Let me explain. For those of you already exposed to the world of business, it will come as no surprise when I tell you that ‘performance is king’. Your success as both an individual and an organisation is largely judged by your ability to meet challenging performance targets; these can be in the form of selling a certain number of cars a month to answering calls within a specified timescale in a call-centre.
Unfortunately the Police Service is no different. Whilst Teresa May famously proclaimed and end to all targets other than reducing crime, many PCCs have re-introduced them. The Home Office set targets in relation to many topics, some were related to reducing crime and others relate to detecting crimes once they have been committed. The introduction of performance-related pay only further encouraged individuals to meet targets – whatever the cost. Performance in relation to a whole range of targets is one way in which the success (or otherwise) of a force was measured. Clearly some targets are more important than others, and some make a big difference to how much confidence communities have in their force e.g. detection rates.
One of the most important performance indicators used by central government to measure the effectiveness of policing was ‘detections’ i.e. out of all the notifiable crimes reported to police how many are actually solved. Don’t worry about the ‘notifiable’ bit – that just refers to all the important crimes that would effect us all as victims e.g. theft, robbery, burglary, assault, in fact most of the crimes you will have ever heard of.
Performance targets can be a useful incentive to drive businesses and achieve results, they allow senior managers to compare teams against each other and introduce rewards for those who succeed. Unfortunately, like most things in life – there is a downside. In the headlong rush to achieve these targets, sometimes the ‘quality of service’ offered is often substandard and lacks any consideration of the wider implications of failing to do things correctly.
The Numbers Game.
|Other inc NSDs||289,311||310,273||193,809||81,840||*868||Not available||7,042||6934|
* This drop largely represents the drop in the number of NSDs being claimed / authorised. This followed an examination carried out by ACPO/Home Office that identified that the vast majority of NSDs in some forces were unsustainable. As a result the Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR) were emended to strictly limit the circumstances under which an NSD could be authorised and emphasised the involvement of the CPS in the evaluation of the supporting evidence.
To make sure that I balance this argument, I must point out that if the ‘rank and file’ officers were left to their own devices, common sense would prevail and only those people who genuinely needed to be arrested etc would be. The vast majority would be dealt with by way of ‘words of advice’ i.e. a word in someone’s ear that if they don’t shut up/go home/behave (delete as applicable) they will be arrested. Again, in the vast majority of cases that will be enough to resolve the problem.
Nearly every ‘front-line’ police officer I have ever met turns up at work each day with the intention of doing an good day’s work and wants to walk away feeling that they have achieved something positive. The only time that the performance culture plays a part in their lives is when it is forced upon them. Why then do senior officers support such a short-sighted performance culture? Well that may be for a number of reasons, however, the issue of their performance-related bonus’s may have something to do with it!
As times change, so do social trends and performance indicators. Just imagine-from 1 April next year, the Home Office decides that Sanction Detections are no longer going to be measured. Do you honestly believe that the same numbers of Penalty Notices for Disorder (PNDs) and Cannabis Warnings are going to be issued – of course they won’t! But if members of the public were only ever issued with PNDs and Cannabis Warnings when the evidence existed – then those numbers should not change very much at all – because officers will be dealing with the same people doing the same things on a Friday night when the pubs close. What will change is how officers deal with them. If you think I am exaggerating the impact of how police behaviour is driven by these detection targets -see below.
In the table above you will notice that the number of Non Sanction Detections (NSDs) dropped from 81,840 in 2006/7 to 868 in 2007/8. Clearly something must have happened to cause such a huge drop in performance! Well that ‘something’ was a change in the HOCR brought about by a realisation by the Home Office that the majority of those being claimed by most forces were in fact unsafe. As they attracted the same credit as Sanction Detections, forces had often used them as a simple and cheap means of inflating their detection rates. NB; A number of forces had previously decided not to rely on NSDs at all including Avon & Somerset Constabulary, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, City of London Police, Norfolk Constabulary, Warwickshire Police and West Midlands Police. There are in excess of 660,000 NSDs recorded by the Metropolitan Police alone approximately 80% of which are estimated to be unsafe (Source; MPS Operation Hines – google ‘MPA Operation Hines’ for more information).
Perhaps the table above provides some of the most damming evidence of all. If the hundreds of thousands of NSDs previously claimed were as safe and legitimate as they should have been – you might have expected that in 2007/8 when the HOCR were changed (as described elsewhere) many would simply have been now be claimed as Cautions etc. instead – as the same standard of evidence is necessary i.e. sufficient to place the case before a court. Interestingly – whilst the number of NSDs fell from 81,840 to 868 (a drop of 80, 972) the number of Cautions during the same period only increased by 710. Are we to assume that these offences were no longer committed – or more likely that police decided not to record the offence in the first place because there was no benefit to be had i.e. you could no longer claim a detection.
