Essex PEEL 2018
How efficiently does the force operate and how sustainable are its services to the public?
Essex Police is good at operating efficiently and providing a sustainable service to the public.
It is good at meeting current demands and using resources. It analyses demand routinely. The high levels of demand put pressure on officers and some internal procedures make this worse. The force’s improvement programme is seeking better ways of working, including more joint working that will reduce demand.
The force is good at planning for the future. The demand forecasts it made in the past have proved accurate. It invests in ‘spend to save’ projects. These will help it free up capacity and funds that can be used in other priority areas. The force tells the public about its work and understands their expectations.
How well does the force use its resources to meet the demand it faces?
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
Assessing current demand
The force has a satisfactory understanding of the demand it faces. Its force management statement (FMS) includes detailed forecasts of crime levels and other demands on the police in future years. Information from local communities and other organisations contributes to these calculations.
In 2017, the force commissioned an independent review of its demand and worked in partnership with the reviewers to establish a rigorous methodology. The FMS work compliments this previous research. The force works with local authorities, voluntary organisations and victims’ groups to understand demand that is less obvious or hard-to-quantify. This includes offences such as domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation. Hate crime is a priority and the force is improving how officers identify and report this type of offending. Crime analysts publish monthly bulletins that include information about repeat victims, persistent offenders and trends in hate crime. This helps the force focus on finding offenders and provides a better service to victims of hate crime.
The force is using innovative methods to understand communities better and improve communications with them. It is making comprehensive use of both Google and Facebook analytics to determine how members of the public access and use online services. To connect with people who are less likely to use social media, the force has access to vast data sets provided by YouGov. This will help the force target information to certain community groups and assess the needs of all parts of Essex’s communities.
The force can redeploy officers to any part of the county in times of high demand or other operational pressures. But there are still times when demand outstrips capacity. Sometimes, not enough officers are available to attend to emergencies. Many officers told us about the constantly high levels of demand and how hard it is to prioritise equally important areas of work. For example, having to respond to emergencies as well as investigate crime. However, while demand is clearly challenging for the force, poor internal practices and procedures cause some of the pressures. For example, at the time of our inspection, the force had 4,123 investigations awaiting closure from a supervisor. These investigations are assigned to officers, even when there are no remaining enquiries to complete. They remain on an officer’s allocated workload and continue to generate automated tasks, while waiting for a supervisor to finalise them. This creates unnecessary work that is time-consuming.
Understanding factors that influence demand
The force understands that efficient working practices can reduce demand. It has introduced best practice from industry – for example marginal gains and the Black Box methodology – to improve its systems and procedures. Essex Police’s chief officer team is fully committed to getting rid of processes that are not effective. An assistant chief constable leads this programme of work with the support of a business improvement adviser.
The programme aims to:
- find better ways of working;
- avoid duplication;
- remove waste;
- reduce unnecessary costs;
- improve efficiency; and
- lead to continuous improvement.
The force asks frontline workers to contribute their own ideas and suggestions. Improvements so far have included:
- streamlining vetting procedures (which the force estimates saves 2,000 hours of staff time per year);
- reducing the time taken to manage the reception of prisoners who are taken to custody centres (an estimated opportunity cost saving of £2.4m per year); and
- better use of staff in the force’s control room to focus on the force’s priorities.
We identified a weakness in how the force manages demand overall. This relates to how it responds to lower-grade incidents. It was not clear to us who is responsible and accountable for lower-priority, less-urgent grade 4 incidents. The force routinely schedules these incidents for a delayed response. But it is not clear whether the FCR or local officers are responsible for concluding them.
This is another area where the force does not fully understand its capacity to deal with the volume of work. We recognise that officers are prioritising grade 4 incidents that include an element of domestic abuse. The chief officer team is aware of these problems and plans to address them are advancing but have yet to make a difference to this area.
Working with others to meet demand
The force’s FMS recognises that problem-solving and working with partners is crucial to managing demand, particularly to respond to issues and cases that require a strong partnership approach. Essex Police therefore has good arrangements in place to manage demand with other organisations.
