Bedfordshire 2016Read more about Bedfordshire
This is HMIC’s third PEEL (police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) assessment of Bedfordshire Police. PEEL is designed to give the public information about how their local police force is performing in several important areas, in a way that is comparable both across England and Wales, and year on year. The assessment is updated throughout the year with our inspection findings and reports.
The extent to which the force is effective at keeping people safe and reducing crime is inadequate.
The extent to which the force is efficient at keeping people safe and reducing crime requires improvement.
The extent to which the force is legitimate at keeping people safe and reducing crime is good.
Zoë Billingham, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary
I have some very serious concerns about many aspects of the overall performance of Bedfordshire Police. In view of this, I have been in regular contact with the chief constable about the improvements that are needed.
I continue to be very concerned that the people of Bedfordshire are not being well served by their police force. The force has struggled to balance the need to protect the most vulnerable with maintaining a preventative policing presence throughout the county.
I am disappointed that despite repeated assurances that it would do so, beyond isolated pockets of good practice, the force had still not put in place effective and consistent preventative community policing across the force area.
Bedfordshire Police still does not have enough police officers and community support officers to provide effective engagement with local people or visible targeted foot patrols. The force does not work consistently with partner organisations, has yet to adopt a consistent problem-solving approach, and is not able to make early interventions that prevent crime and anti-social behaviour. Since our inspection I am encouraged by the further steps the force is taking to address our specific concerns, but it will take over a year for the plans to come to fruition – this is simply too long.
Bedfordshire Police has made commendable progress in protecting some vulnerable members of the community and has invested significant additional resources in this area, but there are still serious weaknesses. The force now has a better understanding of the nature and scale of vulnerability, and sexual exploitation in particular. Despite this progress, there are still disturbing weaknesses in the force’s approach to missing children. The process of assessing calls about missing children is poor, and reviews of initial risk assessments are inconsistent. As a result, too often some children and young people are still being exposed to potential risk of harm.
The force is good at protecting the public from the most prolific and serious offenders. In particular, we found good examples of Bedfordshire Police focusing on preventing some of its most dangerous offenders from continuing with a life of crime. Despite these positives, its overall approach to investigating crime and reducing re-offending is lacking. I am disappointed that, since last year, there has been a deterioration in the supervision and handover of investigations to specialist teams, largely due to a higher proportion of inexperienced officers and supervisors.
Bedfordshire Police also needs to improve its approach to tackling serious and organised crime. The force does not have a clear understanding of the threat posed by these high-end and dangerous criminals. Until it does, it will not be in a place to tackle them effectively. However, once the force has identified organised crime groups, it uses good plans to manage them, and the force carries out some positive work with schools and universities to identify young people who may be at risk of being drawn into serious and organised crime.
I am reassured that Bedfordshire Police has made prudent assumptions about its future finances and recognises that it faces further risks and uncertainties. While recognising that Bedfordshire Police has low levels of funding compared with other forces, it needs to do more to match its limited resources to the challenging demands it faces, especially since the volume and complexity of crimes it deals with in some areas, for example Luton.
I am concerned that the force’s ability to plan for the future is seriously hindered by its limited understanding of the future demand for its services, and consequently its understanding of the knowledge and skills that the workforce will need.
I commend Bedfordshire Police for its strong commitment to joint working, which is demonstrated by its mature and well-established collaborative work with Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire constabularies. While the three forces can demonstrate that joint working is improving services to the public they do not yet have a comprehensive understanding of the financial benefits. The tri-force ‘futures team’ has undertaken research to explore options for effective policing in the future, and I look forward to seeing the outcome of this work and details of how the workforce will be equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to meet the likely future demands.
I am reassured that the force is good at seeking and acting on feedback to improve how it treats all the people it serves. For example, it involves a panel of independent members of the public in reviewing body-worn video camera footage of incidents where the force has undertaken stop and searches.
I am concerned about the force’s ability to identify, monitor and understand risks to the integrity of the organisation, including corruption. Its scope to do so is limited by the capacity and capability in the relevant units, which are shared with Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire constabularies.
