates to the force’s supervision of its crime-recording decisions. We found that this requires improvement. In particular:
    • control room supervisors do not have the capacity to scrutinise adequately all crime-related incidents to satisfy themselves that crime-recording decisions are correct; and
    • despite call-handling supervisors carrying out regular dip-sampling of call handlers’ work, this does not include a check of crime-recording decisions.

Violence against the person

77.9% of reported violent crimes 
were recorded

Over 13,600 reports of violent crime a year 
are not recorded

We found that 77.9 percent of violent crimes reported to the force are recorded (with a confidence interval of +/- 3.36 percent). This is lower than the overall crime-recording rate noted above. By our estimate, this means the force fails to record over 13,600 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 the violent crimes not recorded by the force involve injury, which can cause even further distress for the victim. We therefore find the failure to record reported violent crime to be a serious cause of 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 recording a reported crime (described earlier);
  • officers and staff not understanding adequately the crime-recording rules, particularly about the complexities of some violence offences such as harassment, malicious communications and common assault; and
  • a lack 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 from other appropriate agencies, such as Victim Support. In these circumstances, crime-recording is even more important because failing to record a violent crime may mean that Victim Support is not notified that a person has become a victim of violent crime and so cannot offer victims the support they may need and deserve.

Sexual offences

91.4% of reported sex offences 
were recorded

Over 440 reports of sex offences a year 
are not recorded

The force’s recording of reports of sexual offences (excluding rape) must improve. We found that the force records 91.4 percent of sexual offence crimes that are reported to it (with a confidence interval of +/- 2.63 percent). We estimate that this means the force fails to record over 440 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, for example, that the force failed to record reports of sexual assault against both adults and children and sexual activity with a child.

The causes of that under-recording are similar to those identified above for violent crime:

  • 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, particularly with regard to third-party reports; and
  • a lack 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

150 of 167 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.

We found 167 reports of rape that should have been recorded, but only 150 of these had been recorded. These 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 records (see below). Five of these missed records of rape had been classified in error as a different crime.

However, we found that although a crime may not have been recorded, West Midlands Police provided support and safeguarding in all but three of these cases, including referrals to partner organisations when appropriate, and carried out an investigation in all cases. The three cases in which safeguarding did not take place involved victims who refused to engage with the police, which made any investigation and safeguarding difficult.

The reasons for these 17 crimes not being recorded are similar to those for sexual offences:

  • the deficiency of the processes that are currently in place for recording a reported crime. For example: it is force policy that rape crimes be recorded at the first point of contact, but despite receiving training, call handlers lack the confidence to record crimes of rape, choosing to record a non-crime incident instead;
  • officers and staff not understanding adequately the crime-recording rules. For example, although several of the missed crimes of rape involved multiple offenders, these require a crime record for each offender; but it is clear from our inspection that not all staff are aware of this requirement; and
  • a lack of adequate supervision of crime-recording decisions.

There are, in addition, some problems surrounding the force’s use of the Home Office classification N100. 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 recorded immediately as a confirmed crime. This can include instances 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 six incident reports for which an N100 classification should have been applied, but it was only applied in three of them.

We also reviewed 19 sample records where an N100 classification had been used. Among these, we found six reports that the force should have recorded as crimes of rape but did not. The remaining 13 were correctly recorded.

We found very little understanding of the N100 classification among frontline officers, including those working in the specialist public protection department or the call centre. Awareness was good in the crime service team. The force must ensure that it uses classification N100 consistently on all relevant occasions in order to minimise the delay in recording an offence of rape.

The recording of a report of rape is important. Victims generally require significant support from the outset and any delay in providing support can harm both the recovery of the victim and any investigation. This, in turn, can have a negative effect on future court proceedings. This is an area for improvement.

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

graded requires improvement

Crime reports held on other systems

8 of 14 vulnerable victim crimes were recorded

In order to be confident that vulnerable victims always receive the support they need, West Midlands Police must improve its recording of crimes reported directly to its public protection teams.

We examined 50 vulnerable victim records on the crime system. We found that 14 crimes should have been recorded, but only eight had been. The missing six crimes included one case of child neglect, two assaults, one sexual assault and two thefts.

The reasons for these six crimes not being recorded are the same as were identified for sexual offences. In addition, staff working in public protection teams need a better understanding of the crime-recording expectations for reports of crime received from third parties.