Its work with Kent Police has a proven track record of success. These arrangements have improved the service in both forces across a range of areas, including major crime investigations and business support. The force is part of the seven-force strategic alliance in the east of England. This alliance seeks to bring further joint working between forces in the region in the interests of efficiency and financial savings. Areas for inclusion in future joint working include training and deploying armed officers, criminal justice services (including preparing case files and concluding cases that do not lead to a prosecution), forensics, vetting, and covert policing.
The force has also improved how it works with other organisations to meet the public’s demands. In several places in the county, frontline staff work alongside other service providers, such as local authorities, in community hubs. This means that when people contact the police for help, the force makes a better all-round assessment of their needs and a joint service is on hand to support them.
There are other examples of how working with other organisations improves the service to the public. These involve the fire and rescue service and the county council. The PFCC was the first commissioner to use the legislative provisions of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to take responsibility for running the fire and rescue service as well as the police. This has provided the opportunity to streamline assets across both services and includes plans to implement the same telephony and incident management system as the force. Plans to combine call-handling facilities in 2021 are also at an advanced stage. The force has long sought to improve working practices with Essex County Council to support abused or neglected children. The force is exploring opportunities to co-locate its staff with children’s social care workers to provide an integrated child protection service.
The force understands the effect of increased demand, financial constraints and reduced resources on other organisations. The force and its partner organisations have set up community safety hubs to make services sustainable and more cost-effective. The force is also recruiting volunteers to help offset the effect of austerity. The police and crime plan sets out an objective to double the size of the county’s Special Constabulary by the end of March 2019: an increase of 350 to 700 officers. The force has since reduced this target to 540 officers, as many special constables have joined the full-time service. However, the skills staff are developing in the Special Constabulary are impressive. Special constables now form an important part of domestic abuse teams, the CID, airport and marine policing and digital investigations, as well as more traditional areas of uniformed policing.
The force’s volunteer programme (called ‘citizens in policing’) has consistently grown and now has 1,140 volunteers. These volunteers have a wide range of skills, including cyber security. Essex Police has put effective measures in place to help reduce the negative consequences of financial restraint and greater demand across all sectors of the public services.
Innovation and new opportunities
The force is good at seeking out new ways of working and cost-effective systems to help balance the budget. It welcomes ideas from frontline officers and staff and encourages them to use Idea Drop, a web-based forum where they can post suggested improvements. The force is currently proceeding with suggestions of how it can make better use of police community support officers (PCSOs) and how recruitment can be more effective. Senior officers have commended staff for their contributions to this scheme.
The force uses drones and their imaging capabilities effectively. It has used drones to:
- map crime scenes;
- assist officers searching open terrain and water;
- record images of individuals involved in hare coursing; and
- manage the risks associated with firearms operations.
It has used still photographs in conjunction with social media to publicise why it is necessary to close roads following serious collisions. The force has trained over 80 people to pilot the force’s drones, including many special constables. It has used drones on 149 occasions and estimates that this technology has saved the force £90,000.
Investment and benefits
The force can demonstrate the benefits of its investments and has strong evidence to support its investment decisions. An example of a good investment decision is replacing its body-worn video system with state-of-the-art video technology. The new body-worn video system has reduced the time it takes for officers to download images from several hours to a few minutes. The force is keeping a record of these improvements. It expects more prosecutions to result in guilty pleas because of good video evidence. This will avoid lengthy court proceedings and time-consuming case file preparation. It also expects the faster download facility will save unnecessary overtime expenditure.
Another example is investment in mobile data tablets as part of the force’s ‘mobile first’ programme. Mobile working enables officers to complete much more work while on patrol; it avoids the need for officers to return to police stations and input data. ‘mobile first’ and other components of the force’s ICT programme are fundamental to the force’s future. These investments, funded from reserve allocations, link directly to the force’s efficiency plans.
Prioritising different types of demand
Essex Police prioritises its activity based on:
- a detailed understanding of demand;
- local priorities;
- its commitment to national policing; and
- public expectations.