In light of these findings, I will continue to be in regular contact with the chief constable. I am hopeful that the determination of chief officers to make improvements, together with the continued hard work of officers and staff, will lead to the changes needed for the people of Bedfordshire.
Bedfordshire Police provides policing services to the county of Bedfordshire. Bedfordshire is generally affluent, although there are some areas of deprivation. The force area is home to around 0.7 million people, who mainly live in the towns of Luton and Bedford.
The resident population is ethnically very diverse, with 23 percent from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, and is increased by university students and the large numbers who travel through the county each year. The transport infrastructure includes 68 miles of motorway and trunk roads and a major airport.
The proportion of areas in Bedfordshire that are predicted (on the basis of detailed economic and demographic analysis) to present a very high challenge to the police is broadly in line with the national average. The most challenging areas are generally characterised by a high concentration of people living, working, socialising, or travelling in the area.
Features which both cause and/or indicate a concentration of people include the number of commercial premises, including licensed premises and fast-food premises, public transport, and social deprivation. In some areas, these features are combined.
Bedfordshire Police is in an alliance with Cambridgeshire Constabulary and Hertfordshire Constabulary. Each force has responsibility for providing particular services to all three forces. For example, Hertfordshire is responsible for providing operational support, Cambridgeshire is responsible for providing organisational support, and Bedfordshire is responsible for providing protective services.
Following the departure of the Bedfordshire deputy chief constable, there have been temporary promotions to fill the resulting vacancies.
Looking ahead to 2017
In the year ahead, I will be interested to see how Bedfordshire Police responds to this assessment and to the causes of concern and areas for improvement that HMIC identified last year.
I will be particularly interested to see:
- how the force develops a credible strategic plan that envisages the force providing the broad range of policing services that the public in Bedfordshire are entitled to;
- how the force becomes as efficient as it possibly can be, making best use of its resources;
- how the force improves its response to missing children and young people; and
- how the force, working with Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire constabularies, improves its ability to identify, monitor and understand risks to the integrity of the organisation, including corruption.
How effective is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?
Bedfordshire Police is inadequate in respect of its effectiveness at keeping people safe and reducing crime. The way the force prevents crime, tackles anti-social behaviour, keeps people safe and protects vulnerable people, is inadequate. The force’s initial investigation of crime and how it tackles serious and organised crime need to improve. Our overall judgment is a deterioration on last year, when we judged the force to require improvement.
Overall, Bedfordshire Police’s effectiveness at keeping people safe and reducing crime is inadequate.
Bedfordshire Police’s effectiveness at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe is inadequate. The force introduced a new policing model in 2015, which aimed to improve crime prevention and problem-solving activities through new community teams. However, HMIC found that, beyond isolated pockets of good practice, such as the established community cohesion team, the force still does not have enough police officers and police community support officers (PCSOs) to provide effective community engagement and visible targeted foot patrols across the county, or to work consistently with partner organisations (such as local authorities, or health and education services). As a result, the force cannot take the early intervention activity necessary to help prevent crime and anti-social behaviour happening in the first place.
The context within which the force operates is particularly difficult. Bedfordshire Police faces a more acute financial challenge than most other forces and in Luton the complexity and high volume of crime represent a significant operational challenge for a small force with very stretched resources. The overall inadequate grading should not be seen as a reflection on the commitment and hard work of the police officers and staff in Bedfordshire Police who, day to day, are doing their best, with very limited resources, and often under extreme pressure, to keep the public safe. However, once again HMIC has found that in rightly focusing resources to protect its most vulnerable members of the community, the force has exposed its inability to maintain a preventative policing presence across Bedfordshire. However understandable the reasons for this might be, the consequence is that the people of Bedfordshire are not being well served by their police force. The force does not plan to resource its community teams fully until August 2018, three years after they were initially planned. This is unacceptable.
