Rt Hon James Cleverly MP
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF
18 December 2023
HMICFRS West Mercia Police revisit: service to victims cause of concern
I am writing to you in response to the above HMICFRS letter published on 31st October 2023. The letter from HMI Wendy Williams sets out the inspectorate’s findings following a revisit to West Mercia Police between 3 and 8 July 2023. The revisit focused on progress made by the force to address a cause of concern identified during the 2021/22 police efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy (PEEL) programme. Progress was assessed by repeating the HMICFRS Victim Service Assessment (VSA).
A summary of the original cause of concern and associated recommendations is set out below:
Cause of concern
The force needs to improve how it investigates crimes, supervises investigations and updates victims.
West Mercia Police should, within three months:
- make sure investigation plans are created where applicable, with supervisory oversight ensuring that all investigative opportunities are taken; and
- make sure victims are regularly updated in line with the Victims’ Code and that victim needs assessments and victim personal statements are recorded when appropriate, so victims are provided with suitable support services throughout the investigation.
I am pleased to confirm that the VSA identified a number of recommendations and areas for improvement (AFI) which could be closed as a result of the considerable progress made by West Mercia Police over the last 6 months. In particular, the force was able to demonstrate considerable improvements in how it keeps victims updated, provides crime prevention advice, assesses victims’ needs and consults with victims regarding the outcome of investigations. However, the VSA confirmed that there is further scope to improve performance for victims in West Mercia, and as a result, the cause of concern will remain.
Below I summarise how the Chief Constable will continue to drive improvements against the outstanding recommendations, AFIs and other findings identified through the VSA; as well as setting out my role in providing local assurance and accountability.
Cause of concern recommendation: West Mercia Police should, within three months, make sure investigation plans are created where applicable, with supervisory oversight ensuring that all investigative opportunities are taken.
This recommendation was not met at the time of the VSA. Whilst there was a small improvement in how the force completed investigation plans, there was no meaningful improvement in relation to supervisory oversight. The Chief Constable shares my disappointment in relation to this finding and we both remain committed to driving activity in this area. This will be delivered through a revised improvement plan.
As part of my annual budget setting process, I have continuously invested resources where they are most required. Over the last 3 years, I have enabled an uplift of 85 officers within local and specialist investigation teams to ensure the force has the resources to provide a quality service to victims. More recently, my budget has enabled the force to establish an investigation quality team, who have already had a dramatic effect on the provision of investigation plans and the quality of investigative updates. A recent audit undertaken by the force has given me assurance that this investment will support the force to deliver the improvements required against this recommendation.
Further work has also been commissioned by the force to review supervisor ratios and improve supervisor training around investigations.
AFI 4: The force should make sure that call takers give appropriate advice on the preservation of evidence and crime prevention.
I am pleased to report that this AFI was partially met in respect of crime prevention advice. However, the force could do more to make sure callers are given advice about
preservation of evidence. Since the VSA, the force has established the forensic first concept in the call centre, ensuring forensics staff are able to be part of decision making and provision of advice at the point of call. The impact of this new process will continue to be monitored but I am confident it will help the force deliver the required improvements in relation to evidence preservation advice.
AFI 7: The force should improve how it records victims’ decisions and their reasons for withdrawing support for investigations, and make sure it documents whether evidence-led prosecutions have been considered in all such cases.
Despite considerable improvements in recording victims’ rationale for withdrawal and the use of ancillary orders at the time of the VSA, this AFI remains open. I am happy to report that the investigation quality team continue to make inroads in this area, with a recent audit finding further significant improvements had been made when compared to the VSA. The recording of victims’ decisions and rationale is now at 90% compliance, vs. 70% at the time of the VSA. This AFI will also remain an area of focus as part of the supervisor training work.
The VSA also gathered evidence on how the force responds to the public overall. During the revisit the inspectorate found that:
- The force wasn’t answering 999 calls quickly enough
- Too many callers to 101 abandoned their call
- The force wasn’t attending incidents quickly enough.
This is extremely disappointing. Ensuring all communities can access their police service quickly and conveniently when they need too is a key commitment within my Safer West Mercia Plan. Call handling performance and response time performance are scrutinised quarterly with the Chief Constable through my Assurance and Accountability programme. I have also had a number of extraordinary briefings in relation to call handling to ensure I am sighted on barriers to achieving the expected standards, and the activity the force is undertaking to make improvements.
I am pleased to report that there has been a significant improvement in 999 call handling times since the VSA. Further work is underway through the force’s Project Switch (implemented in October 2023) to improve 101 waiting times and abandon rates.
The force has also implemented a number of significant policy changes since the VSA which have had a positive impact on incident demand and subsequent response times. This includes a change to the incident grading structure, and the implementation of the Most Appropriate Agency policy (known nationally as Right Care, Right Person). Thus far, these policies have led to improved response times for both Grade 1 and Grade 2 incidents, however I acknowledge that further improvements are required.
On 11th December 2023, I held an Assurance and Accountability meeting which focused on the findings of the VSA. The Chief Constable provided me with a detailed briefing setting out current performance against each outstanding recommendation and AFI (much of which is contained in this letter), as well as planned activity to ensure further improvements are made. The minutes from this meeting will be published on my website.
I remain committed to using my Assurance and Accountability programme to hold the Chief Constable to account on behalf of the communities in West Mercia. I am confident that the continuous focus on performance management through this programme will ensure there remains a strategic and tactical focus on delivering a quality service that is accessible, responsive and able to secure justice for victims.
Police and Crime Commissioner
cc West Mercia Police Chief Constable