The force supports this with frequent assessments of the skills and capabilities it needs from its current and future workforce. This is based on an annual cycle of research, which produces a strategic assessment of the greatest threats from crime that its communities face. The research is thorough and draws together a wealth of data. This includes crime analysis, demand projections, operational pressures within other organisations, and the levels of harm that different crime types cause. This helps the force identify priorities and allocate resources to them.
The force’s people and learning strategy 2017–20 ensures that workforce development is in line with the future requirements of the force. It sets out the recruitment programmes, skills requirement and training curriculum, along with plans to improve staff retention for critical posts. In addition to this, the force commissions periodic capacity reviews of critical parts of the organisation. The force control room is a recent example of this.
To ensure the force can respond to periods of high demand, the force designates a senior officer to assess demand and operational pressures on a 24-hour basis. This supervisor can redeploy officers to any part of the county to manage high-profile incidents or exceptional demand. This happens regularly and during these times, other incidents can be downgraded to manage the workload.
It was clear to us that the force still prioritises certain types of crime, for example domestic abuse, during these times of peak demand. It was also clear that control room staff do their very best to keep victims safe. However, it was not clear to us how the force escalates such operational pressures to chief officers. In the absence of procedures for doing this, the force is less likely to find solutions to the problem. Additionally, this could affect the force’s reputation.
Assigning resources to demand and understanding their costs
Essex Police is one of the lowest funded forces per head of population in England and Wales. The force has a good understanding of the costs of its service and has built up this knowledge over time. The chief officer team has had to make some difficult decisions in recent years to meet the increasing demand for service. This includes the major reduction in PCSO numbers in 2016 from 258 to 102, and moving around 20 percent of the workforce to the public protection command. The public protection command is an investigative unit that manages allegations of crime involving vulnerable victims, such as rape, sexual offences and child abuse. In common with other forces, investigations of this nature have increased markedly in recent years.
The chief constable was very clear that a direct consequence of these decisions would be additional pressures on uniformed frontline policing. This has proved to be the case. There are occasions when frontline officers and staff struggle to respond to incidents and manage day-to-day investigative responsibilities effectively. When making these decisions, the chief constable made a public commitment to reinvest in frontline uniform policing as soon as enough funds became available. Additional income from an increase in the council tax precept has now provided this opportunity. The force is now recruiting an additional 150 officers to boost frontline policing.
The force has good procedures in place to allocate officers and staff to the parts of the county where they are most needed. The director of human resources manages a resourcing panel where chief officers consider operational demands and agree where to post new recruits and officers who are transferring from other forces.
The force has also introduced new procedures to assist with the growth in recorded crime and the demand this places on the workforce. It recorded an 11.2 percent increase in recorded crime in the 12 months to March 2018. The force now manages crimes with few investigative leads, and a low likelihood of identifying an offender, differently. They are now the responsibility of telephone investigators. They account for 29 percent of all crime committed in Essex.
The force uses an algorithm known as the crime allocation rational assessment tool (CARA2) to decide how to allocate crimes for investigation. CARA2 is designed to make sure that only crimes that meet certain criteria are assigned to telephone investigators. The remainder are allocated to investigators for more detailed investigation in line with their severity, complexity and the needs of the victim. This allows the force to focus its limited resources on those crimes that will benefit from a more detailed investigation. We examined several crimes that had been allocated to telephone investigators. The investigations were of a good standard and met the force’s allocation criteria.
The force has a good understanding of the skills and capabilities its workforce needs. It is also clear about its expectations of the service’s future leaders. The force has completed a thorough skills audit, which it updates regularly. This shapes its recruitment and training and development requirements. For example, a current priority is to boost its capacity to combat cyber-crime and recruit specialists in financial investigations.
Essex Police works well with Essex University. Academics are helping the force develop the capacity and capabilities of its workforce. This includes:
- a joint programme to recruit and train crime analysts;
- a scientist helping the force make better use of its data; and
- academics using role profiling to understand more about the qualities the force’s future leaders will require.
With this new information, the force is using alternative methods to appoint individuals to senior leadership positions. This includes taking part in the College of Policing’s Direct Entry programme. This programme provides a gateway for talented individuals who are new to the police. The force appoints them to senior management positions, to bring a different set of skills and create more diverse leadership teams.
