West Midlands PEEL 2018
How legitimately does the force treat the public and its workforce?
West Midlands Police treats both the public and its workforce fairly.
The force’s approach to the ethical and lawful behaviour of its workforce requires improvement.
The force communicates well with the public, including those parts of the community that are harder to reach.
Officers understand how to use force correctly and understand their obligations about recording its use. The scrutiny of stop and search is good.
West Midlands Police has a large number of officers and staff whose police vetting is not up to date. The force has recruited extra staff for the vetting unit and has speeded up re-vetting processes, but at the current rate of vetting it will take several years to get rid of the backlog. The size of the backlog and the fact it has existed for several years are causes of concern.
The force is clear about the standards of behaviour it expects from its workforce. It highlights misconduct cases to raise awareness of the consequences of corruption or misconduct. The counter corruption unit (CCU) has enough resources to manage its work. However, the force still cannot fully monitor all of its IT systems.
Officers and staff are confident that they can talk to senior leaders about problems, and that leaders will listen to them. The force has improved how it deals with grievances. It has also changed the promotion process to try to remove any possible bias.
To what extent does the force treat all of the people it serves with fairness and respect?
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
West Midlands Police has a strong commitment to treating communities with fairness and respect. The chief constable is clear about his desire to improve perceptions of police legitimacy within local communities. The force values statement, which prioritises openness to public scrutiny, and the ambition plan, where building trust and confidence are the main principles, support this objective. These themes are visible across the force, including in the way it designs public communication and trains officers and staff, and in the way leaders make decisions.
The force has introduced the Fairness in Policing programme, in part because it recognises that treating the workforce fairly (organisational justice) is likely to positively influence the way officers treat the public (procedural justice). The wide-ranging programme integrates the force’s approach to both organisational justice and procedural justice and focuses on conducting policing work in a fair way rather than just consistently applying set procedures. Internal workforce and external community reference groups are involved in the consultation and design processes, which lead to the force making changes to policy and services so it can achieve positive cultural change.
The force has a range of effective community engagement styles in place, with an increasing use of digital methods that enable more two-way dialogue. A force framework provides structure, but is not prescriptive. This means neighbourhood teams can use the engagement methods they feel work best in their local areas, such as street briefings and world café events. To improve its understanding of what works best in communities with different economic and socio-demographic influences, a large-scale engagement project called Operation Wholestone has been conducted across the force, in collaboration with Cambridge University. The findings are being evaluated to create more bespoke ways of engaging with different communities, including those which might otherwise be hard to reach. Local and digital engagement is in place across the force and it is developing an understanding of what works best as it designs its future model.
The Citizens in Policing project is a good example of more formal volunteering that has a positive impact in local communities. A small group of staff provides co-ordination and support for local teams and departments across the force. In this way, the force aims to increase the number and use of trained volunteers, local cadet schemes and special constabulary officers. As well as supporting local policing services, this approach is part of a wider plan to increase capacity in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games in 2022. The breadth of projects and the way the force targets them to the communities where they will have the biggest positive effect is encouraging.
Workforce comprehension of unconscious bias is growing as awareness becomes more widespread. A combination of formal learning sessions, team discussions and operational training has increased understanding of how important it is to treat the public fairly. The activities also highlight how the unconscious biases we all have can negatively affect fair treatment. Some officers and staff were able to show how a greater awareness of unconscious bias has made them think and act differently when doing their jobs. This was an area for improvement in our last inspection and the force has made tangible progress since then, but it can still do more. The force needs to maintain momentum in this area to increase confidence that officers and staff are actively considering the effect of unconscious bias as part of their daily interactions with the public.
West Midlands Police provides appropriate training and guidance about how to use force fairly. Annual training includes the practical use of tactics and how to apply them using the national decision-making model and force policy. Officers we spoke to understood how to use force correctly, their obligations about when to do so and how to record it. A new digital app for recording when officers use force was introduced in early 2018, making information easier to submit and scrutinise. This is an improved position compared with our last inspection when we identified a number of areas for improvement. However, the force still needs to make further changes to provide first line supervisors with easier and more prompt access to information and alerts when members of their team have used force. In this way, supervisors will have a better understanding of their teams’ performance and will know when it becomes necessary to make an intervention. The checks and balances provided by supervisory oversight are a necessary and important part of retaining public confidence.
