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Dorset PEEL 2018


How effectively does the force reduce crime and keep people safe?

Last updated 09/09/2019

We judge Dorset Police to be good in terms of its effectiveness at keeping people safe.

The force is good at investigating crime. Its investigators are well trained and, in general, cases are allocated to officers with appropriate skills. Most of the case files we saw were of a high standard.

However, investigations are not always supervised thoroughly enough. The force also needs to conduct more regular reviews into cases in which suspects have not been apprehended, or have been released under investigation.

Dorset Police is good at protecting vulnerable people. Staff across the force know how to recognise vulnerability, and officers attend incidents involving vulnerable victims promptly.

However, the safeguarding referral unit is operating with significant backlogs, and may need more resources. The force should do more to seek feedback from victims of domestic abuse, and shape its services accordingly.

In 2017, we judged the force to be good at preventing crime and tackling anti-social behaviour. We also judged it to be good at tackling serious and organised crime.

Questions for Effectiveness


How effective is the force at preventing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping people safe?


This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2016 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.


How effective is the force at investigating crime and reducing re-offending?


Areas for improvement

  • The force should improve the scrutiny and governance of outstanding suspects and persons released under investigation to ensure that investigations are pursued effectively.
  • The force should ensure regular and active supervision of the quality and progress of investigations. This supervision should be properly recorded.

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

Investigation quality

The overall standard of investigations conducted by Dorset Police is good. The force has trained investigators working in frontline roles and specialist investigation teams. However, there are unfilled roles in some of these specialist teams, and they sometimes struggle to meet demand. The force is aware of this problem and a review was taking place at the time of our inspection.

The force monitors the training of its investigators to make sure that it has enough capacity. However, it makes little provision for continued professional development, which is important for maintaining staff competence. Staff trained in the use of intelligence systems are present in the control room, so they can support investigations when a crime is first reported.

Like many forces, Dorset Police holds a daily management meeting to review demand from calls for service and assess it against available resources. We observed a daily meeting chaired by a senior officer, aimed at reviewing crimes reported over the last 24 hours. This took a coherent approach to allocating appropriate resources to high-risk investigations, and considering how best to protect vulnerable victims.

The control room allocates the most serious and complex crimes to investigators after initial attendance. We found that in most cases investigators have appropriate training. Demand for service remains high, particularly in the summer months, and this puts pressure on the teams that manage violent and sexual offenders. An investigation resolutions team deals with some cases over the phone, and we found that the force generally allocated these cases appropriately.

The ‘golden hour’ is a critical period in any criminal investigation, during which effective early action by attending officers can help to secure and preserve evidence. Officers and staff in Dorset Police understand the importance of gathering evidence at this early stage. Frontline officers know how to preserve forensic evidence, and they told us that they were given enough time to do this when attending crime scenes.

Prior to our inspection we reviewed 60 files from recent investigations. In one third of the files reviewed, supervision was either ineffective or had not been carried out in line with force policy. This was particularly noticeable with low-level crimes, and we found that in these cases initial reviews, investigation plans, and ongoing supervision were often lacking.

We will continue to monitor the standard of the force’s investigation plans and supervision. In this inspection we found that the direction and scrutiny of investigations was inconsistent, although it was generally better in specialist departments than it was in the incident resolution team. The force is aware of this problem. It has posted supervisors with detective experience into teams with high demand, and has improved supervision in the incident resolution team.

Dorset Police is good at supporting vulnerable victims. Investigators with special training interview vulnerable people, and we saw evidence that victims are well cared for. Officers and staff understand the importance of evidence-led prosecutions, which are cases that the force pursues without the co-operation of a victim. The force has certain core actions that it expects officers to take during investigations, for example, house-to-house enquiries and checking for CCTV at crime scenes. We found they were meeting these.

In our 2016 inspection, we suggested as an area for improvement that the force improve its initial investigation of cases involving vulnerable victims, by ensuring officers capture evidence of injuries and crime scenes using body-worn video. Most frontline officers and staff now have this equipment and use it effectively, and the force will complete its implementation in July 2019. We are satisfied that the force has made sufficient progress in this area.

Earlier this year, an inspection by HMICFRS reviewed the effectiveness of Dorset Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) when investigating and prosecuting crimes committed against older people. This inspection found inconsistencies in investigation standards. The force is aware of this and should ensure that a consistent standard is applied to all investigations, particularly those involving vulnerable older people.