More efficient ways of working
The force makes good use of digital policing solutions. Introducing simple-to-use portable devices has meant frontline officers and staff now have instant access to the force’s main databases. This supports operational policing and provides direct access to support services. The other important part of the ICT programme has been to unify record management systems by implementing Athena. In future, this will include innovations such as a customer relationship management system.
Financial planning is a strength for Essex Police. The force has a good track record of meeting its savings requirements. Current savings requirements over the period of the mid-term financial plan (MTFP) are relatively modest when compared with previous years. The force expects to meet its current budget gap of £3.5m mainly by better managing overtime, making savings in the force’s serious crime directorate (SCD) and savings in support service costs. Essex Police and Kent Police share the SCD, which is responsible for investigating murder and other serious crimes.
Essex Police has good procedures in place with Kent Police to monitor the progress of savings plans and their effect on frontline operations. The deputy chief constable chairs the efficiency and savings board, which holds regular meetings to oversee the development of savings plans for future years, checks on progress and holds chief officers to account for savings. Similar arrangements exist in Commands, which have major savings requirements, such as the joint support services and the serious crime directorate. The force has also trained senior managers in how to develop effective business cases to implement change effectively.
Essex Police has good procedures in place to identify savings for the coming financial year, but less so for subsequent years. Other forces determine how to address budget deficits over the duration of the MTFP. This helps forces to plan and respond to future savings requirements by developing options. Essex Police should consider savings in the longer term, even if this is in an outline format. This should include an element of scenario planning to address anticipated changes in the precept revenue, the PFCC’s requirement for the force to make efficiency savings, and other assumptions the force makes about its future finances.
Working with others to provide better services
The force is committed to working with others. Its collaborative work with Kent Police is extensive and well developed, and it continues to expand. The force continues to work with the Eastern region in all specialist capabilities, which include joint training and governance. The force is also a member of the seven-force strategic collaboration programme. This has a broad scope that includes almost every element of operational and support services. The seven-force programmes that are in advanced stages include a single procurement service, vetting, and services that support covert policing.
Essex Police is also committed to working with other organisations to provide a better service to the public. MASHs in Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock provide a better service to vulnerable victims. Although the Essex County area does not have a MASH, the force has worked with county council colleagues to introduce an alternative facility for victims. Later this year, officers from the force will move into Essex County Council offices. This will streamline procedures for providing support to vulnerable people including children.
The force works alongside mental health practitioners when responding to people who have mental health problems. This provides better pathways into care for individuals in crisis. Also, an evaluation has shown that these arrangements are placing fewer demands on police officers in terms of supporting people who have mental health conditions.
Essex Police has a good understanding of how technology can benefit policing in terms of improving efficiency and tackling criminal activity. It is using this knowledge to inform its plans and investments in technology. Investments to date have improved productivity and enhanced services to the public. The force led the way in implementing the Athena IT platform, which allows for sharing intelligence across the nine forces that use the platform. At a local level, the ‘mobile first’ programme has developed a culture of digital working, with frontline staff having immediate access to the force’s databases.
The force’s ICT strategy is innovative and transformational. It forms a major part of the force’s change plans and £19m of funding will support it as part of the five-year capital programme. The force’s focus and investment in ICT has allowed it to replace out-of-date systems and has brought digital policing to frontline staff. This improves the service for the public.
Essex Police plays an important role in developing the national ICT infrastructure. Until recently, the chief constable represented the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) as the lead for digital policing. The force has seconded staff to national programmes that will bring solutions to the increasing demands on the police service. Projects include Operation Crystallise, which will digitise crime scene examination and forensic evidence collection. A vehicle-telematics project will improve how the police uses its service fleet. It is both impressive and encouraging that the force is leading digital transformation in the police service nationally.Summary for question 1
How well does the force plan for the future?
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.
