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Devon and Cornwall PEEL 2018


How legitimately does the force treat the public and its workforce?

Last updated 21/01/2020

Devon and Cornwall Police is good in terms of its legitimacy, and how it treats the public and its workforce.

The force is good at treating the public fairly. The force has an ethical culture. And officers and staff make fair and ethical decisions.

Senior officers check all incidents in which force is used. And public consultation informs policy reviews.

Senior officers review when stop and search powers are used. And they seek external scrutiny as a way to build trust and confidence. The force now offers better training and guidance in this area. But more work is needed to make sure the workforce understands what reasonable grounds are.

The force’s approach to tackling corruption is mostly reactive. Its counter-corruption unit (CCU) has limited capacity to work proactively. Outdated
IT systems also hold it back.

Devon and Cornwall Police is good at treating its workforce fairly. Chief officers are approachable, receptive to feedback and involve the workforce in matters of organisational justice.

Questions for Legitimacy


To what extent does the force treat all of the people it serves with fairness and respect?


Areas for improvement

  • The force should ensure that all relevant officers and supervisors understand what constitute reasonable grounds for stop and search and how to record them.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.

Treating people fairly and respectfully

Leaders value community engagement. And they understand the importance of fair decision making.

The force focuses on partnership working. This benefits communities and supports ethical policing. Chief officers are role models of the behaviours expected of their workforce. They reinforce these through station visits, internal messaging and on social media.

The chief constable often meets with a focus group of officers and staff. They discuss matters of procedural and organisational justice. This helps make sure decision making is fair. For example, the group discussed a complaint from a member of the public about standards. The complainant video recorded their experience. This was shared with the focus group, which worked with the chief constable to learn from the incident.

The force reviews its policies regularly. Where appropriate, policies are referred to the Code of Ethics lead or the force ethics committee for further examination. If a policy is identified as being of interest to the community, it is reviewed externally. For example, the force consulted the public about plans to increase the number of officers equipped with Tasers, and the use of spit and bite guards. This commitment to making sure policies are fair helps build trust and confidence among communities.

Leaders value meaningful engagement with communities. And this remains a priority for neighbourhood staff. Our inspection found a clear shift in engagement towards identifying and protecting vulnerable people. The force considers how effective different communication methods are. And the reach of social media messaging is growing. This includes Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

We also found examples of community feedback influencing force decisions. For example, a consultation via social media led to a change in how the force publishes details of people convicted of drink driving offences.

Neighbourhood teams work with pupil referral units. These units develop initiatives with young people who may not trust the police. The teams also visit schools to raise awareness of:

  • sexting;
  • grooming;
  • internet safety;
  • cyber bullying;
  • good citizenship online; and
  • cuckooing.

Neighbourhood teams worked with young people at one school to produce a presentation. It was broadcast on local radio and television to raise awareness of the risks of online grooming. This prompted an investigation across many forces into alleged grooming of young people.

The force is removing barriers to engagement. Diverse community teams work with organisations to gain the trust of those who have less confidence in the police. Communications teams support this work.

The force is also focusing on better understanding the needs of different community groups. Community teams then carry out preventative work to keep vulnerable people safe. Examples include:

  • ensuring acceptable conditions for migrant and seasonal workers who may be exposed to exploitation and modern slavery; and
  • working with teachers and students at an academy for deaf people that relocated to the force area.

The force encourages the public to get involved in crime prevention work through its citizens in policing programme.

Special constables support neighbourhood policing teams. And around 760 volunteers take part in activities that support the force’s goals. These include:

  • events planning;
  • vehicle checks;
  • taking part in the Pathfinder scheme (a programme aimed at reducing re-offending);
  • monitoring CCTV;
  • promoting social media use; and
  • gathering intelligence.

The force also runs a community champions project. This involves volunteers finding ways of giving communities a better understanding of the work that the police does. This helps the force build communities’ trust and confidence in policing.

Most frontline officers and staff have had unconscious bias training within the past 18 months. Scenario-based unconscious bias videos are on the intranet.

The importance of recognising biases is also incorporated into training for:

  • new recruits;
  • investigators;
  • supervisors; and
  • neighbourhood policing teams.

Custody staff had also received scenario-based training. The aim is to encourage them to view people who have been arrested from different perspectives.

