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Northumbria PEEL 2018


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

Last updated 09/09/2019

Northumbria Police is good at treating the public and its workforce legitimately.

Although the force is committed to treating the people it serves with fairness and respect, it requires improvement in this area. Community engagement is generally good, and relationships have been built with local community groups. But the force should make sure that its staff, especially those with stop and search powers, properly understand unconscious bias.

Northumbria Police keeps good records of when it uses force. It needs to make better use of this data to understand how force is being used.

The force is good at behaving ethically and lawfully. Ethical behaviour is important to the whole organisation, but we found they could do more to create an ethical culture. Workforce vetting has greatly improved, with vetting complete or in progress for almost all staff.

Northumbria Police staff should know how to report potential corruption or inappropriate behaviour in confidence. There are systems for reporting by telephone or online, but the force needs to ensure that staff know about them.

Reaction to corruption enquiries is good. But Northumbria Police should make sure that its counter-corruption unit has the capacity and capability to be proactive in its work.

The force is good at treating its workforce fairly.

Questions for Legitimacy


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

Requires improvement

Cause of concern

Northumbria Police is failing to monitor adequately the way it is using force. This is a cause of concern.


  • The force needs to ensure it improves its understanding of how force is being used. It should use this understanding to identify trends, issues and disparities.
  • The force should ensure that it has effective internal and external processes and governance to analyse and scrutinise a comprehensive range of use of force data. It should use the outcomes from this to improve the way that force is used.

Areas for improvement

  • The force should ensure that all members of its workforce receive training in, and understand, unconscious bias.

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

Northumbria Police prioritises treating the people it serves with fairness and respect. The force’s ‘proud’ values – which include being ‘proud to serve’ its communities – are constantly referenced in force documents and emphasised by senior leaders when communicating with the workforce. The force has taken fair and respectful treatment of the public into account when making strategic decisions. We found examples of this in the policing of local protests and the force’s response after terrorist attacks in other parts of the country. An ethics advisory group gives feedback on new policies and processes.

However, the force needs to do more to make its workforce aware of unconscious bias. The force told us that its workforce had received training in unconscious bias, aimed at making officers aware of how prejudices might be unknowingly informing the way they treat people. However, many of the officers and staff we spoke to across many roles and departments couldn’t explain what unconscious bias was (although in one unit we were pleased to find a very good understanding). The force doesn’t provide further training or guidance in communications skills, such as empathy and active listening. Tactical communications skills are part of officer safety training, but this focuses on de-escalating conflict.

In 2017, our national recommendation relating to stop and search said that forces should ensure that all officers who use stop and search powers have been provided with, and understand, training in unconscious bias. This should have been achieved by July 2018. Northumbria Police hasn’t fully complied with this recommendation.

The force generally performs well on overall community engagement, which is central to fair and respectful treatment of the public. The recently restructured communications team now contains a community engagement sub-team. This is in the process of standardising engagement materials and neighbourhood information, which were inconsistent. Improvements to the website and the force’s use of social media should also help the force to engage better with communities.

The force has invested in CETs in each of the three area commands. The neighbourhood policing team pages on the force’s public website provide information about the officers working in each neighbourhood, how to contact them and what the local priorities are. The CETs have built up relationships with people from protected characteristic groups, such as the Bangladeshi and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. The force also consults local communities through pop-up PACT meetings, parish council groups and joint engagement groups. It is currently setting up a scheme called Village Hall champions, in which volunteers in small rural communities will act as a single point of contact for the exchange of information between the residents and the police. From all this, the CETs create neighbourhood profiles. These profiles include information gathered about important locations and people within a neighbourhood area. However, it is unclear what the purpose of these profiles is, because many of the neighbourhood officers we spoke to hadn’t read them.

The force’s public insights team conducts surveys with both service users and the general community. The feedback influences service provision and the setting of policing priorities. The surveys are completed over the telephone, via the website and sometimes face to face at community events such as Pride. Members of the public can also use the internet to send feedback directly to the local neighbourhood teams.

In the force’s engagement plan, the public is encouraged to support the force through volunteering and to be ‘proud to serve’. This can be done through formal routes such as the special constabulary, cadets and police service volunteers. The force has recruited several cyber crime volunteers with an expertise in social media, who also liaise with businesses and support them to mitigate online risk. There are other less formal volunteering opportunities such as the mini-police scheme (involving school children), a variety of ‘watch’ schemes, litter picking, street pastor patrols and the night-time safe haven provision where volunteers talk to people, pass on safety information and give medical assistance when required.

