Date: Monday 19th December, 14:00pm
Chair: PCC John Campion
Minutes: Natasha Noorbakhsh, Senior Policy Officer, OPCC
Venue: West Mercia Police HQ
- John Campion Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC)
- Claire Richardson – Head of Policy & Commissioning (CR)
- Angela Rich – OPCC Sexual Violence Portfolio Lead (AR)
- Natasha Noorbakhsh – Senior Policy Officer (NN)
- Pippa Mills – Chief Constable (CC)
- Alex Murray – Deputy Chief Constable (DCC)
- Richard Cooper – Assistant Chief Constable (ACC)
1. Outstanding Matters / Matters arising
2. Holding to account – Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)
Prior to the meeting the CC provided the PCC with a report setting out the force’s approach to tackling VAWG. The terms of reference for the briefing note was set by the PCC.
The PCC asked the Chief to summarise key activity and outcomes highlighted in the report. The following areas were noted:
- An uplift of resources to tackle VAWG (5 coordinator posts).
- West Mercia is 1 of a small no. of forces whose CPS referral rates for rape cases is higher than in 2016.
- Partnership working with CPS and service providers to improve the victim journey and experience.
- Timely response to the national police perpetrated domestic abuse (PPDA) super complaint.
The Chief Officers also identified areas for continuous improvement including the initial response, arrest and referral rates for DA. The force is in the process of implementing new processes and technology including rapid video response to improve performance.
2.1. Leadership and Governance
The force has had several different tactical leads for rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) over the last 12 months. The PCC asked the CC for reassurance that appropriate leadership was now in place.
It was confirmed that the lead for RASSO had recently changed to sit within the Vulnerability & Safeguarding (V&S) department who already lead on the force approach to VAWG. This will provide stability, consistency and ensure the work across the portfolios is looked at coherently.
In preparation V&S has reconfigured and dedicated resources i.e., two Sergeants supported by five VAWG coordinators. Collectively this investment will drive the response to supporting victims and targeting perpetrators of VAWG in each Local Policing Area (LPA). The CC will know if this approach has been successful by monitoring data against key performance indicators.
Oversight of all forces’ performance around VAWG is provided by the National Delivery Group. 2 submissions of the West Mercia delivery plan have been made to the group and feedback is pending. Whilst national feedback is outstanding, the force has sought some external feedback from the Women’s Equality Group in Herefordshire and there may be scope to work with the RASSO partnership group to enable more external scrutiny.
The PCC has an important role in terms of systems leadership and asked for the force’s assessment of how they work with partners to tackle VAWG. The ACC stated that the force has excellent engagement with CPS particularly around RASSO through the early advice protocol. The CPS has also offered training for investigators in respect of RASSO and DA cases.
The Police are very well engaged with partners in terms of information sharing and governance and are working with partners to review new and existing multi agency arrangements to drive consistency.
2.2. Building trust and confidence
The PCC asked the CC what action the force had taken in response to the Centre for Women’s Justice Super Complaint (focused on PPDA).
The CC confirmed that the force had produced the PPDA and Other Vulnerability Crime policy which directly addresses the Centre for Women’s Justice super complaint recommendations. The policy provides a clear commitment to victims and sends a message to perpetrators. The policy was subject to external scrutiny. The policy gives the CC further confidence that any reports of PPDA will be robustly investigated. The force’s response to the super complaint has been overseen by the Service Improvement Board (SIB).
The force report set out a commitment to address underrepresentation of females at senior ranks / grades. The PCC asked for timescales to achieve representation at the ranks of Ch Insp and above.
The force has done a lot of work around understanding who is putting themselves forward for promotion and attracting a diverse pool of candidates. A lot of work has been undertaken by the Women of West Mercia Network and the force’s Learning & Development department to offer support including coaching and external training provision focused on female officers and staff. The CC is confident that the force is in the space of understanding the adverse impact of processes on underrepresented groups and are breaking down barriers. To support this, there will continue to be Chief Officer oversight and scrutiny across forthcoming processes.
AR asked about representation for female police staff. The CC confirmed representation is proportionate and more positive compared to police officers.
The force has run a number of internal campaigns to raise awareness of sexist / misogynistic behaviour (including HeforShe). The force is also looking to adopt awareness campaigns launched in other areas including Surrey and the Met. The PCC asked about the use of best practice and how the force would determine if the campaigns had been impactive.
The DCC confirmed there was a lot of work going on in this space nationally and the force had identified best practice which will be replicated in West Mercia under the branding of ‘not in my force, not in my profession’ which has already picked up traction.