Most of the officers and staff we spoke to had a general awareness of the principles of bias. And some were able to give examples of how they had challenged their thought processes in decision making as a result.

Officers and staff also recognised the importance of changing communication styles, where appropriate, to make sure their encounters with the public were positive. Specialist investigators and control room staff receive training in this. This includes talking to people who may be in crisis.

Officers and staff reported communication skills being incorporated into some training packages and events they had attended. But most of those we spoke to hadn’t had specific training beyond that provided at compulsory officer safety level. These involved conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques.

Those who we spoke to understood the importance of effective communication when dealing with the public. PCSOs spoke positively of how communication skills training they had received during initial training had helped them in their role.

Using force

Officers and staff must complete personal safety training each year. And their attendance is checked.

Training is also provided for those officers assessed as suitable to use Tasers. And there is more clarity about the compulsory use of BWV. Officers must record the details of an incident when they have used force. Staff and officers understood the importance of using force fairly and appropriately.

A use of force working group meets quarterly. It is chaired by a senior officer and examines information on the use of force. It includes representatives from:

  • professional standards;
  • geographical policing teams within the force;
  • personal safety trainers;
  • custody, equality and diversity teams; and
  • the OPCC.

A member of the public is also invited. They asked challenging and probing questions in the meetings we attended.

In each meeting, the group examines a report containing information on the use of force during the reporting period. This includes details on the:

  • circumstances;
  • people involved;
  • location;
  • medical factors;
  • environmental factors;
  • tactics used; and
  • outcome.

The aim is to identify trends and patterns, and to learn from any mistakes. For example, the group identified an increase in kicking injuries to custody staff. They have since received more training and advice.

The force gets feedback from the public through a quarterly OPCC-led police powers external review group. It has an independent chair, with representatives from different communities. They give a range of views on the use of force. For example, a detailed review of the way officers use spit and bite guards was completed in June 2019. This involved the panel:

  • producing a report of its main findings, recommendations and a public-facing summary;
  • carrying out desk-based research;
  • scrutinising performance data; and
  • having discussions with internal and external experts.

These reviews are helping when making changes to personal safety training. This includes improvements in communication skills training.

The force has also set up local reference groups in each local policing area. It works with these groups to get feedback and challenge on a range of issues. During our inspection, the force was keen for the subject of use of force to be discussed. We look forward to watching as this progresses. 

Devon and Cornwall Police recently completed its policy on providing BWV equipment to officers and staff. While not in place during our inspection, we were pleased to hear of plans to include a review of BWV footage to scrutinise the use of force, both internally and externally.

This open approach to scrutinising police powers shows a commitment to building relationships with communities that may be harder to reach or have less confidence
in policing.

Using stop and search powers

The force provides stop and search information via the intranet and internal communication campaigns. Relevant officers received training in 2017. This training is also available to all new recruits. The training has been reinforced through a theatre company, which has been commissioned to improve understanding about searches involving the smell of cannabis alone.

During our inspection, staff generally knew when and how to use stop and search powers. But there was some confusion about reasonable grounds.

Before our fieldwork, we reviewed a sample of 337 stop and search records. This was to assess whether the recorded grounds were reasonable. In 77 percent of cases, the records showed reasonable grounds. (Our assessment is based on the grounds recorded by the searching officer and not those that existed at the time of the search.)

In our 2017 inspection, we identified that the force needed to improve how it records reasonable grounds. It has responded and now offers more guidance. The officers we spoke to were aware of this guidance.

The force was also piloting a new stop and search training programme when we inspected. This has led to improvements in other forces. We acknowledge the work done to improve the understanding and recording of reasonable grounds. But this remains an area for improvement.

A senior officer leads on the use of stop and search. They have developed a strategy and action plan. These help focus and track improvement activity. Local stop and search champions review progress. This is overseen by an operational delivery group (ODG), which meets quarterly and is chaired by the force lead.

The ODG’s findings are reported to quarterly meetings of the force performance board (chaired by the deputy chief constable) and the equality and diversity group (chaired by the chief constable).

Local champions carry out regular dip samples for review at the ODG. This is accompanied by a range of performance information, including:

  • detailed information on the person subjected to the search;
  • items sought;
  • outcomes;
  • persons most searched; and
  • search rates by officers.

The force also gives performance data to frontline officers and supervisors.

The use of BWV is compulsory during searches. And we were pleased that the force is planning a review of BWV footage to scrutinise stop and search.