West Midlands Police does not comply with part of the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance on use of force because it records less information than is required. This is a deliberate decision made in the belief that the guidance is too broad and that recording all mandatory data in the nine-page form is bureaucratic. Consultation with the public and the PCC showed support for the force’s position. In practice, the force does not record some instances where officers have used force in lower-level situations, such as compliant handcuffing or where an officer draws a baton but does not use it. Higher-level use of force, where officers make deliberate physical contact, or use equipment such as spit guards, taser, or firearms, is recorded. Although West Midlands Police has derogated from the national recording requirements, we did not find any reduction in its commitment to using force correctly, or to accurate recording or scrutiny. However, derogating from the requirement means West Midlands Police is unable to monitor as effectively as other forces whether lower-level uses of force are fair or appropriate. For example, without data on compliant handcuffing, the force is unlikely to identify where compliant handcuffing is unfair or inappropriate.
Scrutiny of the use of force has improved since our last inspection, with further changes planned to make the process more robust. An assistant chief constable now leads internal scrutiny, and chairs a recently-established quarterly governance meeting that reviews appropriate data sets to a suitable standard.
The increasing use of body-worn video by officers and staff provides an additional opportunity for review, but this is not yet part of the formal scrutiny process. Public scrutiny of the use of force to date has been limited to specific instances, such as taser use. It was due to be expanded to broader, more locally-based scrutiny shortly after our inspection, along with plans to make data about the use of force available on the West Midlands Police website. However, this means that current opportunities for the public to provide feedback and challenge are limited. West Midlands Police has improved the way it manages and scrutinises the use of force in the past year. But this remains a developing area that needs continued attention to make sure the force implements planned changes successfully.
Using stop and search powers
In contrast with the use of force, procedures for stop and search are more established, supporting ongoing improvements and providing appropriate levels of internal review and public scrutiny. Stop and search training is provided to officers and includes information on the need for fair treatment. Officers are confident in using their legal powers. They record searches on a digital app. Supervisors are generally good at reviewing the app’s records to ensure searches are conducted correctly. We reviewed a representative sample of 63 stop and search records to assess the reasonableness of the recorded grounds. We found that 89 percent had reasonable grounds recorded. Our assessment is based on the grounds the searching officer recorded and not the grounds that existed at the time of the search.
The force conducts its own review of the reasonableness of grounds and considers that officers record grounds in a satisfactory way. The force also undertakes secondary monitoring, overseeing the initial work of supervisors and monitoring trends or themes. This monitoring also considers feedback from the public and other sources to understand how well stop and search is used across the force.
The scrutiny of stop and search is good. The force works with the office of the PCC to better understand the impact of stop and search on local communities. An assistant chief constable leads a quarterly governance meeting. The meeting reviews a comprehensive data set to understand how officers use stop and search and how the force could improve its use. Public scrutiny is conducted at local and force level with the office of the PCC providing direction and administrative support to ensure that the force obtains public feedback and responds to it. There are ten local scrutiny groups around the force, which hold meetings, on average, every two months. We found community members have confidence to question and challenge the force, although the involvement of more young people would enhance the meetings.
A frequent subject of public concern is the disproportionate number of searches of people from a BAME background. This has prompted the office of the PCC to commission academic research from Warwick University into the scale and causes of this within the West Midlands. The force has also undertaken separate additional work to understand the levels of BAME disproportionality for vehicle drivers stopped by the police. However, while the force website provides stop and search information so the public can see how it is using these powers, more needs to be done.
In our 2017 national legitimacy report, we recommended that all forces should monitor and analyse stop and search data to understand disparities, take action and publish a response by July 2018. We reviewed the force website in December 2018 and found no such analysis or description of action taken. The force needs to respond to the requirements of the 2017 recommendation and publish its findings to demonstrate that it is addressing the subject of disproportionality in an effective and open way.Summary for question 1
How well does the force ensure that its workforce behaves ethically and lawfully?
Areas for improvement
- The force should ensure it has a counter-corruption strategic threat assessment and control strategy which enables it to understand and manage the risk corruption poses to the organisation.
- The force should ensure its counter-corruption unit 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.
Cause of concern
The size of the vetting backlog within West Midlands Police is a cause of concern.
- The force should ensure all staff have received at least the lowest level of vetting clearance for their roles as quickly as possible, working to clear both the vetting backlog and new vetting renewals when they become due so that it complies fully with the national vetting guidelines.
