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Dorset Police responds to first HMIC PEEL assessment

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has today published its first PEEL (police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) assessment of each force in England and Wales.

As this is the first year the PEEL assessment has been used, the report combines the findings of previous subject-specific inspections carried out and publicised by HMIC. Two more of these inspections - into Crime practices and Integrity and Corruption – were also published today, allowing their findings to be included in the PEEL report.

Overall the PEEL assessment presents a positive picture of policing in Dorset, with five of the six areas assessed as ‘Good’ and only one area as ‘Requires Improvement’. Dorset Police has responded strongly to explain their practices in the area requiring improvement, as the Force felt this was not fully considered during the inspection. The HMIC has taken this into account, changing the wording of the full report, but not the overall rating.

In relation to the other two reports published today, the Integrity and Corruption inspection found high standards at all levels of Dorset Police, from a clear leadership commitment to ethics and professional behaviour, down to ethical decision-making and professionalism in day-to-day policing. The Crime inspection found the Force to have achieved large crime reductions and to have a good preventative approach, with some recommendations made around investigative practices.

Many areas of the PEEL assessment do not yet have a rating, as the HMIC hasn’t inspected these subjects recently. In future years, the intention is for a full PEEL report covering all topics to act as a single benchmark for police forces across the country.

Responding to the reports, Deputy Chief Constable James Vaughan said: “The PEEL assessment process is a good concept, which will simplify how police performance is measured and presented. This will help the public understand exactly how their local police force is operating. In future years it will be even more valuable, as the new inspection process will be fully in place, rather than ratings being largely a repeat of previously-published single-issue inspections.

“Overall, I am pleased the HMIC’s findings reflect the excellent work that I know goes on across the county every day. Their PEEL assessment presents a Force that has continued to cut crime despite the financial challenge, that works hard to prevent crime and stop repeat offending, and that deals well with anti-social behaviour in partnership with other organisations.

“In addition, it is encouraging that the reports reflect positively on our style of policing. Specifically, that our officers and staff operate with high levels of integrity, that they are encouraged and enabled to solve problems using their initiative, and that we have an evidence-based approach to setting priorities and evaluating our effectiveness.

“While we welcome many of the recommendations and are already working to improve in areas such as crime recording, which I commented on more fully last week following their Crime Data Integrity inspection, the Force has provided information to the HMIC that we think challenges their ‘Requires Improvement’ assessment of our investigative approach.

“We fully respect and value the independence of HMIC inspections, which the public must have faith in. We provided strong factual evidence that challenged this finding on grounds of accuracy. We were given assurances this further information was relevant and had been taken into account – indeed the detail of the report was changed – however, it is disappointing that having changed the detailed findings, they have not reviewed the overall rating in this area.”


Summary of PEEL assessment and Crime inspection

The HMIC found that crime has continued to fall in Dorset at a greater rate than England and Wales, although levels of victim satisfaction are slightly below average for some crime types. Working with the Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill, the Force has begun an initiative to improve the way victims are kept updated.

In terms of effectiveness, Dorset Police is good at reducing crime and preventing offending and is good at tackling anti-social behaviour. Tackling anti-social behaviour is a priority for the Force and dedicated Safer Neighbourhood Teams work with communities on what local people consider important. The Force uses innovative problem-solving approaches to address these community concerns. An example is an operation launched in 2013 as a result of a spike in theft from high value vehicles.

Dorset Police has achieved large reductions in crime. The Force operates a good threat, risk and harm assessment process linked to effective force and local level tasking arrangements. It was reported that Dorset Police has a strong focus on tackling and dismantling organised crime groups, and that they had effectively redeployed investigative resources to target new threats, in areas such as cyber-crime and child sexual exploitation.

HMIC were also impressed by the evidence-based approach Dorset Police uses to evaluate new ideas and to understand what works in practice.

Dorset Police has made good progress in making savings and continuing to fight crime, in spite of the significant financial challenges of recent years. Dorset Police already spent less on policing than most other areas in England and Wales, so had less scope to make the savings. The Force has worked hard to protect frontline policing. Even though the number of officers on the front line has fallen, the Force has increased the proportion of police officers working on the front line. Dorset Police is now looking at developing an alliance with a neighbouring force Devon & Cornwall Police to help make more savings in the future.   