The ODG identifies trends and patterns. The aim is to improve the use of stop and search powers. For example, the group recently identified that the ethnicity of people who are searched isn’t always recorded. Improvements have since been made in this area.

In our 2017 legitimacy report, we recommended that all forces should:

  • monitor and analyse comprehensive stop and search data to understand reasons for disparities;
  • take action on those; and
  • publish the analysis and the action by July 2018.

We found that the force has complied with some of this recommendation. For example, senior leaders have plans to meet with representatives from interested organisations such as the race equality council and refugee support to work jointly on improvements. But it doesn’t identify the extent to which find rates differ between people from different ethnicities. It does identify the extent to which find rates differ across different types of searches (though this does not include separate identification of find rates for drug possession and supply-type offences).

Additionally, it isn’t clear that it monitors enough data to identify the prevalence of possession-only drug searches or the extent to which these align with local or force-level priorities.

We reviewed the force’s website. We found reference to analysis the force had carried out into the grounds of searches conducted on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people who had been searched more than twice. But there was no obvious mention of any analysis it had carried out to understand and explain reasons for disparities or any subsequent action taken.

The force actively seeks external scrutiny and challenge. Each area has a local reference group chaired by a senior leader. Members of the public are invited to provide this scrutiny and challenge.

Members of these groups have received training in the use of police powers. We found evidence of feedback from these groups influencing changes. This included providing information to support young or vulnerable people who have been searched. We will continue to check progress as work with these groups develops.

Independent review is given through the OPCC’s scrutiny of police powers panel. The OPCC has moved from more traditional meetings to a new scrutiny framework that monitors performance across a range of force activity. This change has brought extended inspection, which is similar to an external review. The first meeting under the new framework was planned for September 2019. We look forward to the results. 

The force has worked with young people to understand their concerns about stop and search. A charity called The Zone, which provides advice and services for 13 to 25-year-olds, has set up a youth panel to get their views. This has helped the force respond to challenges, make improvements and communicate how powers are used. An infographic was created based on the information gathered. This has been widely circulated among communities and has helped dispel some myths and offer reassurance to those who may be searched.

Summary for question 1

How well does the force ensure that its workforce behaves ethically and lawfully?


Areas for improvement

  • The force should ensure that its CCU:
    • has enough capability and capacity to counter corruption effectively and proactively; and
    • enhances its monitoring of all computer systems, including mobile data, to proactively identify data breaches, protect the force’s data and identify computer misuse.
  • The force should ensure that it refers all applicable cases of corruption to the Independent Office for Police Conduct and records these from the outset.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.

Maintaining an ethical culture

There is an ethical culture in Devon and Cornwall Police. Chief officers and senior leaders promote this. Standards of behaviour are reinforced through:

  • station visits;
  • training events;
  • ethical newsletters;
  • screensavers;
  • videos of ethical dilemmas; and
  • training programmes.

A sergeant now gives full-time support to the force ethics committee. The force is good at using the skills that staff bring to the force. For example, an officer with a degree in ethics is supporting its work in this area.

The chief constable works with a focus group made up of officers and staff. They discuss procedural and organisational justice. The force also uses ethics interviews as part of officer recruitment. This means that the force is more likely to promote trust and confidence in policing by acting ethically and with fairness.

The force has an established ethics committee, shared with Dorset Police. During our inspection, it was well attended by officers and staff from both forces, as well as members of the public. The workforce can refer items for discussion into the committee. Feedback from the meetings are then posted on the intranet. The committee also makes a significant contribution to regional and national ethics networks.

During our inspection, we examined the extent to which supervisors and staff understand the force’s code of ethics and values. We found examples of people reporting inappropriate behaviour. They told us that the force and the PSD encourage and support them in this.

The force complies with national vetting standards. All staff had received the lowest level of vetting clearance for their roles. We found a backlog in officers and staff requiring re-vetting. This was due to a recent IT problem.

The force gave us the most current data available. In July 2019, there were 97 police officers and 136 police staff/contractors and agency workers waiting to be re-vetted. The force was addressing this backlog during our inspection. It is managing the backlog by ensuring that it prioritises staff working in high-risk areas.

The force makes some effort to make sure that candidates from BAME backgrounds are not disproportionately weeded out during the vetting process. The vetting unit makes decisions without seeing information on race, gender or disability. This reduces the influence of unconscious bias.