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
The development and maintenance of an ethical culture are important components in the force’s drive to provide fair policing services. Starting with the force ambition plan, its vision and values, there is a clear ethical thread running through force governance and leadership structures. The College of Policing’s Code of Ethics and National Decision Model extend the ethical reach into daily operational and tactical work. The formation of a new ethics committee made up of officers and staff, academics, members of the public and the office of the PCC will provide advice on how the force should use new systems that analyse public and private data for policing purposes. The Code of Ethics is evident in both real-time decision making and in updated policies that the force has streamlined and simplified to make them more accessible and usable.
At a practical level, ethical considerations form part of training plans for student officers and are the subject of less formal debate on force systems and within teams. Officers discuss matters such as taking meal breaks in public and using a drug testing tent at a music festival to promote public safety. The force uses the findings to support ethical decision making. Force communications reiterate the need for ethical behaviour, and the need to follow the principles of the ‘Leadership Promise’ to develop the right behaviours among supervisors and managers. Recognising that most complaints about behaviour lead to organisational learning, rather than formal discipline procedures, is a factor behind the rising number of local and informal resolutions to complaints and the sharing of learning to prevent recurrences.
West Midlands Police is not compliant with the College of Policing’s Vetting Code of Practice and the associated Authorised Professional Practice. At the time of our inspection, 52 percent of the workforce (over 5,000 officers and staff) did not have up-to-date police vetting for their role. In line with national guidance, members of the workforce should be re-vetted to the minimum standard every ten years. Only 48 percent of West Midlands Police officers and staff are vetted to the correct level, although we found that all members of the workforce had been initially vetted on recruitment.
Many had also been subject to different forms of re-vetting when promoted, moved to a sensitive post or for other valid reasons. However, these forms of re-vetting vary by role and do not replace the minimum standard requirement. Annual integrity health checks (where officers and staff are reminded of the correct standards of behaviour and asked about any change in their personal circumstances) provide some reassurance, but we found that not all officers had completed them. In 2016, we recommended to all forces that all members of the workforce should have received at least the lowest level of vetting clearance within two years. West Midlands Police has not achieved this.
The force acknowledges the vetting backlog. It has recruited extra staff for the vetting unit and improved processes to re-vet officers and staff more quickly. However, the size of the backlog and the fact it has existed for several years is a cause for concern. Although the force is tackling the backlog, it will take several years to eliminate it at the current rate of vetting. All police forces face the risk that criminals might infiltrate and corrupt their workforce and, without up-to-date re-vetting, West Midlands Police has not taken all reasonable steps to mitigate that risk. The force can’t be sure whether officers and staff are performing roles they wouldn’t be permitted to hold if it had re-vetted them in accordance with agreed timescales.
The force also has a list of ten exceptions where it does not follow national vetting guidance. The reasons behind the creation of the list, which has been approved by chief officers, are pragmatic and focused on efficiency rather than on reducing the vetting workload. However, one consequence is that vetting standards within West Midlands Police vary from those in other forces. The force is in discussion with the national police lead for vetting to review the impact of these exceptions, but it remains non-compliant with national guidance in the meantime.
Other elements of the vetting process are effective. The force correctly monitors vetting decisions for disparities between different groups, in line with the diversity and inclusion strategy. The force complies with its obligations to provide details to the College of Policing for the barred and advisory lists. These prevent people who have been dismissed (or left the service under investigation) from re-joining or working in law enforcement. Although the force manages vetting well in several ways, the backlog in re-vetting remains a significant weakness.
West Midlands Police clearly articulates and reinforces the standards of behaviour it expects from officers and staff. Regular meetings between staff from the professional standards department, learning and development department and operational teams are used to share information, review where conduct has not met the required standard and act to prevent future recurrences. The force uses a wide range of communication methods (such as online, posters, internal campaigns) to remind officers and staff of their obligations. And it highlights examples where misconduct has occurred so that the workforce is aware of the facts and consequences. The force publishes misconduct and criminal proceedings internally and on the outward-facing website for public transparency.
The force is improving the way it tackles potential corruption, but some of the intelligence products and policies needed to do this effectively are still being updated. At the time of our inspection the force had an interim strategic threat assessment for anti-corruption (used to assess the various corruption threats facing the force) in place. The force was working on a more substantial and detailed assessment, using in-depth analysis, but it was not complete. An action plan (to implement the findings of the interim threat assessment) was in place instead of a formal control strategy. The force will put a new control strategy in place once the new threat assessment is ready. The vulnerable association policy, which stipulates how workforce relationships with people identified as a potential risk should be managed, is also being updated. The force recognises the importance of having a good understanding of potential corruption risks so it can manage them effectively. But it needs to have up-to-date assessments and policies in place to support its anti-corruption work.