An area for improvement was highlighted by HMIC around the accuracy of crime recording, which was fully explained following the publication of the Crime Data Integrity inspection last week. They found that the overall standard of investigations were good with prompt attendance, positive and appropriate action by responding officers, and effective evidence gathering. However, some crimes were not being correctly recorded on central Force systems, particularly those involving vulnerable victims, which were recorded on a confidential, bespoke system instead, which allowed better sharing of information with partners to keep people safe.


Dorset Police challenges assessment of investigative approach

The HMIC assessment identified only one area as ‘Requires Improvement’, in relation to how effective the Force is at investigating offending. They found that the Force “generally carries out investigations to a good standard” and that “staff show a good understanding of what might constitute a vulnerable victim and the importance of providing appropriate support”.

However, the overall rating for this area was downgraded due to a finding that there was a backlog of cases in the Safeguarding Referral Unit, which the HMIC believed meant “potentially vulnerable victims were either waiting an unacceptable time for services or missed altogether”, and because of concern the Force’s definition of vulnerability was too narrow.

Dorset Police challenged this assessment on grounds of factual accuracy, as the Force used the national definition of vulnerability to assess cases, and because the inspection had not observed the full process used by the Safeguarding Referral Unit to manage such cases.

Detective Superintendent Andrew Clowser, Director of Public Protection for Dorset Police, explained: “The definitions we use to identify vulnerable adults and children are widely accepted and shared, they have not been chosen in isolation by Dorset Police.  They are outlined in relevant legislation for children and adults, used by and agreed with our partners, and have passed the scrutiny of local safeguarding inspections. 

“Information regarding children and vulnerable adults is submitted to the Safeguarding Referral Unit where it is assessed on a daily basis. Where there are any concerns regarding the victim’s vulnerability, risk or welfare then this information is shared with Social Services or other key partners immediately.

“If there is any requirement at all for a police investigation or further police enquiries then this is quickly allocated – this may involve a dedicated CID investigation or it may involve the officer who raised the initial concerns completing more enquiries first.

“Our risk assessments are fully compliant with national guidance and issues of vulnerability are fully considered when a decision is made as to how these matters are investigated.”

“There are three Detective Sergeants in the Safeguarding Referral Unit who monitor incoming issues on an ongoing basis each day – they view these referrals and assess them in terms of risk. Whilst demand has undoubtedly increased significantly, these levels are manageable.

“It may also be that once assessed by a Detective Sergeant an issue remains in the unit’s task list for a period of time; however this is the case even when an investigation has been referred elsewhere and is actively underway, to ensure the unit keeps oversight of all safeguarding issues. This was misinterpreted that victims were either waiting an unacceptable time for services, as the inspectors presumed an investigation hadn’t started while issues remained with the Safeguarding Referral Unit.

“Following our feedback to the HMIC, we understood these points of factual accuracy had been understood and accepted. Therefore, while the details in their full report have been amended, it is disappointing that the overall rating for this area has not been reconsidered.”


Summary of Integrity and Corruption inspection

HMIC reported that ethical leadership from Chief Officer’s is clear in the Force, and there is a climate of professionalism across the organisation, where wrongdoing is challenged.

In May 2014, the College of Policing published a Code of Ethics for the police service. Chief Constable Debbie Simpson championed Dorset’s adoption of the Code of Ethics in a series of roadshows meeting every officer and member of staff.

The Force’s long-standing values of ‘Integrity, Professionalism, Fairness and Respect’ are well known by officers and staff. They also reflect the principles of the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics. The HMIC found Dorset Police personnel are aware of the boundaries of professional behaviour and understand how their behaviour affects both the public and their colleagues.

Nevertheless, the Force recognises that correct standards are not always met, and this has been highlighted internally to staff. Staff are also aware of their responsibility to report misconduct and unprofessional behaviour, however for some staff, they did not feel confident enough to do so because the Force is so small and they were concerned their anonymity could not be guaranteed.

Dorset Police is working to raise people’s confidence in reporting wrongdoing and to meet the only formal recommendation made in the report, that procurement decisions are cross-referenced with integrity checks that already take place, such as disclosure of business interests and logs of any hospitality offered by businesses.

Issued: 27 November 2014