The PCC asked if the CC was confident that the force had appropriate policies and procedures in place to safeguard against inappropriate behaviours. The CC was confident that the force has policies and processes in place to take action across a range of different scenarios and that these policies are continuously reviewed to ensure they’re robust.
AR asked if officers and staff received bystander training; the PCC’s office has commissioned bystander training through the Safer Streets projects. It was confirmed that new student officer receive training and that the professional standards department (PSD) are exploring opportunities to provide training to existing officers and staff.
2.3. Putting Victims & Survivors First – Understanding victim’s experience
The CC was asked to outline how the feedback captured from the Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) service is used to drive service improvement and shape policy and procedure.
Feedback is primarily through the tactical RASSO meetings where ISVAs are very active partners. Much of the feedback captured is used at a tactical level to represent the victims experience of investigative processes. The RASSO scrutiny panel provides a more formal basis to review cases, and met for the first time in November. Whilst there is assurance at a tactical level, there may be a gap around using this feedback at a strategic level to inform services.
The PCC has raised specialist RASSO training as part of a previous HTA in August. The PCC asked for an update on force progress. The ACC confirmed that training had been scheduled between September 2022 – February 2023 with 6 sessions in total. Assurance was provided that any officer who was likely to investigate RASSO would receive the training.
2.4. Performance across key performance indicators (inc. outcomes)
VAWG-related satisfaction data is limited to domestic abuse. As a result, the voice of the victim and the understanding of the victim experience appeared limited, particularly in relation to sexual violence. The PCC asked the CC to set out the force’s vision for engagement with victims of DA and sexual violence to improve the service being delivered.
It was accepted that the satisfaction survey was currently limited in terms of crime types. There is ongoing work with the Victim Advice Line in terms of specific support for victims of sexual offences. This should enable a new feedback route. Qualitative feedback is also captured from partners including ISVAs as set out in section 2.3.
The PCC asked if his office could provide further support. The CC was not sighted on existing commissioning arrangements and whether this included any engagement work. AR is looking to develop this with service providers to look at different ways to gather feedback.
The DCC said that the force was developing a communications campaign and messaging around the victim experience and this may be another opportunity to understand the experiences of VAWG.
The PCC welcomed the small increasing trend in the DA arrest rate. However, this increase had not resulted in an increase in charges or prosecutions. The PCC asked why this was and what more could be done to see an improvement in outcomes for victims.
It was accepted that despite an increase in the arrest rate, outcomes around Charge / Summons had not followed suit. The DCC said that the force was not where they wanted to be in terms of performance and that more needed to be done to increase CPS referrals for charging decisions. The PCC queried whether DA arrests and CPS referrals were a focus as part of Op Reset (the force’s approach to improving investigative standards). It was confirmed that these areas of focus were included in the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) inputs within Reset but the force is looking at what further training is required.
The PCC noted victims are often frustrated with the time it takes to complete an investigation. The CC was asked to identify any further steps that could be taken by the force to speed up the process.
ACC Cooper said improvements would be primarily down to CPS liaison and protocol building reviews of rape cases. CPS aspirations for early guilty pleas often manifest in significant enquiries being pushed back to the force at a very early stage. If this activity was more proportionate at key stages, the police may be able to secure a charge more quickly. The PCC was aware of these issues and suggested it may be useful to discuss at his Local Criminal Justice Board (LCJB).
More generally, the ACC wants to see more cases referred for charging advice in the first instance. West Mercia Police’s performance in regard to timeliness between recording and finalising a positive decision is relatively good compared to other forces but it is still not were the force want to be. However, as set out above, not all elements are within the force’s control. The CC provided assurance that elements within the force’s control were being worked on (e.g. filling vacancies within investigative teams).
CR noted many positive changes within the VAWG portfolio in recent months, driven in part by the tactical lead for sexual violence. CR queried whether the change to tactical lead and the department overseeing the work would impact the pace of progress. The CC was confident there was sufficient resource, oversight and governance in place to ensure the work continued at pace.
Themes of poor communication, treatment and support were raised in the force’s VAWG problem profile. The CC was asked what steps have been taken to address these issues.
As previously stated there are some gaps around capturing victim satisfaction and the victim experience. However, this is being mitigated by ensuring officers and staff utilise feedback from ISVAs / Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs). At a more strategic level these issues are captured through the force’s Victim’s Board and as part of Op Reset which focuses on the victims’ experience and the victims’ code of practice. As such the CC was confident that these themes are built into Reset training and management practices.
2.5. Delivery quality front line operational services
To further improve the response to victims, the force is moving towards video call response for low risk assessed first time callers. This is based on an evidence-based good practice approach identified in other forces. The PCC asked for reassurance that this will not have a negative impact on the force’s ability to safeguard and build trust and confidence with victims.