The force has centralised its intelligence teams to provide more focus on vulnerable people, guns and gangs, serious acquisitive crime, and communities, and has devised a plan to address intelligence gaps, but it is too soon to judge the effectiveness of this work. The force needs to review how it records anti-social behaviour so that it has accurate information on which to base a problem-solving approach. Although the force has improved the way it shares knowledge of ‘what works’ among its workforce, it does not yet routinely record and assess local initiatives and needs to do more to evaluate tactics and share effective practice.
The force lacks a full understanding of the communities it serves, although it is now recruiting more officers to increase engagement with local people. The force is involved in some good work with partner organisations to protect communities, but this needs to be consistent across the force area.
Bedfordshire Police’s effectiveness at investigating crime and reducing re-offending requires improvement. The quality of initial investigations needs to improve, as well as of subsequent investigations in cases of stalking and harassment. This is partly due to the high proportion of new recruits in the force and the lack of sufficient supervisors to provide the support they need.
A significant backlog remains in the forensic examination of digital devices, which means there are unacceptable delays in investigating crime and supporting victims. This was due in part because a number of staff were needed to support a national project. However, the force does ensure that high-risk cases, such as those involving vulnerable children and adults, are prioritised.
The force is good at protecting the public from the most prolific, serious and dangerous offenders. It has a robust and effective system for actively managing and reviewing outstanding suspects, those not yet apprehended, prioritising those who pose the greatest risk. A well-managed integrated offender management scheme now includes a focus on offenders who cause the most harm. We found good work in place to tackle serious youth violence, to reduce re-offending and to divert young people from first-time offending.
Bedfordshire Police’s effectiveness at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm and supporting victims is also inadequate. In particular, HMIC continues to have serious concerns about the force’s overall response to missing children and young people, not just the force control room response. The process of assessing calls about missing children is poor, and the review of the initial risk assessment determining whether the case requires a ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ police response is inconsistent. In addition the force has poor intelligence on those children who repeatedly go missing from care homes, which makes the difficulties in locating them when they go missing, and the time spent doing so, even worse. Some of the most vulnerable children and young people are being left at risk of severe harm as a result of systemic failings in this important area of policing.
The force has made progress in its understanding of vulnerability in its local areas, but gaps remain. It is improving its ability to identify vulnerable people at the first point of contact, people who are vulnerable through their age, disability, or because they have been subjected to repeated offences, or are at high risk of abuse, for example.
On a much more positive note, the force recognises that it is important to respond quickly to victims of domestic abuse and it has a mandatory attendance policy. This means that all domestic abuse incidents will receive an immediate attendance from an officer. The force has worked very hard to improve services and support for victims of domestic abuse and there are some important structural changes that have been put in place over the last year that HMIC would expect, over time, to lead to tangible improvements in the service the force provides to victims of domestic abuse. However, the arrest rate at domestic abuse incidents has fallen by 13 percent, despite an increase in cases identified as domestic abuse. The force also needs to understand why fewer victims support police action than in many other force areas.
Bedfordshire Police requires improvement in its effectiveness at identifying and tackling serious and organised crime. The force does not yet have a clear understanding of the threat and risk across Bedfordshire and it is therefore poorly placed to tackle it effectively. It has identified a very low number of organised crime groups, and HMIC is concerned that it is not identifying and mapping all groups that are active in the force area. With insufficient resources in community policing, early identification of organised crime groups is less likely.
We found examples of the force working effectively with partner organisations to disrupt organised crime groups. The force is doing good work with schools, communities and families to prevent young people from being drawn into organised crime. However, its approach to managing serious and organised criminals is limited; it does not currently have a clearly defined approach to managing offenders to minimise the risk they pose to local communities.
Bedfordshire Police has the necessary arrangements to ensure that it can fulfil its national policing responsibilities. The force is well prepared to respond to an attack requiring an armed response and is part of a strategic alliance with other forces, which regularly conducts terrorist firearms exercises.