In calculating the performance bonus payment – no account is taken of the type of Sanction Detection (see Chapter 4) – the longest most protracted investigation resulting in a charge of Murder is one Sanction Detection (irrespective of how many hours are spent visiting crime scenes, interviewing witnesses and suspects, having exhibits forensically examined etc) – exactly the same ‘credit’ as one Penalty Notice for disorderly conduct (which normally includes a quick arrest – and the completion of a Penalty Notice – approximately one hours work). It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that the easiest way of claiming as many Sanction Detections as possible is to go for the ‘quick-wins’ i.e. those that cost next to nothing in resources, and allow you to move onto the next guy peeing in the doorway to claim yet another!
Home Office Counting Rules.
The HOCR govern the detection of crimes by police and they prescribe how crimes can be detected and what conditions must be satisfied if those detections are to be valid and sustainable. If they do not meet all of these conditions then the detection may be unsustainable, the record should be emended and it may not be appropriate to disclose it.
Detections – Conditions that must be satisfied.
- A notifiable offence must have been committed and recorded.
- There must be a sufficiency of evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.
- The suspect must be made aware of the detection being recorded against them.
- The victim must be informed of the detection being recorded.
Sanction Detections and Non Sanction Detections.
Detections can be split into Sanction Detections and Non-Sanction Detections (NSDs). Sanction Detections are Charges, Cautions, Reprimands, Final Warnings, Offences Taken into Consideration (TICs), Penalty Notices for Disorder (PNDs), and Cannabis Warnings.
Until 31 March 2006, both Sanction Detections and Non Sanction Detections potentially contributed to a force’s overall detection rate. E.g. If 70% of all detections were made up of Sanction Detections (Charges, Cautions, PNDs etc) the remaining 30% would be made up of NSDs.
NSDs were another way of detecting (solving) the same crimes as you would be Charge/Caution etc where no action has been taken by police for any of the following reasons;
D1 The offender dies before proceedings could be initiated or completed.
D2 The offender is ill and is unlikely to recover or is too senile or too mentally disturbed for proceedings to be taken.
D3 The complainant or an essential witness is dead and the proceedings cannot be pursued.
D4 The victim or an essential witness refuses or is permanently unable, or if a juvenile is not permitted to give evidence.
D5 It is ascertained that a crime has been committed by a child under the age of criminal responsibility.
D6 The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) by virtue of their powers under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 decides not to prosecute.
D7 If the case has been reviewed by an officer of Superintendent rank or above and further prosecution is not considered to be appropriate.
NB: The CPS Directors Guidance on Charging states that where the offence is ‘indictable only’ then the sufficiency of evidence issue must be decided by the CPS rather than police. It goes on to include (in Annex A) a list of other offences which are not ‘indictable only’ but due to their nature must also be decided by CPS.
Following a review of the potential failings in the above system relating to NSDs, new guidance was issued on 1 April 2007. This has now reduced the opportunities to claim an NSD to those offences where the offence is indictable-only and the CPS are satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction but has decided not to proceed with the case (CPS make the decision)
Where the offence is indictable only and the case cannot proceed because the offender has died. This case must be reviewed and authorised by a senior police officer acting as a Designated Decision Maker (DDM)
To understand why NSDs previously made up such a significant percentage of a force’s detections, you need to understand the pressure to perform within existing resources. For example, if you as a senior manager need to ensure your officers detect 100 crimes a week to meet performance targets do you (a) set up covert observations on residential properties hoping to observe a burglar breaking in, or (b) task officers to patrol the high street when pubs are closing hoping to catch someone urinating in the street and give them a PND for a Section 5 Public Order Act offence?
The first option is resource intensive and carries little chance of success-the second option is much easier, much quicker, and (believe it or not) even if you did catch a burglar in the act of breaking into a house-this would give you exactly the same credit as issuing the PND i.e. 1 x Sanction Detection!
The incentive to claim NSDs was even greater! Consider this; you are a senior Police Officer faced with the challenge of detecting rapes. It is generally accepted that Rape is one of the more difficult crimes to detect and again is resource intensive-with a comparatively low ratio of charges to crimes. However, NSDs can offer a potential solution to the unscrupulous. Imagine this, the initial allegation of rape has been taken by the reporting officer and passed to the CID. In this case the victim was vulnerable as she had been out drinking with friends and had decided to walk home alone. She alleges she was attacked by a casual acquaintance she had met in a bar the previous week, she is adamant she did not consent to sex and has minor injuries that could be considered consistent with her allegation. She provides Police with the attacker’s mobile number so he is quickly traced and interviewed. It is clear that his version of events is very similar to that provided by the victim-other than the fact that he insists the victim consented to have sex, whereas she insists she did not.