Assessing future demand for services
The force uses technology and a wide range of data effectively to understand trends in demand. It can predict likely future demand and past forecasts have been accurate. An assistant chief constable, supported by business consultants, is responsible for ensuring that demand assessments are up to date and relevant. This has helped the force project the likely 999 and 101 call demand and crime levels to 2021. This assessment identifies geographical areas where demand is likely to grow and plots the times of day when the force’s resources are most likely to be needed. In response to this, the force is intending to adjust staffing levels in some areas. This will include:
- altering control room staffing levels;
- more uniformed officers and domestic abuse investigators; and
- new teams to investigate modern day slavery and child sexual exploitation.
The force invests in ‘spend to save’ projects as part of its change programme. A good example is a project to implement digital case file preparation. Preparing prosecution case files and sharing them with HM Courts & Tribunals Service has historically been very bureaucratic. If successful, this programme is likely to free up officer and staff time to reinvest into other priority areas.
We noted that not all projects in the force’s change programme have identified the scale of cashable or non-cashable savings (although the programme does envisage them). The force would benefit from greater detail of these anticipated savings. This would help confirm these benefits are being realised and show that the force is reinvesting them in priority areas.
Understanding public expectations
The force communicates well with the public. It understands their expectations and how they are changing. The force has a comprehensive programme of community engagement. This includes a public survey of over 7,000 residents every year. The PFCC also conducts public surveys as part of his yearly planning cycle.
We found that Essex Police responds positively to the findings of public consultation. For example, in response to survey feedback, the portal to access online reporting procedures is now easier to find on the force’s website. Not surprisingly, the levels of online reporting have increased from around 1,100 to around 2,200 per month.
The force also understands the skills and capabilities it needs to respond to the needs of the public. This has included the recruitment of staff to work in the quality of service team which introduced a live chat facility from August 2018. The quality of service team of five is currently dealing with over 8,000 public contacts every month. This shows that the force is willing and able to change its service to meet public demand and needs.
The priorities in the police and crime plan 2016–20 are clear. They reflect an understanding of the force’s future demand as well as changing public expectations. The priorities are:
- more local, visible and accessible policing;
- reducing anti-social behaviour;
- breaking the cycle of domestic abuse;
- reducing serious violence;
- protecting children and vulnerable people;
- improving road safety; and
- tackling gangs and organised crime.
The plans make it clear how the force’s resources support these priorities. For example, having joint teams working in community hubs to address anti-social behaviour. Other examples include implementing workforce plans to boost the domestic abuse teams and establishing new teams to investigate modern day slavery and child sexual exploitation.
Essex Police has assessed its changing demands and future workforce needs thoroughly. Workforce plans address both the capacity the force needs to respond to projected demands and the expertise it will require in the future. Recruiting more police officers is an immediate priority. In response to the PFCC’s decision to increase the council tax precept for policing, the force plans to recruit 150 constables before the end of March 2019. This will boost the overall number of officers in the force. In addition to this, Essex Police needs a further 240 officers to replace those leaving through retirement. The force provides a range of opportunities for police officers and members of staff to make progress with their careers. Online tools known as the ‘develop you’ and ‘develop me’ schemes provide access to career development opportunities. For example, if officers wish to explore becoming a detective, they can start on the detective career pathway.
The force is good at identifying gifted and talented individuals who will lead the force into the future. The force participates in the Police Now graduate entry programme. This allows it to appoint talented people to work in local policing teams. Essex Police has employed an apprenticeship manager and the force is currently scoping several apprenticeship programmes to start in 2019. This includes the senior leaders’ master’s degree apprenticeship in Applied Criminology and Leadership, from Cambridge University. The force has started a detective fast-track programme known as ‘investigate first’. This is to help address some of the difficulties in recruiting and retaining detectives. Some 33 new recruits have joined the organisation on this scheme. The force is also developing a reserve bank of retired detectives, known as ‘success factors’, to boost investigative capacity at times of peak workload. Operational officers say this additional resource is useful to call on in times of high demand or other operational pressures.
Following its 2010 consultation about revaluing public sector pensions, the government announced, in 2016 and 2018, reductions in the discount rate it uses to set contribution rates for the unfunded public service pension schemes. These include the police service pension scheme. A lower discount rate will result in higher contribution rates for the employer.
