Avon and Somerset Constabulary told to improve crime investigations

Avon and Somerset Constabulary has been told it needs to improve the way it investigates and records crime following its latest inspection, which also found failings in the way offenders are managed in the community and victims are safeguarded.

Mar 17, 2023
By Website Editor
Chief Constable Sarah Crew

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) conducted its review over a 12-month period between 2021 and 2022. It was found to be:

  • Outstanding – in engaging and treating the public with fairness and respect
  • Good – in use of resources, as well as supporting and protecting the workforce
  • Adequate – in preventing crime and anti-social behaviour (ASB) and protecting vulnerable people
  • Requiring improvement – in responding to the public, investigating crime, managing offenders and crime recording

There were no areas in which an inadequate grading was given.

The report found the force recorded 91.4 per cent of all reported crime, meaning 13,100 alleged offences went unlogged – 8,300 of which were violent and 420 were sexual.

Inspectors also warned a number of cases relating to adult and child protection had not been properly recorded, including offences of controlling and coercive behaviour and sexual assault. It was a similar picture with reports of anti-social behaviour – a review of 28 calls found just 13 had been recorded.

While the force answered both emergency and non-emergency calls quickly, call handlers sometimes failed to identify repeat victims, and those who were vulnerable. In 14 out of 65 cases reviewed, the caller’s vulnerability was not gauged using a structured risk assessment, and in the remainder the assessment varied in form and quality.

HMICFRS praised the force for keeping victims updated on the progress of investigations but it warned that in a review of cases where the victim had withdrawn their support for police action, half had no clear record confirming their decision.

Elsewhere, there were failures to effectively monitor registered sex offenders in the community. There were 217 sex offenders overdue a visit from an offender manager at the time of the inspection, with one case several months overdue.

The force was rated ‘outstanding’ in its treatment of the public and its strategies for engaging with various communities. HMICFRS also praised Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s work to tackle issues such as knife crime, child sexual exploitation and county lines drug dealing.

Commenting on the report, Chief Constable Sarah Crew said the force was investing in people and had worked hard “to lay solid foundations on which we can improve our performance across the board”.

She said: “Treating the public with fairness, dignity and respect is a cornerstone of our cherished model of policing by consent, and is at the heart of everything we do. To be one of the few police services graded as outstanding in this area significantly underpins our legitimacy; without success in this area, we can’t hope to achieve in any other area of the assessment.

“We’re fortunate to police a diverse area of the country and this grading shows we’re on the right track. The report recognises the ‘clear strategy’ we have set to engage and work with our diverse communities and respond to their concerns. It recognises the work of our outreach team in bridging the gap with communities who traditionally have less trust and confidence in the police, encouraging people from those communities to consider careers in the police service and help us become as diverse as we can be.

“We’ve worked hard to lay solid foundations on which we can improve our performance across the board, and the inspectors, in grading us as ‘good’ for strategic planning and supporting our workforce, clearly recognise the work that’s already taken place.

“Investing in people and equipping our growing and relatively inexperienced workforce with the skills they need, while providing the public with value for money, is key to this success.

“But the report also flags areas where we need to do better. Responding to the public more quickly, improving our investigations and better management of offenders, are areas of intense focus for us, and we have plans in place to address the shortfalls outlined.

“The report recognises the sheer volume of non-emergency demand coming into the police service, much of which we know is spill-over demand from other public services.

“In the last 12 months, we’ve taken more than 385,000 calls for service, with under a third of these relating to crime or ASB. The rest are issues which go beyond the policing sphere, including incidents involving people in mental health crisis.

“We have to address these critical issues with our partner agencies, to ensure the right public service is dealing with the problems they have the expertise and skills to address, and we must find solutions to free up capacity for our officers, police staff and volunteers, so they can respond to our core policing responsibilities. This is what the public wants and expects.

“We know there’s more to do to improve our investigations and management of offenders, and we’re channelling our increased resources, through the national Uplift programme, into these areas. We need to make sure we are razor sharp in our pursuit and focus on offenders, while continuing to prioritise the needs of victims.

“Operation Bluestone, our dedicated response to rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO), is a prime example of this perpetrator-focussed approach, and we’re already seeing the green shoots of progress. Implementing this transformative approach, with academic research at its core, we’ve seen the charge rate for RASSO offences double in a 12-month spell, from 3.1 per cent to 6.2 per cent, with an even stronger rise to 10 per cent recorded within the past six months.

“Generating extra capacity and specialisms takes time, and is not an immediate fix, but our plans are well advanced and this is reflected in the report.

“Improving the accuracy of our crime data has been, and remains, a priority for us. We pride ourselves on being a data-led police service and the inspectors referred to our use of data analytics to drive our efficiency, performance and risk management throughout the report.

“While we’ve improved on our previous assessment, there’s more work we need to do to ensure all crimes are recorded and classified properly. This includes incidents where more than one offence has been committed – we need to make sure we’re recording all additional offences, and not just the main offence. We also need to improve training and awareness among officers and staff to make sure crimes are being classified properly.

“Specifically in relation to the section about the recording of rape offences, I want to provide some reassurance. Our response to rape and sexual offences is very important to me. Effective investigation and good quality victim support are essential in every case. I am pleased we achieved this in the cases audited, including those where our crime recording was incorrect.

“Of the eight unrecorded crimes of rape identified in the report, six were either wrongly classified or mis-recorded. When we’ve looked into these cases, we’ve confirmed investigations were carried out and the victims did receive a good service from us.

“In the remaining two cases, an offence of rape was not recorded as an additional offence as part of an investigation into coercive control. The other was re-classified as a rape offence after initially not being recorded correctly, but this was outside the time limit set by HMICFRS. In both cases, investigations have been carried out and the victims safeguarded.

“I know our officers, PCSOs, police staff and volunteers, will respond positively to this latest assessment – their hard work has played a key role in what’s gone well, and their drive and commitment to serve and protect the public will help us face the challenges we still need to address.”

Police and crime commissioners (PCC) Mark Shelford said: “As PCC, the PEEL inspections are a really important tool in assisting me in my statutory duty of scrutinising and holding to account the chief constable and the force for delivering an efficient and effective police service for all our communities. Thank you to the HMICFRS inspection team for completing this vital piece of work.

“I am delighted that Avon and Somerset Police has been graded outstanding for their work in ‘engaging with and treating the public with fairness and respect.’ This is a well-deserved achievement and I would like to thank all the officers and staff from across the force and my office who contribute to this work. It is only by engaging with the public in a fair and respectful way that the policing service will restore and build public confidence among our communities and help them feel safe.

“I’m also pleased that other key areas of policing that the PEEL report assess have been graded as good or adequate. However, I’m concerned – as I’m sure local people will be – about the areas highlighted that still require improvement including investigating crime, recording data about crime, responding to the public and managing offenders.

“I will be scrutinising the chief constable and her response to the report, and will work alongside her to ensure Avon and Somerset Police is focusing on all the aspects they need to improve on in an urgent manner. Through my office, and as part of my monthly Performance and Accountability Board meetings, we will facilitate transparency and public accountability on how Avon and Somerset addresses the areas for improvement identified in the report. These meetings can we watched live via Facebook or at a later date on my website.

“My team and I will be reviewing the report in greater detail and will discuss how we will focus our scrutiny and governance of Avon and Somerset Police in those areas going forward.”

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