Given the fact that there are no independent witnesses, her injuries could be attributable to rough but consensual sex, and the fact that she admits to have been drinking prior to the alleged attack, the Investigating Officer forms the opinion that little is to be gained by lengthy investigation that ties up valuable resources – and is unlikely to ever produce enough evidence to put the attacker before a court. However, the same ‘credit’ i.e. a detection can be obtained by simply authorising a NSD – if the victim provides a simple withdrawal statement, i.e. stating that she does not want this matter to go to court.
Clearly Rape is an ‘indictable-only’ offence and the decision regarding the standard and sufficiency of evidence must be made by the Crown Prosecution Service. The officer simply doesn’t bother requesting CPS advice but makes that decision themselves in isolation and authorises the NSD – sometimes without even informing the suspect that they now have a detected offence of Rape recorded against them.
In such a performance-driven environment it is easy to understand the temptation of getting a brief withdrawal statement and filling in a form or completing a computer screen that provides a guaranteed result of an NSD. The alternative is to try to convince a CPS lawyer that there is sufficient evidence to charge the suspect. The test the CPS lawyer will apply is whether or not there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and in the circumstances described above – that is very unlikely. The CPS are not affected by Police performance targets and their decisions will be objective and based upon the available evidence. In a nutshell – by requesting CPS advice the offence of Rape will remain an undetected crime – however, if the officer authorises the NSD themselves without such advice they obtain an immediate NSD. Hardly rocket science……..is it?
I will describe how meeting detection rate targets can affect you and your family not just now, but also in the future-when you apply for jobs, want to be a foster parent or carer, wish to volunteer to help a charity, be the leader of a local scout/guide group, in fact doing anything where you need to prove that you are a ‘suitable’ person to be in a position of trust.
The types of thing that would make you clearly unsuitable include the obvious things such as a criminal conviction for theft or assault. However, there are many other things that might also persuade a prospective employer that you are not suitable, these include the different types of detection that might be recorded against your name. Let me assist by describing what each one actually means – together with the conditions that must be satisfied to ensure the detection is sustainable – and an indication of the types of flaws, both in evidence and procedure than can result in you being unfairly held responsible for the commission of a crime.
Discretion of the Officer.
Police Officers enjoy an enormous amount of discretion – to a very large extent – it is they who decide what (if anything) will happen on the street when you break the law. Most of you will have watched the numerous ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentaries relating to policing today. Hour after hour of television is filled with boozed up young men and women being spoken to by officers who are attempting to prevent minor altercations escalating into large scale disorder-with varying degrees of success.
Prior to the emergence of performance indicators featuring Sanction Detections (including Penalty Notices for Disorder and Cannabis Warnings) most minor offences were dealt with by officers having a quiet word in the ear of someone who was a little merry (but perfectly capable of taking care of themselves) or a bit too loud. On the odd occasion that someone was arrested it was usually because they were incapable of taking care of themselves, or were stirring up a larger group necessitating ‘nipping the problem in the bud’.
The reality of the situation is that no matter how much patience an officer has, or how much leeway someone is given-there is always a proportion that will still take it one step too far. This can consist of anything from refusing to go away, berating the officer as they leave the scene, or consistently arguing rather than taking the opportunity of walking away with ‘honours even’……in short they have demonstrated that they have failed ‘the attitude test’. These individuals would nearly always be arrested, regardless of performance indicators! In general this is a good thing – if they were not arrested, those observing would (a) think that such behaviour was acceptable and be tempted to replicate it themselves-but be disappointed when they were dealt with by a less tolerant officer, or (b) try to push the limits of behaviour even further-and this has resulted in officers being seriously assaulted.
Unfortunately those who would have previously been given the benefit of the doubt in the past are now often viewed as ‘quick-wins’ and easy targets for the immediate means of disposal of Penalty Notices and Cannabis Warnings – so that discretion that was so often evident in the past has now largely disappeared. In effect as far as what happens on the street, police are very often ‘Judge and Jury’.
The Home Office insist that there are safeguards in place to prevent these means of disposal being abused, e.g. the suspect must understand what is happening to them. If they cannot understand, because of drink and/or drugs, or because they don’t understand English-they should not be dealt with in this way.
The previous offending history of a subject is also relevant. If a suspect has relevant convictions for similar offences they should not ordinarily be dealt with in this way unless the convictions are spent. When an officer decides to issue a PND or Cannabis Warning on the street, they need to ensure that they are aware of and have considered all of the exceptions that prevent these being an appropriate disposal.
NB; Custody officers and other decision makers at the police station should be aware that all relevant and permissible disposal options remain available to them. Often, the same considerations that apply to the officer on the street will also apply in the Custody Suite where decisions on disposal options are being made.
NB2; For those of you who think that these issues are historic and therefore no longer relevant – think again. These unsafe detections remain as part of your record for the rest of your life. They will be accessed when you apply for any job requiring a DBS Certificate and given the increasing sale of personal information, do you honestly believe that something as potentially valuable as this won’t be auctioned off by any government????