A response to HMIC report – PEEL: Police effectiveness 2015 (vulnerability). A national overview
By David Kenyon
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has just published one of its PEEL reports on police effectiveness. The report focuses on police performance in relation to identification and assessment of vulnerable victims and the support they get. It makes for interesting, if not entirely unfamiliar, reading.
The primary purpose of the police is to prevent crime and protect people. Victims of crime who are in some way vulnerable are at greatest risk of harm and are most in need of protection and support. The extent to which a police force is successful at identifying, protecting and supporting vulnerable people is now a core indicator of its overall effectiveness. The report demonstrates that, despite improvements over the years, there is still much to do.
The inspectors were unable to identify one force that was outstanding at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm and supporting victims. Some were judged to be good but most are noted as needing improvement in at least one key area. Four are identified as being inadequate and thirty-one had either causes of concern, areas for improvement or both.
The police service needs to improve in some key areas.
One of the critical areas that must be right is in the definition, upon which early and effective identification is based, of vulnerability. There is a real lack of consistency in this area and the result is that a victim in one area who may be identified as vulnerable may not be in another. This not only leads to a different level of service being offered by the police but will also have a serious adverse effect on the ability of other agencies to deliver their own support services. If the basics aren’t right, it’s hard to see how anything else will be either.
A similar state exists in relation to the assessment of victims’ needs; an area that Supporting Justice knows well following our work in Northern Ireland with vulnerable victims and survivors of the Troubles. If the initial assessment is inadequate it means needs go unnoticed and unaddressed. A consistent, well developed and effective needs assessment process delivered by well trained, empathic and accountable staff is the foundation upon which support, aimed at helping victims cope and recover, is based.
Victims these days have statutory rights. But these rights are, sadly, all too often honoured in the breach rather than the observance. This report highlights a key area where things should, but don’t work well. More than half of the forces inspected now have a stated area of improvement related to compliance with the Victims’ Code of Practice. This Code, offering all victims the chance to make a Victim Personal statement, entitling them to receive information about the criminal justice process and who is responsible for doing what within the police service, and the right to regular information updates on their case, is not being delivered. Its absence means, again, that other agencies, by default, may struggle to deliver their own effective services as a result.
So what needs to be done?
The police service is still in need of the cultural shift that this report notes. The needs and rights of victims and witnesses have certainly moved up the criminal justice agenda in recent years but they are still somewhere in the foothills of the system and far from the summit. Police training, in all areas of interest, needs to be designed and delivered through the prism of the needs of victims and witnesses if it is to help facilitate effective service delivery from the police themselves and will, in turn, help other agencies to do the same. This is a task for the Policing College and there are many who stand ready to help with this work.
Furthermore, there needs to be a more focused and timely approach to inter agency working – no one organisation can, nor should, be expected to get it right for victims and witnesses in isolation. A critical area for improvement is around the early identification of eligibility for Special Measures for vulnerable victims and witnesses who will be attending court to give evidence and the communication of key information to partner agencies – the CPS and the Witness Service in particular.
This report rightly recognises the good practice that does take place across the police service and, for all of us working in criminal justice, should be seen as the work of a critical friend. It does, however, pose challenges for us all, not just the police service, and we must all look for ways to help each other make the significant improvements it calls for.