Using force

Northumbria Police has policies on the use of force and it keeps good records. However, it doesn’t analyse this information well enough to make sure that force is being used appropriately and fairly. It doesn’t know how its use of force may be affecting minority groups, and it lacks both internal and external scrutiny to make sure that officers and teams are behaving appropriately. The force needs to improve its understanding of how force is being used.

The force provides a two-day training course in personal safety to those who have roles in which they are likely to use force. These sessions include guidance on how to record use of force. The information the workforce records is compliant with the NPCC’s use of force recording requirements.

The force also monitors the submission of use of force forms and measures them against arrest figures, identifying those officers who might have under-recorded their use of force. The information is available on the intranet as part of the performance dashboard accessible to all line managers. One randomly selected form per area command is reviewed each day by the specialist operational training department, and feedback is provided to officers and staff. Submission rates compare favourably with other police forces. The force is focusing on improving the quantity and quality of information recorded, an important element of the process. Disappointingly, however, the force hasn’t fully analysed the data it has recorded but relies instead on dip-sampling. The use of force lead superintendent presents a summary about use of force each quarter to the confidence and standards board, chaired by the deputy chief constable. The outcomes of the dip-sampling process supplement the data.

But while the force monitors complaints about excessive use of force, it doesn’t routinely and regularly scrutinise body-worn video camera footage or custody CCTV of the use of force to make sure that it is being used fairly, legally and proportionately. The force currently lacks any external scrutiny of the use of force, but there are plans to involve the strategic independent advisory group in the future.

We have concerns about the lack of internal monitoring of the use of force. Only limited data is provided to the superintendent lead for use of force. There is no analysis of the tactics used by the workforce, such as handcuffing or baton strikes. We were told that the force doesn’t extract this information from the recorded data because of a lack of time. The force is now investing in new software that will automate the process.

The lack of analysis means that the force doesn’t understand how well it uses force and doesn’t identify trends and problems (including disparities). It isn’t clear how it makes sure that force is used fairly on groups such as BAME people, those with disabilities and young people. The force doesn’t monitor officers or teams that use force frequently. Neither does it monitor the effect of different types of force.

The force needs to use data better to understand trends, issues and disparities so that it can act to improve how it uses force. It also needs effective internal and external processes and governance to analyse and scrutinise a comprehensive range of use of force data, and to use the outcomes from this to improve the way that force is used.

Using stop and search powers

The force is good at treating the public fairly during stop and search encounters. We reviewed a representative sample of 207 stop and search records, and 88 percent of them had reasonable grounds recorded. Our assessment is based on the grounds recorded by the searching officer and not the grounds that existed at the time of the search.

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.

The force has complied with almost all this recommendation. It monitors and analyses the find rates of different types of searches by ethnicity and publishes these on its website in an annual report. However, the analysis doesn’t break down the find rates for drug possession and drug supply separately, nor does it acknowledge or seek to explain the disparities in the find rates between black people and white people for drugs searches and stolen property searches. The force has recently started to identify drugs possession searches, as opposed to those for drugs supply, to determine if they align with force and local priorities.

Each officer (including special constables) has an annual two-day training session that includes stop and search. It is provided by training staff and is in accordance with the College of Policing guidance. The force also has a process to audit all stop and search records. A single point of contact (SPOC) in each area command reviews every record. They then send feedback to individual officers and their supervisor when the grounds recorded may not be enough to justify the search.

The stop and search lead chairs a monthly stop and search internal monitoring meeting. This is attended by the SPOCs, area command representatives and members of the central area community engagement team. This meeting reviews overall force stop and search performance and then breaks that down into the stops carried out in area commands. It also discusses any feedback it has received from the external groups that monitor stop and search (see below). Searching officers receive feedback from stop and search reviews, but the benefits from this scrutiny would be improved if feedback were disseminated across the whole workforce. Every quarter, the stop and search lead presents the outcome of these meetings to the confidence and standards board.

The force has more than one external group scrutinising stop and search records. The strategic independent advisory group currently reviews records and body-worn video footage every two months, and in future this will be monthly. We were pleased to see that there are other, smaller, local community groups participating, including Northumbria University social sciences department students, the black African community, Newcastle Youth Council and African Community Advice North East. These groups all review and give feedback on a sample of stop and search records as well as reviewing the body-worn video footage. Minutes of their meetings are available on the force’s website and any feedback is passed onto the searching officer.
The meetings would be improved by access to more comprehensive data on stop and search.