The human resources department monitors vetting information. Cases involving BAME candidates are discussed with the head of professional standards. This process makes sure that decision making is fair throughout recruitment.

The force also plans to introduce new vetting software. This will help it identify inequalities more easily.

The force meets its obligations to give details to the College of Policing for the barred and advisory lists. These prevent people who have left the service under investigation, or been dismissed, from re-joining or working in law enforcement.

The PSD advises all new recruits on expected standards of professional behaviour. It reinforces these standards on promotion courses.

Newly-promoted sergeants talked positively about the training to identify officers or staff who may be abusing their position for a sexual purpose. Information about risks to integrity is on the intranet. This includes declaring business interests, gifts and hospitality. The workforce uses these policies.

The force has also produced scenario-based videos to highlight signs and behaviour that indicate that a colleague may be abusing their position for a sexual purpose. These are available on the intranet.

The force publishes the results of misconduct hearings internally and externally. Chief officers and PSD reinforce lessons learned through force-wide messaging, station visits and training events. For example, the deputy chief constable recently attended public order training. He spoke to everyone about the professional behaviour that is expected.

Lessons learned are collected by PSD. They are then sent to relevant teams, departments or individuals. Outcomes from this are tracked and monitored by PSD. The force is also developing a lesson learned communication to support its work in this area.

In our 2017 inspection, we stated that the force should improve the quality and timeliness of updates to complainants, in line with the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) statutory guidelines. We reviewed many complaints and found updates had been given and recorded in accordance with guidelines in all cases.

We also stated that the force should make sure that all allegations of discrimination are investigated to a consistent and acceptable standard, following IOPC guidelines. Better oversight within PSD now makes sure that all discrimination cases are referred correctly. Also, all cases are now investigated by a PSD investigator. We are satisfied that the force has made the required improvement in these areas.

Tackling corruption

Devon and Cornwall Police recently completed a counter-corruption strategic assessment and control strategy. These documents help shape counter-corruption policies, procedures and activity. But it was too early at the time of our inspection to know how effective these will be. The force should put in place a delivery plan to support these documents. This will allow it to check progress regularly.

The force draws on different sources of information to assess corruption risks. This includes data on business interests and notifiable associations. The force compares this with financial and other information. This helps identify staff who might be at risk of corruption. Its approach is mostly reactive. For example, it doesn’t regularly bring together representatives from different departments to review information and identify potential causes for concern. The force was reviewing opportunities to improve in this area when we inspected.

The force has a CCU that works with Dorset Police. Like our findings in Dorset, the CCU has limited ability to check its IT systems for computer misuse and data security. The force plans to buy new software and we will continue to watch this area.

During our inspection, the force was briefing organisations that support vulnerable people on the warning signs that staff may be abusing their position for a sexual purpose. This included face-to-face briefings by CCU and PSD staff with adult social care, domestic abuse and mental health services. Electronic briefings are also given to charities and voluntary organisations. This is part of a continuous awareness-raising programme. We will continue to check progress.

The force has adopted the NPCC strategy to tackle officers and staff who abuse their position for a sexual purpose. It recognises this behaviour as serious corruption. But in a review of case files completed before our inspection, only three out of nine cases were referred to the IOPC. The force needs to improve in this area.

The force hasn’t yet fully put in place its plan to respond to the 2016 national recommendation. Its inability to monitor some IT systems means that it hasn’t yet achieved our 2016 national recommendation that required all forces to have a plan to achieve the capability and capacity needed to address abuse of position. Neither is it clear that the CCU is able to handle intelligence relating to abuse of position for a sexual purpose. The force recognises this and has boosted resources in the department. But it was too early to assess the result of this during our inspection.

Officers and staff are aware of the signs that could indicate a colleague may be abusing their position for a sexual purpose. Newly promoted supervisors are given training on this subject. The ones we spoke to understood the warning signs.

The force has a confidential reporting line called Bad Apple. We found examples of officers and staff having the confidence to raise concerns. The force takes robust action against people who abuse their position. It reinforces expectations through scenario-based videos, internal communications and circulars. This means that the force is more likely to identify and tackle those abusing their position for a sexual purpose.

Summary for question 2

To what extent does the force treat its workforce with fairness and respect?


This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2017 legitimacy inspection has been carried over.