West Mercia PEEL 2018
How legitimately does the force treat the public and its workforce?
The force needs to improve in terms of how legitimately it treats the public and its workforce.
The force decides its priorities without community-based consultation. We note that there is some evidence of dissatisfaction within the community about the force’s decision to end its alliance with Warwickshire Police.
The force is inconsistent in its approach to unconscious bias and effective communications skills training.
The force could do more to understand its stop and search data. It could also do more to address disparities in different search types, and to address disproportionality.
The force is good at maintaining an ethical culture. Recent changes to its practices include training for custody staff about the needs of transgender people. The force also has an effective approach to tackling corruption. And it has an effective and comprehensive plan in place to tackle abuse of position for a sexual purpose.
The force has some way to go in terms of improving potential unfairness at work. There is less confidence about the force in some respects at its junior levels.
The workforce speaks highly of wellbeing support services. But we found examples of a lack of basic support, including an absence of psychological screening and trauma risk management for those who need it.
The force needs to manage poor performance among its workforce better than it does. It is working to address some perceptions of unfairness.
To what extent does the force treat all of the people it serves with fairness and respect?
Areas for improvement
- The force should review its approach to unconscious bias and effective communications skills training to help it better achieve its community engagement aims.
- The force should better understand its stop and search data, particularly relating to disproportionality, using this understanding to make improvements to the way it uses stop and search.
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
The force’s current approach to community engagement has limited influence on its priorities and strategic decision making.
During our inspection, we saw good examples of the neighbourhood policing team working with communities, as well as more formal survey work that the force does to understand community needs. We also found that the force uses a range of channels, including social and traditional media. Local officers could show that they had taken steps to remove barriers to communicating and working with traveller communities and young Asian males. And cadets carry out work in schools to improve engagement with young people.
However, staff said that the force identifies priorities through tasking meetings and not as a result of community-based consultation or engagement. IAGs had mixed views about community involvement. Some spoke positively of the work the force is doing. Others felt the force could do more to work meaningfully with the community.
Notably, the force did not carry out any community or partnership engagement before it announced its decision to end its alliance with Warwickshire Police. There is some concern about the decision and this concern was also expressed by some members of the police and crime panel.
The force has an inconsistent approach to unconscious bias and effective communications skills training. Some training has been provided through officer safety sessions, stop and search inputs and other courses. The force calculates that, across a range of different training sessions, around 65 percent of its workforce have received this training.
While the force had not formally trained some officers and staff, many we spoke to understand the principles of unconscious bias. Officers spoke of applying this knowledge when completing DASH risk assessments. They spoke of keeping an open mind and looking beyond the obvious to understand all risks present. Few had received any specific communications skills training. Officers said they would welcome training on delivering difficult messages.
Every year, all frontline officers receive two days of classroom-based and practical officer safety training. Officers in CID and command roles receive this training every two years on the basis that they use these skills less often.
The force’s intranet guidance on the appropriate use of force is limited and dated. The force states that 20 percent of officers do not have up-to-date officer safety training. The force complies with the requirement to record use of force. But it may be under-recording some types, such as compliant handcuffing. It is addressing this potential under-recording through an awareness campaign that includes posters and guidance.
In March 2019, the force introduced the Chronicle ICT system. This system enables officers to report use of force via their mobile devices. The force is expecting compliance to improve.
A use of force group reviews tactical patterns and trends to identify learning. It could give several examples of learning that had resulted from such monitoring. These included changes to training and equipment, as well as learning for individual officers and staff.
IAGs, youth forums, and the publication of information and data, all serve to scrutinise officers and staff in their use of force. IAGs are independently chaired. They are diverse in their membership and representative of the communities they serve. IAGs have also taken part in training to improve officers’ understanding of community diversity. IAG members attend each local command team’s use of force scrutiny group meeting, as do representatives of UNISON and the Police Federation.
As a result of feedback, the force has made improvements. These include giving greater detail to IAGs. Other examples include allowing IAG members to view body-worn video footage and to observe officer safety training. The force promotes its ride-along scheme well. This scheme is popular with the public, bringing scrutiny to policing activities.
Using stop and search powers
The force makes appropriate use of stop and search powers. But it could do more to understand its stop and search data, and address disproportionality. A new stop and search recording system will help to improve data, audit and accountability. The new system replaces manual audit methods.
Currently, the force is implementing training on what constitutes reasonable grounds for officers to carry out a stop and search. This training responds to a self-assessment exercise carried out by the force. It found that not all officers felt confident in using their powers under stop and search legislation. The self-assessment also found that most officers had received no stop and search training in the preceding 12 months.