Summary for question 1

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


Areas for improvement

  • The force should ensure its counter corruption unit has the capability and capacity to be effective in its proactive approach to counter corruption – and has full information technology (IT) monitoring to effectively protect the information contained within its systems.
  • The force should ensure its mechanism for the workforce to report potential corruption and inappropriate behaviour of colleagues confidentially is effective.

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

Northumbria Police’s policies and procedures comply with the national policing Code of Ethics and the Equality Duty. But the force has more work to do in creating and maintaining an ethical culture.

The workforce has received training on the Code of Ethics, and ethical decision making and behaviour. One of the superintendents acts as a Code of Ethics lead, working outside the professional standards department. This is a conscious decision to treat ethical behaviour as an issue for the whole organisation. The Code of Ethics lead chairs an internal ethics committee. The role of this committee is to advise staff on ethical dilemmas, and people can submit dilemmas for feedback. The committee has a good spread of representation, including police officers and police staff from different departments and levels. But some people we spoke to during our inspection were not aware of it. The force should review the effectiveness of the ethics committee to make sure that there is an awareness of this forum and its work across the organisation.

There is also a quarterly Code of Ethics advisory group, which includes external members. Part of the role of this group is to consider the ethical effects of strategic and policy decisions. The confidence and standards board, which is chaired by the deputy chief constable, receives an evaluation of recent Code of Ethics work at every meeting.

The force is considering and developing innovative ways to promote the Code of Ethics, including working with academia. It has made a series of short videos that incorporate real case studies. These are available to all officers and staff via the intranet and are used in staff briefing sessions as a discussion basis for ethical dilemmas. The videos aim to encourage staff to discuss ethical issues and to foster an ethical culture. The force has also published several straightforward easy-to-read guides on difficult ethical areas, such as the use of social media, and has a developed a training programme, the ‘PROUD of you’ course, to develop a feeling of empowerment and confidence. It includes material on standards of behaviour, expectations and values. It has been provided to new recruits and as part of leadership development programmes.

The force is trying to promote a blame-free culture in which, rather than holding individual people responsible for mistakes, the organisation can learn lessons and communicate them to others for training purposes. After a recent Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation into how a different force dealt with a victim of sexual offences, guidance was issued throughout the force about what could have been done differently.

There is detailed information on the force’s intranet about policies and procedures on business interests, notifiable associations, and gifts and hospitality. Staff and officers’ annual PDR should now include an ‘integrity health check’, although this didn’t appear to be happening consistently.

The force has achieved the 2016 HMIC recommendation that all the workforce should be vetted by December 2018. At the time of our inspection, vetting was in progress for 204 police officers, staff and PCSOs. In a workforce of approximately 4,800, there were only 23 cases in which vetting hadn’t started. The retrospective vetting programme began in June 2017, aiming to make sure that every employee was vetted to the appropriate level. All retrospective vetting, except for a few that can’t be started because of long-term sickness or maternity leave, have either been completed in full or are in progress.

The force has the resources and IT systems in place to fully vet the workforce, including high-risk posts, contractors and volunteers. Vetting is a standing agenda item for the confidence and standards board, which makes sure that the force complies with the national Vetting Code of Practice and APP. It also complies with its obligation on the identification and forwarding of staff for the College of Policing’s barred and advisory lists.

The vetting unit doesn’t, however, monitor its decisions to identify any disproportionality in decision making, concerning BAME groups or other protected characteristics. The human resources department does monitor the effect of vetting decisions on the recruitment of new police officers and reports its analysis to the OPCC. The force should improve how it monitors disparities in vetting to make sure that this isn’t limiting its ability to recruit a diverse workforce.

The confidence and standards board also reviews the work of the professional standards department and reviews all recent misconduct hearings. It communicates any lessons learned to the wider workforce. Most of the officers and staff we spoke to were aware of the Code of Ethics and the expected standards of behaviour, but some didn’t know that the force circulated the results of misconduct cases. The force’s communication and training could be improved in this area. 

Tackling corruption

Northumbria Police has a local strategic counter-corruption threat assessment in place. The assessment draws on national and local information to identify local threat and risk, according to National Crime Agency counter-corruption categories. It identifies three areas of corruption risk:

  • access and disclosure of information;
  • undeclared notifiable inappropriate associations; and
  • abuse of authority for sexual purpose.