The CC confirmed video call response had been live for 2 years in Kent Police and subject to thorough evaluation. No adverse impact was found. The DCC reiterated that the force would seek to implement this process in the New Year, supported by thorough training and audit to provide assurance. The evidence to date shows that video call response increases victim satisfaction and has a positive impact on outcomes. As such this best practice is being replicated around the world.
The PCC asked for reassurance in terms of safeguarding. The DCC confirmed that video call response would never be done if an offender was present. The DCC was confident that this would lead to be a better timelier response for low risk cases. The DCC will review following roll out and see if this can be used for other crime types.
Action: DCC to share positive evidence / research referenced in the meeting with the PCC’s office.
2.6. Use of police powers
Cases of repeat victimisation and offending are owned by the respective LPAs for management. The force share practice in managing repeat instances through the RASSO tactical group and the most prolific offenders are also reviewed within the tasking process to ensure oversight of activity underway. Performance across LPAs (not limited to repeat incidents) is subject of ongoing scrutiny through the DCC’s monthly performance board.
The force approach has moved towards a greater use of bail rather than Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs). The PCC asked for assurance that appropriate safeguards remain in place for victims.
The CC is reassured that appropriate control is being put in place whether that is bail conditions or DVPNs. The force approach is supported by high harm coordinators and will be further reinforced through the 5 VAWG coordinators funded through the 2022/23 budget. The force’s use of civil orders is very positive compared to other areas and ambitions around civil orders continue.
2.7. Perpetrator focused pathways
The PCC commissions a range of services to prevent and reduce VAWG. CR asked if the CC was confident that appropriate referral pathways are in place to target perpetrators and protect victims.
The CC was unable to provide reassurance about referral pathways as there is not sufficient visibility of PCC commissioned services at a strategic level. CR asked whether the CC would welcome the PCC’s office sharing more data regarding force referrals into PCC commissioned services. The CC was clear that there needed to be a clearer understanding of the services in place to monitor and ensure appropriate activity was being undertaken by officers and staff.
The PCC asked if the force had done any work to identify any gaps in terms of existing services and pathways. The CC cannot answer that question without understanding what is currently in place.
The PCC asked how to resolve the disconnect between the two organisations around commissioned services. The CC would like to understand the requirements for staff and officers to ensure the force can support delivery of existing services. In respect of new services, the CC would like the force to be able to provide a professional view as to perceived gaps and need.
There is an aspiration across both organisations to ensure greater partnership working in respect of commissioned services to ensure they are fit for purpose and that the Chief is aware of requirements for the force.
Increasing engagement and visibility of commissioned services within the force, and at a strategic level with Chief Officers is at the heart of the PCC’s commissioning strategy. The changes to the Out of Court Disposal Framework in April 2023 will provide an opportunity to raise awareness of what services are already commissioned, and referral pathways available to the force. Both organisations need to work together to progress this area of work.
2.8. Early prevention and intervention
Whilst still a developing picture there are pockets of good practice. For example, the successful Safer Street bids, which secured a £1.7m award, have assisted specific geographical locations, as well as a force wide bid to provide guardianship, education, campaigns, and additional infrastructure (including additional CCTV), regeneration of certain areas and work around enhanced lighting and landscaping – all aimed at increasing women’s and girls’ freedom of movement.
There had been some challenges around the national timescales for delivering the educational part of the bid. The PCC has continually fed back to the Home Office the challenging timescales associated with funding. The Chief will review alternative options in respect of the educational element of the bid.
The PCC asked if the preventative approach adopted by the force and partners will reduce the harm linked to VAWG, including homicide and suicide. The Chief was confident that the ‘next steps’ within the briefing note seek to reinforce the work already place through the VAWG delivery plan. ACC Cooper is the strategic lead for this work and will receive bi-monthly updates on progress. Any updates related to HMICFRS recommendations will also be subject to scrutiny through the DCC’s Service Improvement Board.
The PCC asked when it would be most effective to review progress as part of the 2023/24 holding to account cycle. ACC Cooper suggested at least 6 months to provide a valuable update and to demonstrate stability following changes outlined during the meeting. The CC agreed this would be appropriate. The force will monitor progress through key performance indicators including arrest rates and referral rates. The DCC would anticipate improvements across these metrics within 6 months. The PCC was agreeable to holding a follow up within 6 – 12 months.
Action: PCC policy team to schedule in a follow up holding to account meeting in 6 – 12 months.
AR and the PCC acknowledged the fantastic work done by the previous sexual violence lead and the wider engagement of the force in producing the briefing note.
4. Confirmation of next meeting type / date / time / venue:
Monday 30th January 2023
Public meeting – Public confidence