Catching criminals

An important part of investigations is managing suspects who are avoiding prosecution, or have been identified as suspects but not yet arrested or interviewed. The force is effective at monitoring people who are wanted on warrant or circulated on the PNC, and has recently completed a comprehensive audit.

Most officers and staff told us that they understood how to circulate the details of a suspect on the PNC, and they were aware that they needed to complete all investigative enquiries before doing so. However, the force is less effective at scrutinising and supervising these cases once they have been circulated. It is important to review investigations involving outstanding offenders regularly.

The force co-ordinates its efforts to locate outstanding high-risk offenders through daily management meetings which are chaired by senior officers. There are also weekly reviews and fortnightly tasking meetings which are aimed at pursuing these cases. Since January 2019 there has also been a specialist fugitive management team. At the time of our inspection, this team was conducting a review of all outstanding suspects.

The force is good at identifying and managing arrested foreign nationals, and manages criminal records checks, referred to as ACRO checks, well. It has introduced safeguards and additional processes to its IT systems, to make sure that custody sergeants complete all relevant checks when foreign nationals are arrested. The force holds quarterly meetings with a range of bodies, including immigration enforcement, to co-ordinate work to pursue and prosecute foreign nationals who have committed serious crimes.

As a result of changes to police bail under the Policing and Crime Act 2017, many suspects are now RUI from police custody. We were pleased to find that the workforce was generally aware of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) guidance on use of bail and RUI. The force regularly gives comprehensive RUI data to all department managers, so they can manage cases and safeguard victims. But although the force has local processes in place to scrutinise investigations in which suspects are RUI, we found that some officers and staff did not know what they were.

The force generally uses protective powers, such as DVPOs, appropriately. However, there are far fewer DVPOs issued than there are RUI cases. This could mean that some victims of domestic violence may be at risk while their cases are being investigated.

Disclosure is the process by which the defence is provided with copies or access to all material that is capable of undermining the prosecution case or assisting the defence. The force has made good progress on disclosure in response to a series of recommendations in our Making it Fair report published in 2017. A chief officer leads on disclosure and the force has a disclosure working group, which dip-samples investigations to learn from mistakes and identify good practice. The force has also provided staff training on disclosure, and ten members of staff have received further training as disclosure champions.

The force is also working with the CPS to develop guidance on the best ways of working together. In future, it plans to implement a performance framework, to set up a regional disclosure conference with other forces, and to recruit a disclosure lead. The force is clearly committed to getting this difficult area of policing right.

The force has a good charge rate, in line with, or above, other forces in England and Wales. For the 12 months to 30 September 2018 the proportion of recorded offences given a charge or summons outcome was 9.6 percent, compared with an England and Wales rate of 8.3 percent. A performance team analyses outcome data monthly and quarterly, in force performance meetings, and conducts thematic reviews.

At the time of our inspection, the team was reviewing the force’s response to domestic abuse. This is evidence of a culture of continuous improvement.

Summary for question 2

How effective is the force at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, and supporting victims?


Areas for improvement

  • The force should ensure that the capability and capacity of the safeguarding referral unit enables it to process referrals promptly and effectively. Within this, it should ensure that its approach and model is sustainable for the long term.
  • The force should improve how it seeks feedback from victims of domestic abuse and use that feedback to improve services.

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

Understanding and identifying vulnerability

Staff across Dorset police understand how to identify vulnerability, risk and harm. The chief constable makes this a priority, and spreads this message through station visits, internal communications, leadership and training events. Most officers and staff that we spoke to were able to describe what vulnerability meant and how to identify it, including hidden vulnerability. They identified many factors that could indicate vulnerability such as age, poor mental health, addiction, domestic abuse and isolation.

The force also understands the nature and scale of vulnerability in its area. It regularly commissions thematic reviews, audits and processes to identify good practice and pick up on mistakes. For example, reviews of the effectiveness of the force response to domestic abuse and missing people were ongoing at the time of our inspection.

Officers and staff have uncovered ‘hidden’ forms of harm, such as vulnerable people being trafficked or subjected to forced labour. In one case, an officer identified so-called honour-based violence through questioning the family while attending a domestic incident. Investigations where there may be hidden harm, including missing people enquiries or where child exploitation is suspected, receive additional resources and intelligence support.

The force has created a county lines neighbourhood policing team to target organised crime groups and safeguard vulnerable people who may be at risk of exploitation. Frontline officers have received vulnerability training, and they spoke highly of it.

Control room processes are generally effective at identifying vulnerable people, including repeat victims, when they contact the police. The IT system is ineffective, but a replacement system is planned this year. Staff working in the force communication centre have a good understanding of vulnerability, and many have attended recent training on the issue. We listened to calls that demonstrated a good use of questioning skills to assess threat, risk, harm and vulnerability.