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 reports which the force had recorded as modern slavery crimes. These were all correctly recorded. From these reports we also found the force should have also recorded another seven crimes of other classifications and had recorded five. The two missing crimes included one report of rape and one of common assault. In addition, from our main incident audit we also found one report of modern slavery which was not recorded as a crime.

The force also produced a list of 14 modern slavery intelligence logs for audit. From these we found that 4 modern slavery crimes should have been recorded; 2 were recorded.

The force works regionally, nationally and internationally to tackle modern slavery. A dedicated sergeant for modern slavery leads the force’s response in this area. The force is considering whether to introduce a force-wide modern slavery team to address this growing problem.

Officers and staff have a good, basic knowledge of modern slavery offences. We also found that they have a good, basic knowledge of their respective responsibilities in relation to the recording of such offences and where they can find further information.

Timeliness

The HOCR require that reports of crime are recorded within 24 hours of receipt of the report. We found that, of the reports of crime that had been recorded by West Midlands Police, only 119 out of 150 reports of rape, 365 out of 448 reports of violent crime, 149 out of 180 sexual offences (excluding rape) and 422 out of 453 other offences had been recorded within 24 hours of receipt of the report.

Although some victims may be referred to support agencies in other ways, the delay in recording a reported crime also delays the referral of the victim to Victim Support. As some victims would benefit from the early support this team can provide, these delays are unacceptable.

We found that these delays can be attributed to:

  • not always recording all crimes reported as part of a single incident;
  • delays in reaching the crime service team on the telephone;
  • the failure to always record a reported crime at the first opportunity, sometimes delaying this until after an appointment with the victim; and
  • the process applied by some call handlers when they initially record reports of rape as non-crime incidents.

Cancelled crimes

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

We reviewed 20 cancelled recorded crimes each of rape, violence, sexual offence crimes (excluding rape) and robbery. Of these, we found that the FCR had correctly cancelled all the rape crimes. Other crime cancellation decisions are the responsibility of designated staff, known as designated decision-makers (DDMs). The DDMs had correctly cancelled 19 out of 20 sexual offences, 15 out of 20 violence offences and 15 out of 20 robbery offences.

We also found that many officers and staff had a good understanding of what counts as AVI for the purpose of cancelling a recorded crime.

A victim should always be informed of the status of his or her reported crime when a crime has been cancelled or transferred to another force for investigation. 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 the force had informed the victim of this decision on 78 out of 80 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 provides clear guidance to police forces regarding the service that should be provided to all victims of crime. We have concluded that the force is not complying with all of its responsibilities.

Victim Support provides support to victims of crime who are referred to it after a crime has been recorded. In some cases victims may self-refer. 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 Victim Support are either delayed or not made at all.

However, we found that the force, after it records a crime, sends all victims a standard letter or other communication containing information about their case and directing them to other organisations that can provide them with support.

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. This helps them 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.

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 West Midlands Police of their experience in respect of crime-recording. Some 175 respondents completed the survey. We were pleased to find that the vast majority of respondents believe that doing the right thing for the victim is the aim of the force and this has been reinforced by senior managers. They also reported that the force’s approach to crime-recording had improved or significantly improved since our 2014 inspection. Furthermore, staff were clear that they no longer felt under any pressure to minimise the number of crimes recorded on the basis of performance targets.

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

graded good

Despite the deficiencies in the force’s crime-recording processes, including the limited supervision applied to crime-recording decisions, overall we found strong leadership from senior officers in West Midlands Police in regard to crime-recording expectations, and an approach among the majority of officers and staff that places the victim at the forefront of their crime-recording decisions.

The force has made good progress against the national action plan, developed by the national policing lead on crime statistics after our 2014 report, which all forces have been asked to implement.

Additionally, good progress has been made with implementing changes recommended in our 2014 report, and as a result the force has satisfactorily completed eight out of ten of these recommendations. Those not completed have been superseded by the new recommendations above.

We also found that the FCR, supported by a fully accredited deputy and a small team of staff, carries out very regular crime-recording audits. These follow the national guidance provided by the Home Office. This is good practice. It is also encouraging that the force is considering how the expertise of the FCR and his team can be used to improve the crime-recording audits being carried out locally by different departments and which are intended to provide a better view of crime-recording standards.

Conclusion

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

The strong leadership and positive approach among the majority of officers and staff toward victims is welcome. However, the force needs to improve the crime-recording process, ensuring that its staff and officers fully understand the crime-recording standards expected of them, and that these standards are supervised effectively.

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 early 2018 to assess progress.