In summary, Bedfordshire Police faces significant challenges because it has low levels of funding compared with other forces, but unusually high levels of serious threats and criminality that are not normally dealt with by a force of its size. The force has had to change its plans over the last year to address risk in the area of vulnerability and has therefore lost its promised focus on crime prevention. However, the force acknowledges the problems that exist and is determined to improve. HMIC is hopeful that the commitment of the new police and crime commissioner to a focus on community policing and crime prevention, and the determination of chief officers and the continued hard work of frontline officers and staff to make improvements, will lead to the changes needed.
How efficient is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?
Bedfordshire Police has been assessed as requires improvement in respect of the efficiency with which it keeps people safe and reduces crime. The force is improving its understanding of current and likely future demand for police services and is reorganising its operations to use its resources better to meet demand, particularly through collaborative working with other forces. However, HMIC found that overall, it needs to do more work to understand demand fully, ensure best use of its resources to meet demand and plan for future demand. In last year’s efficiency inspection, Bedfordshire Police was judged to require improvement.
Bedfordshire Police has low levels of funding compared with other forces. It needs to do more to match its very limited resources to the challenging demands it faces, especially since the volume and complexity of crimes it deals with in some parts of the county, for example Luton, compares with the crime profile of a London borough. The force requires improvement in its understanding of current and likely future demand on its services and the force recognises it needs to improve its understanding so it can make best use of its resources. The force has explored good practice nationally and through the College of Policing to help it develop a more sophisticated understanding and it is developing an action plan. HMIC has seen some positive progress, but more work is needed.
The force acknowledges it could do more to understand where inefficient internal processes are leading to unnecessary demand on police time and resources. It is reviewing its governance processes to identify how it can reduce this unnecessary internal demand. The force is at an early stage in developing its understanding of likely future demand. In a strategic alliance with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Constabularies, the tri-force ‘futures team’ has undertaken research to explore options for effective policing in the future.
The way Bedfordshire Police uses its resources to manage its current demand also requires some improvement. It has recently invested additional resources in areas of increasing demand, such as the public protection directorate, to increase its capacity to investigate serious sexual offences and safeguard vulnerable children and adults. It is closely monitoring performance to ensure that the new policing model is working effectively. It is introducing a new shift pattern for frontline officers, which aims to make sure more police officers are available at times when demand is greatest. However, the model will not be fully functional until this work and the recruitment of additional officers is complete, particularly within community policing. As a result the force cannot yet evaluate how effective it is at meeting demand.
Bedfordshire Police is to be commended for its strong commitment to joint working, clearly demonstrated by its mature and well-established collaborative work with Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire Constabularies. The forces in this strategic alliance have an ambitious and innovative plan to work collaboratively in all policing functions, except local policing, by 2017. Further collaborative work is planned with four other forces and Bedfordshire Police is also in the early stages of developing strategic partnerships with other emergency services and local government organisations to share resources and manage future demand together. While the force can demonstrate how collaboration and joint working is improving outcomes, reducing costs and building resilience, it does not yet have a comprehensive understanding of costed outcomes.
Bedfordshire Police requires improvement in the way it is planning for demand in the future. The lack of a comprehensive understanding of future demand and workforce capabilities limits its ability to plan for the future. The force does make prudent assumptions about future income and costs. However, despite better than anticipated government grant for policing in 2016/17, the force still faces financial risks and uncertainties. The savings plans remain austere and continuing workforce reductions are planned through to 2019/20.
In HMIC’s 2015 inspection, the force was assessed as requiring improvement in the efficiency with which it keeps people safe and reduces crime, and this year’s inspection has led to the same judgment.
How legitimate is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?
Bedfordshire Police has been assessed as good in respect of the legitimacy with which it keeps people safe and reduces crime. Our findings this year are consistent with last year’s findings, in which we judged the force to be good in respect of legitimacy.
The force treats the people it serves, and its workforce, with fairness and respect. It is good at seeking and responding to feedback and does good work on identifying and enforcing standards of behaviour. However, HMIC has concerns about the force’s ability to ensure that its entire workforce behaves ethically and fairly because of limited capacity in its anti-corruption and vetting unit (ACU).