The triage team is the first point of contact with the force for non-emergency calls and, as such, it must identify vulnerable people and prioritise calls for service accordingly. However, we found that members of this team had an inconsistent understanding of vulnerability, which could put vulnerable people at risk.

The THRIVE model of risk assessment is the primary tool used in the force communication centre, and we found that staff were applying it correctly. We sampled a small number of incidents relating to mental health and domestic abuse during our inspection. Call handlers had identified risk promptly, and the policing response had been appropriate to the reported circumstances. However, it was less clear that they had done further risk assessments for incidents where circumstances had changed.

A detective sergeant is based in the communication centre to provide immediate access to intelligence systems and oversee research to inform risk assessments. Staff working in the centre told us that they valued this support.

Responding to incidents

In general, the incidents that we reviewed during our inspection were managed professionally by staff in the force communication centre and attended promptly. The IT system in the control room is ineffective, however, and necessitates multiple checking processes. Staff are working hard to overcome these difficulties and, as noted above, the force plans to replace it this year.

The force closely monitors its response to emergency incidents against set response times. However, it is not as rigorous about monitoring the response to non-emergency incidents, and we found that response times in these cases can vary. There could be many reasons for this, such as the caller not being home at the time of police attendance but, even so, the force could do more to understand its performance in this area and to make improvements.

In our 2017 inspection, we said that the force should improve its response to non-emergency incidents, particularly those involving vulnerable victims. It has made some progress, by improving desktop investigation and adopting a scheduled appointment system for non-emergency calls requiring police attendance. However, we will continue to monitor performance in this area as the force moves to the new IT system.

Frontline staff follow a clear process in assessing risk and vulnerability, identifying safeguarding issues and categorising them using a public protection notice (PPN). The PPN form incorporates the domestic abuse, stalking and harassment (DASH) risk assessment for all domestic abuse incidents. The force processes a large number of PPN forms, but when we reviewed a small sample of them during our inspection, we found the quality was variable. There is also an inconsistent approach to the supervision of PPNs. The force is aware of this and has implemented a review.

Officers know that they need to record the details of all potentially vulnerable people at a location, whether present or not. In incidents where domestic abuse is suspected or reported, they complete all risk assessments in person with the victim. Dorset hosts considerable numbers of tourists, so we were pleased to note that the force had a good process for sharing information with the home forces of vulnerable people who visit the area.

The force makes good use of arrest and voluntary attendance at police stations to protect victims, including victims of domestic abuse. In the 12 months to 30 September 2018, the force made an arrest in about 40 of every 100 domestic abuse-related crimes, and used voluntary attendance in about 9 in every 100 domestic abuse-related crimes. Both these rates are above the England and Wales rates of 33 arrests and 5 voluntary attendances per 100 domestic abuse-related offences.

Dorset Police has had a mental health street triage facility in place since 2014. Police officers patrol with mental health practitioners on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 7pm to 8.30am, providing access to medical records and advice when responding to people with mental ill-health. A telephone triage service supports officers responding to incidents, and staff in the force communication centre. The triage services are staffed by NHS clinicians who have access to NHS and police IT systems.

A year ago, Bournemouth University evaluated Dorset’s street triage services, and drew up a new model, which was implemented in April 2019. The force has a retreat facility where officers can direct people with mental ill-health for advice and support from medical professionals. Officers told us that the facility provided invaluable early access to appropriate mental health care.

We found excellent partnership working between Dorset Police and other organisations, including Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust, Dorset County Council and Bournemouth and Poole local authorities, to protect vulnerable people. Representatives gave positive feedback on the force, praising the knowledge and empathy of frontline officers and staff.

Supporting vulnerable victims

Neighbourhood teams are involved in the ongoing safeguarding of vulnerable victims, including elderly people and those with mental ill-health. The force has created a neighbourhood policing team in Weymouth that is dedicated to tackling county lines and dangerous drugs networks. The team has a dual purpose: it tackles criminal networks, and protects people who are at risk of being exploited by them. This often involves working with other agencies and partners, including housing associations, local authorities and charities, who spoke highly of the force’s contribution.

Officers and staff in the safeguarding referral unit process domestic violence disclosure scheme (DVDS) applications. The scheme enables the police to disclose information to an applicant about previous violent offending by a new or existing partner where this may help to protect them from abuse. The detective sergeant based in the force communication centre reviews applications where there is an urgent need for disclosure. The number of ‘right to know’ and ‘right to ask’ (Clare’s Law) applications is broadly in line with other forces in England and Wales, but the numbers of disclosures are low in comparison to the volume of applications. We raised this with the force, and it is now reviewing its recording processes.