The force now includes stop and search as part of annual officer safety training. In this way, it ensures officers’ full attendance. Officers said that this inclusion makes the annual training more relevant to their work. The force uses an educational video in stop and search training. It shows an encounter with an autistic boy and his adverse experiences with the police.
Supervisors check and endorse each stop and search record, making sure that corrective action is taken when necessary. Some officers reported receiving feedback emails on their use of the power. Supervisors and officers we spoke to clearly understood their responsibilities.
During our inspection, we reviewed a representative sample of 221 stop and search records. We did this to assess the reasonableness of the recorded grounds. Of those records, 78 percent contained reasonable grounds. Our assessment is based on the grounds recorded by the searching officer, and not the grounds that existed at the time of the search.
The force has since introduced new procedures. Stop and search is now subject to scrutiny through suitable governance structures. Governance is provided through the quarterly strategic group, chaired by an ACC. A superintendent is responsible for leading on force policy. The group reviews a comprehensive set of data. The force publishes a redacted version of this data on its public website.
There are detailed minutes of group meetings, with many actions raised and good representation. Attendees include representatives from the local policing areas, the training department, the professional standards department (PSD) and IAGs, as well as analysts.
Every month, a dedicated supervisor also reviews a minimum of ten stop and search records for each of the force’s five command units. The supervisor manages the auditing and reporting arrangements to inform the work of the strategic group and IAGs.
Each local policing area has stop and search SPOCs. They also attend internal stop and search tactical delivery meetings. One improvement that the force has made as a result of IAG consultation is the successful promotion of its ride-along scheme.
According to the force’s policy, officers must use body-worn video when carrying out stop and search activity. But almost half of stop and searches are not yet recorded. These cases are returned to the officer to record their rationale for not using body-worn video.
IAGs scrutinise a sample of stop and search records. The force selects the records. However, there is no robust and defensible rigour evident in the manner in which the force selects these records. Also, the sample size is very small.
Recently, some IAG members have been invited to review body-worn video footage of searches. This is a new development. IAGs also take part in the ride-along scheme to improve their understanding of police activities and to enable more effective scrutiny of the force’s work. IAG members told the force that the stop and search data pack contained jargon and was difficult to understand in places. The force listened and improved the data pack to the satisfaction of members.
Recently, the force has introduced further initiatives to improve its understanding of stop and search. However, it is too soon for us to assess their effectiveness. Initiatives include an invitation to the Heart of Worcester College to help the force improve youth engagement, and its use of a WhatsApp group to engage young people in a study of disproportionality within stop and search procedures. The force has also approached the University of Worcester to help it better understand its stop and search data.
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 elements of this recommendation. It identifies and monitors the extent to which searches where nothing was found differ between people from different ethnicities. But it does not specifically identify if the searched-for item was found. And it does not do this across different types of searches (including separate identification of find rates for drug possession and supply-type offences). Also, it isn’t clear that the force monitors enough data to identify the prevalence of possession-only drug searches, or the extent to which these align with local or force-level priorities.
We reviewed the force’s website and found a clear explanation of the factors affecting the disproportionality rate. But there was no obvious mention of the analysis that the force had conducted to understand and explain reasons for disparities in different search types, or any subsequent action it had taken.
The force must now work with a suitable range of partners to fully analyse and understand disproportionality and, if necessary, take action to address it.Summary for question 1
How well does the force ensure that its workforce behaves ethically and lawfully?
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure that its counter-corruption unit has enough capability and capacity to counter corruption effectively and proactively; and can fully monitor all of its computer systems, including mobile data, to proactively identify data breaches, protect the force’s data and identify computer misuse.
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
West Mercia Police is good at maintaining an ethical culture. It has circulated the Code of Ethics well. Officers and staff advised our inspectors that they had signed to confirm both their receipt and understanding of the code. In consultation with the workforce, West Mercia Police has recently refreshed its values to promote a service ethos and raise awareness of its policing priorities. The force makes appropriate use of the national decision model. The Code of Ethics is a core element of that model.
In line with national guidance, West Mercia Police holds a quarterly ethics panel, chaired by the DCC. The committee invites ethical dilemmas from the workforce. It discusses them and shares some more widely with the organisation to stimulate discussion and encourage learning. There is a high response rate to such circulations, and some people told us that supervisors and colleagues discuss ethical issues in team meetings. The chair of the ethics committee also attends an external trust, integrity and ethics committee. This committee includes independent members.