From this, the force’s counter-corruption strategic control strategy identifies six areas of risk: access and disclosure of information and misuse of force systems; notifiable inappropriate associations; abuse of authority for a sexual purpose; corruptors; abuse of authority (other); and controlled drug use or supply.

At the time of the inspection, the strategic assessment had recently been revised. It is now providing more detailed and comprehensive analysis. Because of this revised assessment, the force has commissioned further research and analysis on the abuse of position for a sexual purpose, and has drawn up plans for counter-corruption control, an intelligence requirement and an intelligence collection plan. These documents set out clear governance plans for tackling corruption.

The force uses the information it holds on its employees to identify those at risk of corruption. It does this by looking for people who are poorly performing, have excessive debts, numerous public complaints, etc. to see if there are any underlying issues. If any are identified, the person is assisted until the problems have been resolved before there are any risks to the integrity of the force. This isn’t currently managed through a co-ordinated meeting structure and there is no formal evaluation of any of the methods of intervention. This is an area the force should review.

The force makes good use of the integrity registers involving notifiable associations, business interests, and gifts and gratuities. It doesn’t, however, monitor well enough people’s compliance with its decisions regarding notifiable associations – leaving this to line managers. Our inspection of the register highlighted that notifications hadn’t been reviewed since 2014. This is too long a gap.

Staff and officers’ PDRs should include an ‘integrity health check’. However, some staff have either missed a PDR or had one without the integrity health check. The force should review this process to make sure that all supervisors understand the importance of including these checks, and their responsibility in this area.

We reviewed 60 items of intelligence relating to alleged police corruption to check how well the force was dealing with such risks. When early interventions were used, they were all done in appropriate circumstances. On receipt of intelligence regarding police corruption, the items should be categorised in line with national corruption categories. There were only five items of intelligence from the 60 reviewed that did not follow this guidance. Intelligence was generally acted upon in a timely manner and dealt with effectively. Eleven cases required referring to the IOPC and, of these, nine were appropriately referred.

The force works well with external partners to identify intelligence related to officers who abuse their authority. The counter-corruption unit has specific liaison officers who talk to groups such as Victims First Northumbria. They talk about how to identify potential abusers. Operation Jameson was set up by the force in response to those incidents where officers and staff abuse their position to take sexual advantage of someone, but it has a wider remit. The force has created a joint engagement group, which is a group of force representatives from community engagement and safeguarding who work alongside external partner agencies such as the six local authorities, mental health police liaison, sex workers, independent domestic violence advisers, independent sexual violence advisers and probation. It meets monthly to share information, and between meetings the force uses liaison officers who work directly with vulnerable communities to provide additional information when required. The force also has good relationships with, and has provided training to, sex worker liaison officers.

The force has a confidential reporting system for staff to report internal wrongdoing. During the inspection, the staff we spoke to had no knowledge of either the online confidential reporting tool or the telephone number. We were told that officers and staff would report issues of concern directly to their supervisors. However, the force needs to improve the knowledge of its staff about how to report confidential information regarding potential wrongdoing by colleagues.

Corruption intelligence is held locally on a standalone system, but this isn’t up to date and the data isn’t fully searchable. Some cases were documented on other systems while other information was also found in paper records. The main corruption intelligence system appeared to be used as a document filing system rather than a database for recording what had been done. The force is now able to monitor some of its IT systems and the data contained within them to check that employees’ use of data is appropriate and lawful, but it doesn’t use this capability to proactively search for any inappropriate behaviour.

The force has enough capacity and capability to address the current level of reactive enquiries and proceed to the investigation stage. IT monitoring went live in December 2018 and this should improve the capability to pursue corruption proactively that the force needs to focus on.

The force recognises the abuse of position for a sexual purpose as serious corruption and this is reflected in its local counter-corruption strategic threat assessment. The force submitted a plan in 2017 to address our 2016 national recommendation regarding the abuse of position for a sexual purpose, and it has fully implemented this. The force has a problem profile, a detailed analytical report, to assist in identifying staff who might abuse their position, and these staff are subject to checks and monitoring.

The force uses the National Police Counter Corruption Advisory Group strategy to address the issue of the abuse of position for a sexual purpose. It provides officers and staff with material and briefings to make sure that they are aware of the issue. It has also produced a poster – ‘knowing your boundaries’ – to provide guidance to staff. Supervisors receive training about the warning signs that suggest someone is abusing their position for a sexual purpose. The force releases full statements to the press in the event of a dismissal for this type of offending, setting out clearly that the force won’t tolerate this type of behaviour.

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.