Bedfordshire Police and its workforce have a good understanding of the importance of treating the people they serve with fairness and respect. The force uses a variety of methods to communicate and engage with the public, including those people who may have less trust and confidence in the police. It is good at seeking and acting on feedback to improve how it treats all the people it serves. For example, it involves the independent advisory group (IAG) in reviewing body-worn video camera footage of incidents where members of the public have been stopped and searched. The IAG also advises the force how to improve public perceptions of fairness and respectful treatment when planning policing events or responding to public concerns after high-profile public complaints.
Although the force is doing some good work on identifying and enforcing standards of behaviour, HMIC has concerns about the force’s ability to ensure that its workforce behaves ethically and fairly. Its ability to identify, monitor and understand risks to the integrity of the organisation is limited by a lack of capacity in the ACU.
The force is in an alliance with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Constabularies. The alliance’s joint professional standards department (PSD), which includes the ACU, is implementing an improvement plan, drawn up after a serious gross misconduct court case collapsed over concerns about the quality of the investigation. The plan affects all three forces in the alliance. The force and alliance need to ensure that there are enough staff with the capability, with additional support, both to implement the new PSD/ACU improvement plan successfully and to handle daily business effectively.
During our inspection we found that the force had implemented too few of the recommendations we made in our police integrity and corruption report in 2014, which included recommendations for improving the capacity and capability of these units.
Officers and staff told us that they were aware of the seriousness of abuse of authority for sexual gain (taking advantage of a position of power to exploit vulnerable victims of crime) and some were aware of a recent case in Bedfordshire where an officer was dismissed for such conduct. However, the importance of identifying circumstances where officers and staff use their position for sexual gain has not been well communicated to officers. Officers and staff including supervisors are not clear about the early signs to look for.
The force has taken robust action when the behaviour of officers has fallen below the standard expected and has demonstrated to the public that it has responded positively, providing training to prevent further occurrences of a similar nature.
Bedfordshire Police is good at ensuring that it treats its workforce with fairness and respect. The force has an open culture and encourages feedback. It has an equalities group that is well attended by staff associations, unions and support networks and that is consulted on issues of fairness and respect. However, the force needs to improve how it manages individual performance and provides for the wellbeing of its workforce, particularly through preventative and early action. The force should ensure that its supervisors are sufficiently supported and trained to deal with management of sickness absence and other wellbeing responsibilities.
At the time of our inspection, the alliance was aiming to conduct an all-staff survey in June 2016, which should improve the force’s understanding of how the workforce feels it is treated.
How well has the force performed in our other inspections?
In addition to the three core PEEL pillars, HMICFRS carries out inspections of a wide range of policing activity throughout the year. Some of these are conducted alongside the PEEL inspections; others are joint inspections.
Findings from these inspections are published separately to the main PEEL reports, but are taken into account when producing the rounded assessment of each force's performance.
Police leadership is crucial in enabling a force to be effective, efficient and legitimate. This inspection focused on how a force understands, develops and displays leadership through its organisational development.
Bedfordshire Police has engaged effectively with its workforce to create a clearly defined set of leadership expectations. However, we found that messages about leadership expectations do not always reach frontline staff and officers.
The force is developing its understanding of the relative strengths of its leadership; this could be made more effective by ensuring its leadership development programme addresses the gaps in leadership capability. The force could also do more to identify systematically the best candidates from the workforce who could become senior leaders in the future.
We welcome the way the force challenges itself to seek out new ideas, approaches and working practices. The force has forged links with local academic institutions and explores innovative practice and new ways of working in other police forces. The workforce perceives the force to be innovative; people in the workforce can suggest ideas and new working practices in a straightforward way.
The force is developing its understanding of diversity beyond protected characteristics, such as age, disability or gender reassignment, to take into account how diversity of background, experience and skills can strengthen teams. This understanding should help the force to create diverse leadership teams and to redeploy staff and officers, having evaluated their wider expertise, experience, background and skills.
This section sets out the reports published by HMIC this year that help to better understand the performance of Bedfordshire Police.