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Sussex PEEL 2018


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

Last updated 21/01/2020

The force needs to work on its communication – especially between staff and senior leaders. For example, it has started to pose ethical dilemmas to staff on the intranet to get their comments and improve decision making. However, these dilemmas don’t come from the staff themselves.

The professional standards department (PSD) is mainly effective at communicating lessons about ethics to the wider workforce. It would benefit from being more visible to encourage more communication between the PSD and staff.

Sussex Police treats abuse of position for sexual purpose as serious corruption. Staff have mandatory training on the subject. But few could remember what signs to look for, despite this being part of the training.

Staff mainly trust grievance procedures. The force meets timescales, manages outcomes and captures any learning from grievances.

The force is much better at supporting staff wellbeing than in our last inspection. It has achieved this through the work of wellbeing champions and offering activities to support mental and physical health.

Despite this, officers describe their workloads as high. Plus, teams across the whole force report high levels of stress. Sickness rates are high too. The force has the fourth highest sickness absence rates in the country (5.2 absences per officer).

High workloads are mainly caused by demand and a lack of staff in key positions. This is reflected in the force’s significant overtime spend. For example, in the SIUs, the option of working double shifts is relatively common among people who feel they can. So there is still more that the force can do to improve wellbeing.

Questions for Legitimacy


To what extent does the force treat all of the people it serves 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.

However, we reviewed a representative sample of 282 stop and search records to assess how reasonable the recorded grounds were. We found that 85 percent had reasonable grounds. Our assessment is based on the grounds recorded by the searching officer and not the grounds 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 some of this recommendation. But it doesn’t monitor how far find rates vary between people from different ethnicities and across different types of searches. This includes separate identification of find rates for drug possession and supply-type offences.

It isn’t clear that the force monitors enough data to identify how often possession-only drug searches happen, or how much these match local or force-level priorities.

We reviewed the force’s website and found no obvious mention of its analysis to understand and explain the reasons for inconsistencies, or any action taken.


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


Areas for improvement

  • The force should take steps to make sure that officers and staff are aware of how to raise and refer ethical issues within the force. Learning outcomes should then be shared with the workforce.
  • The force should improve its workforce’s knowledge and understanding of the abuse of position for a sexual purpose.
  • The force should ensure it has full information technology (IT) monitoring to effectively protect the information contained within its systems.

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

Maintaining an ethical culture

Sussex Police develops and maintains an ethical culture. The force has clear and accessible policies and refers to the Code of Ethics in training and communication with its staff. This means that supervisors understand the importance of ethics and victim focus.

However, there is limited evidence that supervisors pass on these messages to the workforce. Officers and staff mainly learn about the Code of Ethics from e-learning.

The force has recently posed ethical dilemmas to staff on the intranet for the first time to get their comments and improve decision making.

However, these aren’t dilemmas that come direct from the staff and it is too soon to tell whether this activity will have a positive impact.

The force also includes ethical dilemmas on the agenda for its joint legitimacy board with Surrey Police. The force should consider how it engages with members of the workforce to allow them to inform these ideas.

Force leaders make ethical decisions – like shifting some decisions on low-level misconduct towards performance and management action. 

This helps to resolve complaints at a local level (65 percent of complaints are dealt with locally) and keep staff interested in learning. The PSD takes proactive steps to communicate lessons learned to the workforce. This communications strategy is mainly effective. However, it would benefit from being more visible to officers and staff to encourage communication between the PSD and staff.

Sussex Police complies with the national vetting authorised policing practice. There is no backlog on vetting. The force monitors vetting decisions for any negative impact on minority groups. This informs recruitment and positive action.

The force encourages people to report concerns about its staff’s behaviour. It gives abuse of position for a sexual purpose briefings to partners including survivor groups and independent domestic violence advisers. Concerns from partners make up 3 percent of all referrals.

The force’s confidential reporting line is used a lot. This clearly demonstrates that staff are confident using the system.

The PSD gives bi-annual updates through the internal force intranet on acceptable standards of behaviour. It also offers case studies to help staff meet the right standards.

Tackling corruption

Sussex Police is good at tackling potential corruption. The force’s counter-corruption strategic threat assessment and control strategy is done in several ways. This includes briefing partners on abuse of position and assessing roles where corruption risks are more likely. The PSD uses the work of the Police Mutual Assurance Society to support staff in financial difficulties.

The force can’t yet monitor all its IT systems. If it could, it would be easier to check that officers and staff aren’t misusing them. The force is fully aware of this and is working to solve the problem.

Sussex Police treats abuse of position for sexual purpose as serious corruption. It makes sure referrals are made to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. Staff have had mandatory training. However, few could remember what signs to look for, despite this being in the training. The force has worked with partner agencies that support vulnerable victims. This has increased intelligence submissions.

The force now has ‘focused conversations’ rather than performance development reviews. It offers a menu of options to supervisors to shape effective management conversations. However, there is no formal recording process. So the force can’t be confident that supervisors are reminding staff of duties such as notifiable associations or business interests (personal links that might influence their work). Because the conversations aren’t monitored, and demand is high, some supervisors openly say that they have either not taken place or are not a priority.

Summary for question 2

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


Areas for improvement

  • The force needs to provide a more consistent preventative approach to wellbeing and prioritise the health of its staff by identifying and supporting staff who are struggling and taking any necessary action.
  • The force should improve how it records and monitors its ‘focused conversations’ to ensure they are consistently applied across the force and effectively capture issues such as poor performance.
  • The force should ensure that it has a talent programme that is open to everyone and consistently applied.

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

Improving fairness at work

Fairness at work at Sussex Police is mixed. The force encourages feedback from members of its workforce to improve things that are important to them. This is mainly through the online portal, Innovate.