The management of internal risk is more established. Effective policies for accepting gifts and hospitality and agreeing on business interests are in place with good understanding and compliance by the workforce. The CCU is well resourced. It increased its staff numbers in the past year and this has given it enough capacity to manage its work. Its capability to monitor computer systems continues to adapt to advances in technology, but it cannot yet fully monitor the use of all IT systems. New software is being bought that will enhance the unit’s monitoring capability, but until this is in place this remains a gap for the force. We were pleased to see that the officers and staff we spoke to had a good awareness of the confidential reporting line they can use to report suspicious activity. There are good links between different departments, which enables the force to proactively monitor data to identify potential vulnerabilities within the workforce.
The force rightly identifies abuse of position by officers and staff for a sexual purpose as serious corruption. West Midlands Police recognises the potential this type of abuse has to harm victims and undermine wider public trust in the police. Chief officers have led a focused campaign that has achieved good levels of awareness within the workforce. The force has also communicated actively with other agencies and charities that support vulnerable victims. Significant cases leading to criminal charges are publicised in the media. The force makes appropriate referrals about abuse of authority to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. It has implemented most parts of its plan to deal with abuse of authority for sexual gain in accordance with the recommendation we made in our 2016 legitimacy report. But this will not be complete until the force has the capability to monitor all of its information systems.Summary for question 2
To what extent does the force treat its workforce with fairness and respect?
Areas for improvement
- The force should review its implementation plan for its new individual performance management system ‘WMP Conversations’, to identify opportunities to accelerate the rollout across the force and the anticipated benefits.
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 Midlands Police is making good progress in improving fairness in the workplace for its officers and staff. The people and organisation department (POD) created in 2017 is leading cultural change by introducing new, more equitable ways of working which include how the force recruits, promotes and treats people. This work is in line with the force’s ambition and values as it seeks to make better use of its people and become more representative of the communities it serves. The force defines its commitment to officers and staff through the ‘People Deal’ and the ‘Leadership Promise’, which clarify what it expects from them in terms of standards of behaviour and the provision of services to the public. The way the force treats its own officers and staff has been a weak area in the past. Now, the force is investing heavily in creating a fairer and more supportive working environment.
There is a productive dialogue between leaders and the workforce. Officers and staff are generally confident they can challenge and give feedback to those in senior positions in the belief that senior leaders will listen to them. The force has set up an employee engagement strategy and uses it to guide conversations with the workforce so that they achieve the best outcomes. We reviewed the broad range of digital options staff use to talk to leaders on force systems (such as blogs and ‘ask the boss’ pages) and found good examples of healthy, active and challenging debate. These are complemented by personal contact from senior leaders at leadership events, meetings and visits to police premises across the force. The officers and staff we spoke to were mostly positive about their contact with leaders. They gave examples of senior leaders having changed operational deployments, training and equipment as a result of concerns they had raised.
The force is making a conscious effort to improve how members of the workforce feel they are treated by trying to resolve internal complaints and grievances more quickly. Better application of the recently updated grievance and dignity at work policies has seen staff complaints about workplace matters being dealt with more quickly. Members of the workforce we spoke to were positive about the changes to the grievance process and expressed confidence that they would use it if they needed to. By managing such matters more effectively, and not invoking misconduct processes unnecessarily, more workplace grievances are being resolved informally with better feedback from those involved. We reviewed a number of grievance files and found that the force had handled grievances in a satisfactory way. This means staff can have the confidence that the force takes their complaints seriously and examines them properly.
There have been improvements in how the force gathers and uses workforce information to understand levels of fairness. Because it has introduced a new computer system, detailed reports looking at a range of subjects, such as disparities in BAME recruitment and misconduct processes, are more readily available and the information is regularly analysed. The data is also used to assess the progress of the positive action team in meeting its diversity and inclusion objectives to recruit more women and BAME people as officers. We welcome the recent figures showing that the force has appointed increased numbers of new student officers from BAME communities. It is hoped that the remit of the positive action team will be extended to cover recruiting police staff and people from other groups with protected characteristics as soon as possible, to help further broaden the representative makeup of the workforce.
