Improvements needed in West Midlands regional response to serious organised crime

The Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) for the West Midlands and its constituent police forces should improve how they work together to tackle serious and organised crime, the policing inspectorate has said.

May 14, 2024
By Paul Jacques
Picture: West Midlands Police

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said while the ROCU has “effective processes in place” to disrupt criminal activity, it needed improve its management of serious and organised crime offenders.

Overall, the ROCU for the West Midlands has been graded as ‘adequate’ by HMICFRS.

Individually, the four forces that make up the ROCU were graded as: Staffordshire Police – ‘requires improvement’; Warwickshire Police – ‘requires improvement’; West Mercia Police – ‘inadequate’; and West Midlands Police – ‘adequate’.

Inspectors found that the West Midlands ROCU has effective structures and processes in place to gather and assess intelligence, and that it makes effective use of its specialist capabilities.

However, HMICFRS said that the West Midlands ROCU should improve its management of serious and organised crime offenders, and how it records disruption activity.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Andy Cooke said: “The ROCU for the West Midlands has effective processes in place to collect and assess intelligence, supporting its ability to set priorities and tackle serious and organised crime.

“We found that the ROCU has a range of specialist operational capabilities, which it ensures its personnel and forces are aware of. It also prioritises tackling vulnerability, identifying opportunities to safeguard vulnerable people.

“However, the ROCU and its regional forces need to improve how they work together to tackle serious and organised crime. It’s also important that regional change is managed effectively by the newly appointed leaders in this area, to reduce any impact on services.

“We will be working closely with the ROCU and monitoring its progress against our new recommendations.”

Area for improvement highlighted included improving the effectiveness of the lead responsible officer (LRO) role; improving the quality and consistency of 4P (Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare) plans; developing a regional approach to the management of 4P plans; improving how serious and organised crime (SOC) disruptions are recorded to accurately reflect regional performance; and identifying and promoting promising and innovative practice.

West Mercia Police T/Chief Constable Alex Murray said while he was “disappointed” with the grading and acknowledged that more work was needed, “significant changes” had already been made in the 11 months since the inspection took place.

The report found that West Mercia Police has structures and sufficient specialised resources in place, which have been boosted by significant funding from the police and crime commissioner, to tackle offending and assess threats well, but that improvements are needed in some areas, leading to an overall rating of inadequate.

Mr Murray said: “Whilst I am, of course, disappointed with the grading given, I accept that there are more improvements we need to make in the way we tackle serious organised crime.

“The inspection was a review of our work in 2022 and the beginning of 2023 and we’ve already made some significant changes. In the last 12 months we’ve seen crime reduce, including a ten per cent decrease in robbery, more crimes detected, significant investigations concluding with lengthy prison sentences for offenders and ultimately less victims of crime in the areas we serve.

“We are dedicated to disrupting and dismantling organised crime groups; in the past year we’ve arrested 484 people and seized drugs with an estimated street value of almost £1 million and almost £300,000 worth of cash. 167 weapons have been taken off our streets and 164 people have been safeguarded.

“Our communities will also have seen outcomes of significant investigations on our social media channels and in the local press, such as the February sentencing for county lines drug dealers to a combined total of more than 40 years in prison – just one example of the positive results we are seeing in pursuing offenders.”

Areas identified for improvement included the force’s work with partners, use of analysis and enhancing the wider workforce’s understanding of tackling serious and organised crime.

“Since the inspection we have put clear agreements in place with our community safety partnerships to ensure data and information is shared and the threat of serious and organised crime is fully understood by all agencies,” Mr Murray said.

“A comprehensive programme is being progressed to further develop the skills and capabilities of those responsible for disrupting and dismantling organised crime groups through the 4P framework and improve the way best practice is highlighted and recorded.”

A national multi-agency tactic to tackle serious and organised crime threats through neighbourhood policing and partnership working, known as Clear, Hold, Build, has been launched in Oswestry this year with plans to extend the approach to other areas, he said.

“It was good to see that our specialist resources and the way we are able to assess threats were highlighted as working well,” Mr Murray added. “We are committed to delivering the recommendations in the report and we will further improve the work we are doing to protect those being exploited, ensure offenders are brought to justice and that we are working effectively with partners to prevent crimes and keep the areas served by West Mercia Police safe.”

Staffordshire Police said there while there were some “extremely positive” findings from the inspection, there were “no surprises” in areas it needs to work on.

“Much of this was well underway by the time of the inspection, and we’ve made significant progress since,” the force said. “However, there are some longer-term and more difficult challenges where we continue to adapt, change and resource.

“Our understanding of SOC and priority setting feedback was positive, highlighting the effectiveness of our risk assessment process to identify and prioritise threat.

“Our investment in the capacity and capability of our harm reduction hubs and violence reduction teams were recognised in combatting the criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults by organised crime groups.

“Our prevention initiatives to address and disrupt pathways into SOC and focus on vulnerable groups and individuals were noted, as well as how alive we are to the importance of lifetime offender management. Our work on our Making Great Places initiative is an example of this.”

Assistant Chief Constable Becky Riggs said: “The inspection has identified we have some clear gaps around our ability to effectively tackle SOC, but it also recognises we understand this and have plans in place and underway to address some of these issues.

“They also acknowledged our clear aspiration to improve our work in this area through a measured approach and that we know our operating model needs to be a sustainable one.

“We are working on this, some remedial work has been done since the inspection and plans for the longer-term work is ongoing. We are committed to reducing the harm caused by serious and organised crime and protecting those vulnerable to this threat.”

Staffordshire Police said the key areas it has focused on since the initial feedback from HMICFRS are:

Neighbourhood policing teams (NPTs) lead the local response to tackling SOC threats. The inspectorate found that they lacked proactive resources. The force now has a dedicated specialist resource aligned to SOC work. In 2023 proactive teams made more than 250 arrests, recovered six firearms, closed 19 County Lines and secured prison sentences totalling more than 110 years

Inconsistences in the preparation and ongoing monitoring of our policing plans and information sharing with partners. The force has made improvements to its plans and is recording them on police systems. There is also a new process working with partners to better share information and collectively respond to actions

Intelligence is not always being developed quickly enough to support investigations and proactive disruption activity. Staffordshire Police said it has made “significant investment” within its intelligence teams for SOC work, including its SOC and exploitation team (SOCEX), which focus on specific threats.

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