For example, one staff member challenged what they saw as a lack of autonomy in domestic abuse arrest procedures. They have been invited to review other alternatives. However, other staff say that, while the force acknowledges suggestions, they don’t always get feedback.

Staff can easily get information on grievance procedures through the intranet. They mainly trust these procedures. Both human resources and staff report a greater focus on local mediation. Human resources partners give guidance on the process when they need to.

We reviewed the force’s grievance files. They showed the force meets timescales, manages outcomes and captures any learning.

Grievance outcomes have helped make promotion processes fairer. For example, people with known caring responsibilities are a priority in promotion postings.

The force has a good understanding of the make-up and diversity of its workforce. It is making good efforts to reduce gaps in workforce representation, including working with under-represented groups.

For example, the force carried out a feedback session with a recruit from a minority ethnic background to learn any lessons from the recruitment process that would benefit others. This was presented to the equality and diversity board, which meets quarterly and monitors data on recruitment and retention.

Fair workloads are the sign of a ‘workplace’ where staff are treated fairly. Workload remains a significant concern for staff in public protection and investigation roles.

Workload pressures have caused high levels of stress leading to sickness absence. Staff on investigation teams are often taken away from their work to support planned events, like the local Pride festival. This stops them making progress in their investigations.

The force often doesn’t meet minimum staffing levels. This is made worse by high sickness levels in a unit that already has a vacancy rate of up to 25 percent on one team.

From 1 May 2018 to 30 April 2019, the average number of days lost through sickness in investigation teams across all three divisions was 1,702 (12.46 days per person). Response teams report similar levels.

Public protection SIUs had a slightly higher rate of 14.36 days lost per person. The option of working double shifts is relatively common for those who feel they can. Because of this, the overtime spend for investigation teams was £911,912 for the year ending 31 March 2019 – £593,874 over budget.

The force has clear plans to increase establishment and recruit detectives in the long term. However, it should consider what more it can do to relieve pressure on officers and staff now.

Supporting workforce wellbeing

The force has improved its approach to workforce wellbeing. In our 2017 legitimacy inspection, we identified that Sussex Police needed to prioritise workforce wellbeing and improve how it identifies and understands the concerns of its workforce, using a range of data, information and analysis to do so. The force has made a great deal of progress in this area. There is now a well-established wellbeing board, held jointly with Surrey Police. This board considers a wide range of data. For example, at a recent meeting, the data from the employee assistance programme was discussed. This included the numbers, types and reasons for contact; numbers of counselling referrals; and other interventions such as debt and legal services.

The force complies with the Oscar Kilo action plan and has developed standards beyond national best practice. This includes sharing what works across agencies including the local authority and health. These changes help the workforce to feel valued. It is engaged with the action plan through its 30 wellbeing single points of contact and champions in each area. These passionate staff work hard to meet colleagues’ needs. For example, there are initiatives supporting people to successfully complete the fitness test. Sports and social opportunities for taster sessions in sports are also well received.

These changes are now formalised in the new wellbeing policy. This includes a full day dedicated to wellbeing across the entire workforce. It also includes a wellbeing commitment in the estates strategy (providing wellbeing rooms and improved facilities). Occupational health improvements mean that referrals are made earlier compared with 2017.

The force needs to ensure that it is consistent in its wellbeing approach. Supervisors and leaders see wellbeing as part of their role. However, their efforts can be undermined by gaps in supervision and pressures coping with demand.

For example, some supervisors feel unable to spot signs of pressure because staff feel constantly under pressure, particularly in investigation roles. In one area of the force, supervisors are managing staff wellbeing through a monthly traffic light system. One district SIU asks staff to report whether they feel ‘green, amber or red’ about work so they can support staff who need it.

This is a good approach. However, if all staff feel ‘red’ despite the wellbeing initiatives available, this could cause problems for the force. Plus, only one area of the force uses this approach so other teams with similar concerns may not feel as valued.

Managing performance and development of officers and staff

The force’s approach to performance management has changed since our last inspection in 2017. The early signs are positive.

The force has moved from formal performance development reviews to more informal ‘focused conversations’ between staff and their line managers. These discussions are regularly taking place and have been well received by staff. They cover the person’s wellbeing, integrity issues, performance issues and managing talent.

However, the discussions are informal and not recorded. This means that the force can’t show they are applied in the same way across the force. It also can’t show that talent is being developed, or that issues such as wellbeing and counter-corruption are being captured and dealt with by supervisors. The force is currently unable to collect data around the first stage of unsatisfactory performance procedures.

The force offers talent management and mentoring. However, not all staff know about them.

Some staff were very positive about mentoring and development, and felt that selection processes for these were fair. Others were less aware of them. These included female staff despite the reach of the Evolve network (a networking group for female officers and staff).

Some supervisors felt the new ‘focused conversations’ stopped them identifying and supporting talented staff because they’re not recorded. The force would benefit from a talent programme open to everyone and consistently applied.

The promotion process in Sussex Police is seen as fair and transparent for both officers and staff. The force has a joint promotion process with Surrey Police for police officers up to the rank of chief superintendent.

Sussex Police publishes its promotions calendar to staff, so they can plan for promotion processes in advance. The force consults the Police Federation on the process. The Police Federation also forms part of the selection process providing independent oversight and scrutiny.

There is an appeals process, offering an impartial review, for people who may feel that a promotion has been unfairly awarded. The force also seeks the views of candidates following each promotion process to get feedback. This allows the force to identify any themes. We found that most staff were in support of the force’s promotion processes and work was ongoing to ensure that police staff have similar opportunities for career progression made available to them.

Summary for question 3