The force is considering whether its use of pre-charge bail is appropriate. We were pleased to find that it had circulated recent guidance, in line with national recommendations, to all supervisors. This advised that they should use bail for domestic abuse and other investigations where there is a high risk of harm to the victim. Supervisors told us that they were aware of the guidelines.

Dorset Police helped to create the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) in 2017. Police and other agencies including health and children’s services, and local authorities work together in an office in Poole, and we found excellent information-sharing and joint working.

Officers submit PPNs, the forms with which they assess risk and vulnerability, to the safeguarding referral unit (SRU). We reviewed the referral process during our inspection and found significant backlogs of unprocessed forms in the SRU. The force has responded swiftly to our concerns, implementing short, medium and long-term plans to tackle the backlogs, but it will need to prevent a similar situation arising again. This is an area for improvement for the force.

The force works with a number of partner organisations to protect domestic abuse victims through the multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) process. These include adult and children’s social care, health, education, housing associations, midwifery and drug and alcohol services. There are three MARACs within the force area, and each meets on a regular basis to exchange information, and to plan and review joint responses to high-risk domestic abuse cases. Both police and partner agencies refer cases into the MARAC, and at the time of our inspection the level of referrals was within guidelines.

The victims’ bureau seeks feedback, and shares this information with officers. But the force could do more to act on this information, particularly when designing future services. We did not find much evidence of feedback from vulnerable victims, including victims of domestic abuse. The force is considering how to improve this as part of its review into domestic abuse processes.

Dorset Police is good at managing the risks presented by offenders who pose a threat to vulnerable people. The management of sexual offenders and violent offenders team is well run, and the caseloads for offender managers are achievable. We did not find evidence of any backlogs of risk assessments or outstanding visits during our inspection.

The force is good at identifying people who share indecent images of children online, and it has been proactive in tackling them. However, frontline staff have an inconsistent level of knowledge about dangerous offenders living in their patrol area. This information is available to staff and we found some using it effectively in briefings, but this was not the case in all frontline teams.

Summary for question 3

How effective is the force at tackling serious and organised crime?


This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2016 effectiveness inspection has been carried over.


How effective are the force’s specialist capabilities?


Understanding the threat and responding to it

The force has an adequate understanding of the potential harm facing the public. Its APSTRA conforms to the requirements of the code and the College of Policing guidance. The APSTRA is published annually and is accompanied by a register of risks and other observations. The designated chief officer reviews the register frequently to maintain the right levels of armed capability and capacity.

There are two areas where the APSTRA could be improved:

  • it could improve procedures to identify the locations most likely to be at risk of terrorist attack; and
  • it would benefit from an analysis of how quickly armed response vehicles (ARVs) respond to armed incidents.

These are matters that we identified to the force last year. It is important to put them right. This will ensure that ARV patrol areas can be identified and help to determine whether the force has sufficient armed officers to meet operational demands. We will re-examine these shortcomings in future inspections.

All armed officers in England and Wales are trained to national standards. There are different standards for each role that armed officers perform. The majority of armed incidents in Dorset Police are attended by officers trained to an ARV standard. However, incidents sometimes occur that require the skills and specialist capabilities of more highly trained officers.

We found that Dorset Police has good arrangements in place to mobilise specialist officers should their specialist skills be required. On these occasions, agreements are in place for the capabilities to be provided in conjunction with Devon and Cornwall Police. 

Working with others

It is important that effective joint working arrangements are in place between neighbouring forces. Armed criminals and terrorists have no respect for county boundaries. As a consequence, armed officers must be prepared to deploy flexibly in the knowledge that they can work seamlessly with officers in other forces. It is also important that any one force can call on support from surrounding forces in times of heightened threat.

Dorset Police has effective arrangements with Devon and Cornwall Police to provide armed policing. This means that the standards of training, armed deployments and command of armed operations are assured in both forces. It also means that ARVs can deploy rapidly and effectively in both force areas.

We also examined how well prepared forces are to respond to threats and risks. Armed officers in Dorset Police are trained in tactics that take account of the types of recent terrorist attacks. Dorset Police also has an important role in designing training exercises with other organisations that simulate these types of attack. We found that these training exercises are reviewed carefully so that learning points are identified, and improvements are made for the future.

Summary for question 5