Supporting workforce wellbeing
The wellbeing of the workforce is an organisational priority with increased investment in support mechanisms. But large workloads remain a challenge for many officers and staff. The wellbeing strategy has the active support of chief officers and focuses on enabling leaders at all levels to understand, and respond to, the wellbeing needs of their staff. The force has appointed a wellbeing manager, and has completed the national emergency service wellbeing self-assessment. The force is using the findings to develop its wellbeing provision. It has also adopted good practice from other sources in the form of mental health training materials, including outside agencies that offer different kinds of support at wellbeing awareness events.
The wellbeing portal on the intranet gives good information and the BWell support service (which any member of the workforce can access for advice and help) is widely known about and well used. Specialist support on mental health, stress management and traumatic incident debriefing is accessible, along with a chaplaincy network representing different faiths. There was strong positive feedback from officers and staff for the force’s commitment to wellbeing. But widespread awareness and use of services can also be indicators of a workforce under pressure.
It is less clear how proactive the force is in its efforts to understand wellbeing threats in the workplace. The force undertakes data analysis (for example absence rates), mandatory health checks for those in high-risk jobs and a review of more generic roles to assess cumulative stress and trauma. These all help the force to understand relative levels of workforce wellbeing at a strategic level.
We welcome the investment in extra occupational health staff and resources, which has reduced the waiting times for appointments. But some officers and staff told us that waiting times are still too long to provide an effective intervention. The force has provided wellbeing awareness training to newly promoted supervisors and interventions are taking place, but we found that broader understanding of the preventative measures available, and how to access them, was less consistent. At the time of our inspection the force was midway through a leadership training programme for 2,000 supervisors and managers, which focused on supporting officers and staff. The force needs a more consistent preventative approach, providing earlier and more effective interventions when needed.
Managing performance and development of officers and staff
The force has introduced a new individual performance management system (WMP Conversations), which addresses a significant gap that has existed for some time. It seems to be an effective, streamlined process that is structured around regular one-to-one discussions between an employee and their line manager. It formalises what the force expects from the employee, facilitates a discussion about current performance and gives an opportunity to explore welfare and wellbeing.
A rolling three-year implementation plan started in April 2018 and early signs suggest that, where in place, it is achieving its objectives. But with such a long implementation period, many officers and staff still do not have regular meetings with their line managers. This means the force can’t be confident that it is tackling poor performance effectively, or consistently identifying talent. Some teams across the force have recognised the value of the new performance management system and plan to introduce it more quickly, ahead of force timescales. WMP Conversations represents positive progress, but until it is fully implemented across the whole organisation the force will only have a partial view of workforce performance.
The force is seeing the benefit of its efforts to improve workforce capabilities. It has mapped out its future recruitment and development plans, identifying strengths and gaps and designing products to support officers and staff in a structured way, according to need. The expansion of the Stepping Up programme has increased the support given to officers and staff as they seek promotion to the next rank or grade. A career development portal on the force intranet specifically for police staff is a welcome recent addition to the resources available. Leadership programmes are in place for some specific roles and ranks and there are plans to expand their reach more widely. Complementary work includes the use of national recruitment schemes to bring talented people who do not already work in policing into the force. The adoption of the College of Policing’s Competency and Values Framework as an assessment standard brings consistency to the different development projects.
We welcome this coherent approach to workforce development, which starts to address the needs of officers and staff who have been underserved in this area for some time. The force has consulted staff associations when designing the new approach and it must now ensure that the benefits reach as many officers and staff as possible. The multi-year planned rollout of leadership development, support and talent management programmes has begun. We look forward to seeing how this work contributes to the wider strategy of increasing the workforce’s effectiveness and inclusivity.
The redesigned police promotions process is a good example of the progress the force is making. A review of the previous process revealed it to be widely discredited among officers. The new process is significantly different in that it has removed potential bias by eliminating the need for line manager approval and supplementing the final interview with a broader, competency-based assessment process. Candidates apply to take part in assessment centres and their performance in different operational scenarios is scored by assessors who include peers and community members. Successful candidates are promoted and the remainder are placed in talent or development pools with additional feedback and help to support them with their careers.
Female and BAME candidates receive targeted support as part of the drive to make the workforce more representative, at different ranks, of the communities it serves. Much of the workforce sees the new process as fair, although there have been challenges about how it has been implemented. The force has commissioned a review; it is right for it to consider concerns and respond to them. It is not easy to make fundamental changes in a critical area and it is important to get them right. The force deserves credit for making difficult decisions in a concerted effort to improve the fairness of police promotions.Summary for question 3