The force’s learning from these groups is reflected in its changes to working practices. One example is the training it now gives to custody staff about the needs of transgender people. The ethics of stop and search also now feature in the force’s annual officer safety training.
The force is working to promote a no-blame culture, although some staff we spoke with were doubtful that such a culture existed at all levels. Chief officers have redoubled their efforts following a critical College of Policing peer review into internal communications. This was received alongside disappointing staff survey results. Chief officer road shows, blogs and other methods of communication are now encouraging more open discussion.
The force has appointed continuous improvement officers to promote a learning culture. Recently, it appointed an organisational learning manager. It is also setting up a ‘lessons learned’ board. But these initiatives are in the early stages of implementation. Therefore, it is too early for us to be able to assess their results. The force often shares Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) national lessons learned with the appropriate force lead. Maintaining and fully establishing these activities will help to promote a no-blame culture and encourage the growth of a learning mindset across the force.
The force is up to date with most personnel vetting and it has no backlogs. The force complies with the national Vetting Code of Practice. The number of officers and staff without the minimum security clearance for their roles is substantially lower, and therefore better, than elsewhere in England and Wales.
The force has achieved our 2016 vetting recommendation. However, enhanced vetting is not up to date for a very small percentage of the workforce who operate in the most specialist roles. Therefore, not all those who work in relevant departments have been the subject of enhanced vetting and associated aftercare. The force is addressing this shortcoming. It has allocated a dedicated team to complete aftercare. It plans to bring all officers and staff up to date by February 2020.
The force carries out vetting of its external contractors. It has also secured agreement to involve members of IAGs in the appeals process. This will bring increased scrutiny, transparency and diversity to this process. The force has changed its vetting systems to enable it to monitor the results of its vetting decisions to identify any disparities between groups. When recruitment staff identify potentially disproportionate failures, the PSD reviews the relevant files. To date, all decision making has been found to be in line with the College of Policing’s authorised professional practice guidance. Effective vetting helps the force to maintain the integrity of its workforce and its information.
The force clarifies and reinforces standards of behaviour through policies, training, workforce discussions and publications. It asks all officers and staff to sign an annual integrity health check. This has resulted in increases of 55 percent in business interest applications and 25 percent in reports of notifiable associations. The force has a review process for business interests. But it does no proactive monitoring unless this is triggered by specific intelligence. Reinforcing and keeping these standards help the force to maintain public legitimacy. They also encourage the public to work with the force to tackle crime and ASB.
West Mercia Police has an effective approach to tackling corruption. The force has a current PSD strategic threat assessment and a control strategy. It also has a PIB. The board reviews analysis and information about potential internal risks.
Due to ICT infrastructure problems, the force cannot yet fully monitor all its ICT systems. However, it has approved a business case and set aside funds to purchase such a system when infrastructure improvements allow. In the meantime, the PSD has completed a list of the auditing capability of the force.
The ACU has a good understanding of its auditing capability. An ACU analyst is developing a proactive approach to the analysis of ICT systems, so the force can identify officers and staff who may pose a risk of corruption. This means that currently the force is very reliant on limited ACU analytical capacity in the absence of other technical solutions.
Other abstractions, such as freedom of information requests and support to management meetings, further reduce analytical capacity. Despite these problems, the force’s approach to tackling corruption helps it to uncover (and deal effectively with) corruption risks. This maintains force integrity, public legitimacy and confidence.
The force views abuse of position for a sexual purpose as a serious corruption risk. It has an effective and comprehensive plan in place to tackle it. Activities include a ‘Don’t cross the line’ communications plan, supported by a range of internal and external materials. The IOPC confirms that the force refers allegations promptly.
In November 2018, the PSD hosted a ‘Tackling police corruption in partnership’ event. It was well attended by different agencies. The event promoted awareness of the problems caused by corruption and the importance of early reporting to tackle concerns, including the abuse of position for a sexual purpose. Delegates included adult safeguarding services, probation services, health trusts, a rape and sexual abuse support centre, Women’s Aid, a drug and alcohol service, and children’s services.
Most of the officers and staff we spoke to demonstrated an understanding of the risks of abuse of position for a sexual purpose. They were confident when talking about it. And they knew how to raise concerns. The force gives supervisors a presentation on warning signs and key indicators, together with a checklist. The force has also tested workforce understanding through its continuous service improvement teams. The monthly PSD bulletin covers notable cases of abuse of position for a sexual purpose. It also reinforces standards and reporting expectations. These processes enable the force to identify and address the threat of abuse of position for a sexual purpose.Summary for question 2
To what extent does the force treat its workforce with fairness and respect?