The official notification of a lower rate in September 2018 did not allow PCCs time to include the impact in their financial planning. In December 2018, the government announced a pension grant for 2019/20 for each PCC. It allocated funding to each force to specifically help the police pay for these increased costs in the next year. PCCs must now plan for how they will finance the increased costs in the following years, assessing the impact on their officer numbers and their ability to provide effective and efficient services.
Essex Police is good at financial planning. The force has a good track record of robust financial management. The force’s financial plans are realistic, built on sound assumptions and reviewed by experts. The change programme and financial planning are in clear agreement. The force divides the responsibilities for change management between project teams, an assurance unit that validates new ways of working with frontline operational staff, and an oversight team that ensures planned savings are in line with the MTFP.
The force has identified savings to address the budget gap of £3.5m for the current year. It needs to identify further savings of £18m over the course of the MTFP. The size of these savings is in part due to the PFCC’s financial accountability arrangements. The forecast assumes no further precept increase over the period of the MTFP but does include anticipated inflationary increases such as pay rises. In this respect, the saving requirement is a worst-case scenario. The PFCC takes this approach as he expects the force to make a 2.25 percent efficiency (cashable and non-cashable) saving before he will consider the case for a precept increase. If the PFCC allows the maximum precept increases over the lifetime of the MTFP this would mean the required savings would reduce to £9m.
The force’s capital programme is ambitious and transformative. It has plans to reduce its 61-building estate and replace under-utilised, outdated buildings with a smaller property portfolio of 30 buildings. This will be challenging. The opening capital balance for 2018/19 was only £0.63m. Although this is likely to rise substantially to £31m because of capital receipts – including the £18m expected from the sale of part of the headquarters site – this will not be enough to fund the £36m of investment over the course of the MTFP. Therefore, the force intends to borrow money in the short term to cover the gap in funding.
The estates and ICT capital programme is bold. It contains risk but stands to serve the force well into the future. It will form the foundation of savings, provide the joint community hubs that will define local policing, and digitise policing services in the county.
Leadership and workforce development
The Essex Police and Kent Police leadership strategy includes comprehensive plans to recruit and develop the workforce to face the challenges of the future. The force benefits from national talent management and fast-track schemes as well as a local scheme to help individuals achieve their potential. In addition to the ‘develop you’ and ‘develop me’ programmes, we are pleased to see that the force offers similar opportunities to members of staff. The police staff leadership pathway (PSLP) scheme is widely available. Its aim is to help aspiring leaders with the right skills and experience to progress to senior leadership roles in Essex Police. This is in comparison with many forces we visit, where police staff are frequently overlooked regarding career opportunities.
The force is willing to recruit externally. For many of its senior posts it advertises vacancies nationally. This includes chief inspector and superintendent positions. The force has also developed a talent matrix to help identify and develop officers with leadership potential. This is part of a scheme to help officers progress rapidly from the rank of inspector to senior positions as superintendents.
The force is committed to the development of its workforce and to helping the best to reach the top of the organisation.
Ambition to improve
Essex Police’s plans are ambitious and transformative. It expects that, if successfully implemented, they will bring about major improvements in how the force provides its services to the public. The plans are realistic, they are built on sound assumptions and experts have reviewed them. The change programme aims to invest in infrastructure to make savings in the future. It strikes a good balance between recruiting additional officers and building capacity by strengthening joint working. The change programme is well resourced and brings pace and rigour to achieving its objectives.
The force understands clearly the benefits of working with others. Since 2010, the combined directorates with Kent Police have provided support services and the force’s major crime function. The force estimates that it saves £1.5m every year through the joint provision of support services. The recent establishment of a joint business centre for both forces in Great Dunmow will release an additional £0.6m of savings.
There are even more plans in place to work with Kent Police in the interests of efficiency. These focus on closer working relationships through a joint digital investigation service for cyber-crime, fraud and child abuse cases. The seven-force strategic alliance is also examining the future prospects for more efficiencies through closer working with all forces in the East of England.Summary for question 2