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Our police told to improve on protecting the vulnerable and cutting crime

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Published by the Pirate FM News Team at 7:25am 22nd March 2018. (Updated at 6:25am 23rd March 2018)

Devon and Cornwall Police has been told it needs to do better at protecting the vulnerable and cutting crime.

The watchdog has rated the force as 'requires improvement' and it comes as recorded crime rose 17% in the 12 months to June 2017.

Its latest report uncovered gaps in some investigations, warning that officers are coping with an increasing number of cases.

Inspectors flagged up issues around areas like collecting CCTV images and missing chances to speak to witnesses.

Wendy Williams from HMIC said: "It's important that forces protect the most vulnerable and whilst the force was good at identifying vulnerability, it needed to improve the way that it protected some of its most vulnerable victims".

She added: "Examples included making good use of body-worn videos. That's a way of strengthening the evidence against perpertrators and it can mean that victims don't have to go to court".

Investigating Crime and Reducing Re-Offending

Initial Investigation:

Victims of crime receive a good service when they contact Devon and Cornwall Police's control rooms. The force makes use of the nationally recognised riskassessment process, known as THRIVE,6 to assess the risks that callers face. This helps the force to prioritise the response it offers to callers. The call handlers we spoke to understood force policies and procedures.

Although officers generally are assigned promptly to incidents, we found that they overlook some of their initial responsibilities at crime scenes. The police service refers to the early stages of an investigation as the 'golden hour' - the best time after a crime has been committed to collect as much forensic evidence as possible. It is important to take all the necessary steps when a crime has been committed; past experience shows investigations are less likely to succeed if they are overlooked.

For example, we found occasions where officers did not retrieve CCTV images and missed opportunities to speak to witnesses. It is not clear if officers do not follow the 'golden hour' principles because they do not understand their responsibilities at a crime scene, or because they have insufficient time to spend with victims, or because of poor management supervision. Some investigations we reviewed needed remedial action as the initial stages of the enquiry had not been completed fully.

Such omissions may have adverse consequences for victims of crime and for the service they receive. Devon and Cornwall Police needs to act to ensure more consistent completion of those responsibilities in that hour.

Protecting Vulnerable People and Supporting Victims

Initial Response:

Devon and Cornwall Police is generally effective at identifying vulnerability when officers and staff are first deployed to incidents, but some procedures need to improve. Officers take immediate steps to protect people from harm when they first arrive at the crime scene. The standardised risk-assessment tools that they use to determine whether vulnerable people need specialist safeguarding support from other organisations include the vulnerability screening tool (ViST), the domestic abuse, stalking and harassment (DASH) risk assessment and the victim needs assessment (VNA). Officers record details electronically on portable data devices, but the restrictions of the devices mean that they have to double input details both on to DASH and on to ViST. They cannot search intelligence systems and cannot input intelligence though their device. A supervisor does not see the DASH before it is submitted. This means that officers are making decisions in isolation, which can create additional risk. Supervision of these assessments is not always evident. They are sometimes submitted containing only limited, or incomplete, information. The forms that staff complete are not routinely reviewed by a supervisor to quality assure. This means that reporting officers and investigators must undertake additional work, which may have an effect on the service provided to victims.

The rate of arrest for domestic abuse offences can provide an indication of a force's approach to handling domestic abuse offenders. Although for the purpose of this calculation arrests are not linked directly to offences, a high arrest rate may suggest that a force prioritises arrests for domestic abuse offenders over other potential forms of action.

HMICFRS has evaluated the arrest rate alongside other measures during our inspection process to understand how each force deals with domestic abuse overall.

Responding to the report, which you can read in full here, Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer has guaranteed dealing with those at the highest risk and threat of harm in our communities will always be the greatest focus for Devon and Cornwall Police.

He said: "Today's HMICFRS report is mostly positive, based on HMICFRS assessment, recognising that Devon and Cornwall Police is good at tackling serious and organised crime and is good at preventing crime and tackling anti-social behaviour and that the prevention of crime and protecting the most vulnerable is a priority for our Force.

"I am firmly committed to ensuring the most vulnerable and those needing the most dedicated police support in a time of need get the service they deserve.

"We have to focus our resources to ensure threat, risk and harm are our core considerations with victims at the forefront of everything we do.

"An analogy is a cut thumb might require minimal medical attention and self-medication, while a severed hand requires expert medical attention and surgery – we have to focus police resources similarly".

Of the five areas covered by today's report, Chief Constable Sawyer has placed particular significance on the way vulnerability is measured and the need to have local knowledge and insight to accurately and fairly reflect performance.

He added: "Vulnerability comes in so many different guises and level of seriousness. Domestic abuse remains a critical focus and area of development, but vulnerability means so much more and touches many other areas of our communities.

"I have to ensure my force manages those higher levels of threat and vulnerability in Devon and Cornwall - something a national assessment may not always appreciate or be able to reflect.

"Areas such as child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, honour based violence and wider sexual exploitation all require threat assessment and very often an expert police response in which, with the support of the Police and Crime Commissioner we have invested heavily - that isn't necessarily measured in today’s report.

"It is critical I recognise the exceptional work of our partners and the third sector in respect of victim support and safeguarding. It is to the credit of our partners within the mental health arena that we have worked together over the last few years in respect of our joint working and management of budgets and it is disappointing that HMICFRS has paid less regard to the issues of mental health and mental health provision within the force area and which is one of the greatest impacts upon our resources and that of our partners".

Today's report is the latest strand in the HMICFRS PEEL series looking at policing efficiency, effectiveness and leadership across Devon and Cornwall and every other police force in England and Wales. The last Efficiency and Leadership assessments were graded as 'good'.

Chief Constable Sawyer said: "We know the public of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are confident in their local police force, in fact latest figures show we have very high levels of confidence. In the most recent Crime Survey for England & Wales on public confidence.

"Devon and Cornwall Police ranks fourth in community engagement, and second in police dealing with community priorities. This shows we are engaged with our local communities.

"We want to reduce reoffending from criminals and prevent people becoming involved in crime - the early intervention pilot to tackle those involved in crime at the earliest possible point, introduced by the Force and Police and Crime Commissioner, shows progress in this area".

Whilst acknowledging areas to improve outlined in the report, Chief Constable Sawyer further added: "The HMICFRS report highlights that the domestic abuse arrest rate has fallen from 50.9% per 100 domestic abuse-related crimes in 2016 to 32.9% in the same period in 2017. This trend reflects law changes, such as an increased use of voluntary attendance of suspects at police stations.

"Incidents of domestic abuse are both complex and varied and we are committed to prioritising the wishes of the victim whilst concentrating fully on safeguarding to ensure their safety and that of their families. It is not simply a case of locking up an offender and I'd suggest the need to give due regard to the domestic abuse conviction rates issued by the CPS and which places the force fifth within the country. Additionally, figures which show that approximately 86% of domestic abuse victims were satisfied with the overall service provided by the police.

"Thousands of victims have benefitted from the Devon and Cornwall Police Victim Care Unit, a support network directly addressing specific needs of the victim, regardless of the crime type. This network also acts as an additional gateway to support those who choose not to report crime and provides bespoke advice and assistance through a wide and varied network of organisations and charities.

"It is prudent to mention that out of 43 Forces across the country, we have the fifth lowest crime levels per head of population, despite the summer residing population being six times the resident population.

"There is learning and development which needs to come from this report, but the public should be confident that police officers and staff are doing everything possible to ensure their community is safeguarded and protected from harm.

"Our Force mission is to prevent harm, reduce crime and protect the vulnerable while safeguarding communities and providing a resilient policing service - I am confident we are doing this".

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