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure it provides suitable training, support and capacity for its supervisors so that they have the necessary time to recognise the signs and provide the necessary early intervention response for managing wellbeing issues.
- The force should improve how it manages individual performance and identifies talent, ensuring reviews are consistently and fairly applied across the workforce and valued by all, and that poor performance is managed consistently.
- The force should ensure that it provides suitable training, support and capacity for its supervisors so that they are fully equipped and confident to manage the performance and development of their staff, including effectively managing poor performance and identifying talent.
- The force should ensure that its promotion and selection processes are accessible and transparent and are perceived by the workforce as fair.
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
West Mercia Police is committed to identifying and improving potential unfairness at work. But its efforts have yet to make a meaningful difference for the workforce.
The force uses a range of formal and informal methods for leaders to seek workforce feedback and challenge. These include surveys, roadshows, blogs and other forums. This activity supports the force’s confidence strategy, which aims to improve confidence both internally and externally. Staff associations and senior managers described positive relationships with chief officers. Some officers and staff said there had been a significant improvement in the visibility of chief officers, superintending ranks and chief inspectors. It is clear that the force is making efforts to improve workforce engagement.
However, these efforts are not yet universally valued and there is less confidence at more junior levels of the organisation. The workforce perceives that the force is conducting consultation after change, rather than beforehand, when their contributions could inform decision making. There is also a feeling that the force does not act on the results of surveys. Casual comments by managers can undermine engagement efforts.
Our grievance file review identified that the force runs its grievance process well. It gives appropriate support to those who access it. Recent changes to the process have made the procedure less bureaucratic. However, not all staff trust the process. Some are cautious of using it because of fears that they may be stigmatised. They were also doubtful that it would achieve meaningful outcomes. Officers at both junior and senior ranks said that early action to address issues was preferable to the more formal process. However, early action relies on effective and consistent line management, which is not always in place in all teams and departments.
The DCC chairs the workforce management group. It meets bi-monthly to identify fairness issues and trends from grievance processes. The PIB also offers an effective forum for scrutinising workforce information and data. The PIB has representation from the PSD and departments responsible for force resources and demand, health and wellbeing, and workforce diversity and inclusion. The PIB also reviews complaints from the public. The workforce spoke positively of initiatives such as ‘100 little things’. Clearly, the force makes changes as a direct result of suggestions made through that scheme.
The force recognises that it is not representative of the communities it serves. The strategic assessment identifies a need to improve data on faith, disability and sexual orientation. Yet staff are reluctant to declare these personal details. There are concerns about the progression of women in the workforce. Some staff also cite the challenges of force geography as a barrier to applying for posts that might result in them having to travel long distances each day. A series of chief officer roadshows sees senior leaders travelling around this large rural force to better engage the workforce. The roadshows are intended to build workplace trust and confidence in line with the force’s confidence strategy. The women’s network is supporting potential candidates to help increase female representation across the workforce, and to improve the gender balance in roles such as firearms.
The chief constable has a vision of a representative workforce by 2025 and staff are members of the national Positive Action Practitioner Alliance.
The force analyses data to understand disparities in recruitment, retention and progression. Analysis has helped it to identify where BAME candidates are lost in recruitment processes. The analysis shows that, despite high levels of BAME applications in late 2018, no candidates were successfully appointed. Diversity and inclusion groups are offering suitable forums to improve diversity. And recruitment events, delivered with neighbourhood policing team support, are also focusing on specific population groups. These activities are particularly focused on providing BAME candidates with information about application processes so that candidates are better able to present relevant information.
Members of staff networks attend recruitment events. Chief officers consult them about retention and progression. Members feel that chief officers value these views.
The force has recruited certain staff roles (such as ICT) through a specialist recruitment agency. The force has appointed candidates on the basis of their understanding of diversity and inclusion. The PSD has also taken steps to understand and tackle disproportionality. These steps include reviews of both complaint cases and changes that have been made to HR systems, to identify causes of disparity.
Supporting workforce wellbeing
Support to workforce wellbeing requires improvement.
The introduction of the West Mercia Police health and wellbeing board, chaired by the DCC, is viewed positively. The force has embarked on a substantial wellbeing programme that has a dedicated co-ordinator. The board has carried out a ‘Blue Light’ assessment and developed an action plan.
There are signs that the workforce is beginning to value wellbeing efforts. But the force still has much work to do during the nominated year of wellbeing. Those who have accessed wellbeing support services spoke positively about them. Officers and staff could give examples of the wellbeing initiatives promoted by the force (couch to 5K; Blue Light; peer support network; gyms; PAM Assist). They also spoke positively of their relationships with supervisors. Line managers recognise their responsibilities for wellbeing. But some feel they lack the skills or time to carry out these responsibilities as effectively as they would like to.
Strategic boards monitor management information, including sickness, staff survey results and feedback from welfare officers. When it can, the force takes action to improve wellbeing. It has appointed a welfare officer, gives supervisor training and publishes support materials on the intranet. Staff regard the peer supporter network positively, although supporters themselves spoke of a lack of central co-ordination of their role. Poor mental health and psychological problems are the primary cause of absence in the workforce. Many we spoke to considered access to consistent supervision, and pressures of demand, as obstacles to better workplace wellbeing. These people view the force’s wellbeing campaigns with some scepticism.
Some officers who investigate serious sexual offences and child abuse cases are not given psychological health screening. Some teams do not have access to trained trauma risk management (or similar) practitioners who can help colleagues in the immediate aftermath of distressing incidents. We also found examples of a lack of basic support. These included no return to work interviews and no supervisor contact for staff during periods of absence. Support during longer-term absence is also lacking, including for those on maternity leave. Consistent supervision appears to be a key factor in the provision of effective wellbeing support to the workforce. This includes support to those who are subject to misconduct investigations
Staff associations welcome the force’s commitment to keeping newly promoted sergeants in post for two years.
The quality of referrals that the force makes to occupational health (OH) is also dependent on the first-line manager. However, once referred, the force offers adequate occupational health support. A welfare lead works confidentially with staff who need support. Feedback from people who have used this service highlights concerns about OH waiting times. But, once seen, staff feel that the quality of service is good. The force has invested in additional staff and reviewed how the OH department functions. The range of preventative measures that is available to improve workforce wellbeing is yet to be fully established and valued by the workforce.
Managing performance and development of officers and staff
Arrangements for the assessment, development and management of the individual performance of officers and staff are inconsistent. The chief officer team has created momentum about the importance of annual performance reviews (PDRs). But many staff still believe they can opt out of the process. This is because the workforce considers the PDR to be a requirement only for those seeking promotion or development. However, it is clear that the force has encouraged PDR use in the recent sergeant promotion process. The force monitors and publishes PDR completion rates on its intranet. The workforce management group encourages senior leadership teams to promote compliance. But PDR completion rates on the HR system are only at 60 percent.
The force does not manage poor performance among its workforce as well as it could. It often escalates problems to an inappropriate level, instead of managing them effectively at a local level. There is a view that some first-line managers lack the confidence to deal with staff positively but fairly. Some supervisors are concerned that they may be subject to complaints if they try to manage poor performance. Supervisors also spoke of not having enough time to manage poor performance effectively. The workforce said that high workloads and frequent changes in supervisor and supervisor capacity are barriers to managing performance. During our inspection, we saw examples of good supervision and performance management. But, force-wide, these were inconsistent.
From April 2019, the force planned to adopt the competency and values framework as part of its promotion and development arrangements. This focus should help the force to ensure that appraisal processes are completed, and that officers and staff record appropriate evidence of competence.
A document for line managers gives a step-by-step guide on recording annual appraisals and conducting one-to-one meetings. It also covers the new MAX programme. The force expects managers to meet their staff more regularly, and to record those meetings and their outcomes. The workforce views the introduction of mentoring schemes, talent management and the MAX programme positively. But these initiatives are yet to be fully embedded. Without an established, effective and consistent performance management process, the force will not be able to maximise the potential of its workforce.
The force makes decisions about temporary promotions locally. This has led to perceptions of unfairness. The central workforce management group is scrutinising these decisions to address the problem, and to improve communication about temporary promotion opportunities and decisions.
The workforce also perceives as inconsistent the opportunity for short-term secondments. It will take some time for the force to reinvigorate and fully implement its new MAX programme, performance management and talent management arrangements. We will revisit their progress during our next inspection.
The workforce perceives substantive promotion processes as fair and transparent. However, the force has not invited representatives from support networks to sit as independent members on promotion boards. Despite this, representatives for the staff associations reported a good mix of successful candidates.Summary for question 3