Chapter 2 – Police Enquiry and Investigation
78. This chapter of the report explores the stage when a crime is being investigated by the police leading up to detection and subsequent reporting of the circumstances to the Procurator Fiscal. In particular we examine the effectiveness of communication between the police and the victim of crime. This includes the extent to which the victim is informed by the police when someone has been traced and charged with their crime.
Communicating with Victims
79. In 2008 a Thematic Inspection by HMICS on Quality of Service and Feedback to Users of the police service  examined the way police forces in Scotland engaged with, and provided feedback to, members of the public. The report identified that the delivery of policing needed to become more customer focussed than in the past in order to deliver a better quality of service to the public. At the heart of this police-public contact was the reporting of crime.
80. This customer focus has been further enhanced by developments from the Scottish Government which has seen a drive towards the delivery of public services which reflect the needs of users with clear service standards that defines what a person should come to expect when engaging with their local services such as the police.
81. The 2008 Thematic Inspection by HMICS identified that the area where police forces were poorest in terms of service delivery correlated with victims being updated on the progress of any investigation.
82. Whilst the intervening years have seen some progress in terms of the introduction of service standards by some forces, there is little evidence of marked improvement. This was recently reinforced in the 2009-2010 Crime and Justice Survey which found that only 26% of those surveyed who had reported a crime to police stated they had received an update from police.
83. The Scottish Policing Performance Framework now includes an indicator that measures whether service users were kept adequately informed about the progress made regarding the enquiry. An analysis of the performance of forces across Scotland since 2008 is as follows:-
|Dumfries & Galloway
|Lothian & Borders
*Northern Constabulary are currently unable to report on this indicator.
84. The above clearly illustrates that when compared to initial contact with a victim of crime, there is generally a significant drop in the levels of satisfaction from service users.
85. Our telephone survey of victims of crime underlined this. It was apparent that respondents to our survey were increasingly dissatisfied as the investigation progressed from an initial high of 98% being "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with the initial contact, reducing to 85% during the investigation and reducing further to only 76% of respondents being informed that the person responsible had been traced.
86. Amongst the comments made about the police were:-
"Never kept up to date after first visit from Police."
"It would have been good to have been informed the thief had been found."
"Were not kept up to date with any information from the police and when they said they would come back out to see us they never."
"I still do not know what happened."
87. However the results from our telephone survey were more positive than the results from both The Scottish Crime Survey 2009-10 and the Scottish Police Performance Framework and this was reflected in some of the comments made by victims:-
"I was very well informed throughout the investigation."
"Communication very good."
"Kept up to speed with progress of the case."
88. During the inspection we noted that all three forces inspected adopted distinctly different approaches to setting standards around communication to victims of crime. No force has a definitive Victims of Crime policy instead seeking to fulfil the requirements of the Scottish Strategy for Victims. This objective is supported by a range of different policies and procedures that include feedback to victims, and referral processes to Victim Support.
89. The approaches adopted in each of the three forces examined are summarised as follows:-
Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary
Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary introduced its Standard Operating Procedure instruction to staff titled "Improvement Strategy for Public Reassurance and Feedback" in late 2009. The policy introduced the practice where officers dealing with a victim of crime issues them with a "Reporting a Crime or Incident - Information and Advice" leaflet which includes advice on victim support. It states "The enquiry officer usually has three weeks to complete an investigation, about which time you will be contacted and advised of the result".
Internally the force introduced a requirement on officers to update victims of crime at least 12 days and 28 days after the crime is reported. The force's crime recording system was adapted to include a system to remind officers and supervisors when an update is due. The process is backed by a performance management process which involves Divisional Commanders and others being able to monitor compliance with the policy.
In Fife Constabulary a new Standard Operating Procedure instruction to staff "Support for Victims and Witnesses" was introduced in November 2010. Officers do not directly inform the victim about Victim Support referral. Instead the force sends all victims a letter that includes information on referral to Victim Support and provides an opportunity not to be referred. The letter indicates that an update will be provided but provides no timescale for the update. The new policy does define the period between updates stating that "contact episodes should be no longer than 14 days apart". Officers are also required to agree a Contact Plan with the victim determining what the victim's preferred time, date and method of contact is. This information is recorded on the crime recording system.
Lothian and Borders Police
In Lothian and Borders there is no specific policy that deals with victim contact. Officers dealing with victims issue an Incident Information Form ( IIF) and seek confirmation from the victim at the time whether they wish to be referred to Victim Support. The IIF card does not give any timescale for an update. The officer indicates on the crime recording system whether the victim wishes to be referred to Victim Support.
As part of its existing Citizen Focus and Reassurance Strategy, the force introduced a Policing Charter. This states that "Where appropriate an officer will make enquiries, keep you updated with any significant information and update you of the final outcome" although it does not provide a specific timescale for updates. Internally no specific policy states the timescale by which officers should update victims of crime although it has become common practice for this to be done at around 21 days from when the crime was reported. This is due to a function within the crime recording system that requires an officer and their supervisor to review the status of the crime report at that time.
90. The above highlights the variations existing across only three forces in Scotland in relation to their practice of updating victims of crime. On one hand Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary have publicly stated their timescales for updating anyone reporting a crime or incident with a progress report after 12 days and a final update after 28 days. Fife Constabulary do not publicise a target date for updates but have adopted an internal target of 14 days, whilst Lothian and Borders have not adopted a timescale for updates either publicly or through policies, but have an internal target of 21 days that has developed through practice.
91. The case for a defined and published timescale for feedback to victims is closely aligned to the desire for clearer service standards promoted by The Scottish Government in recent years. Recent research in England and Wales , emerging from discussion groups of local residents, which examined confidence in the police and councils to tackle anti-social behaviour, found that providing prompt feedback on the outcomes of cases was an important means of reassuring communities that action has been taken.
92. The research also examined service standards and respondents identified three themes that were important to them when local agreements on service standards with the police are set. These were:-
- Credibility - the public must perceive the agreement to be firm, realistic and achievable.
- Accountability - the public must know how to use the agreement to hold their local police to account when service standards are not met.
- Clarity - the agreement must be clear and succinct to make it accessible to all members of the local community.
93. Evidence of how a publicly defined timescale for updating victims, backed by a robust policy, can deliver improvement in user satisfaction can be found in the case of Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary. In 2009, in response to poor levels of user satisfaction from service users on updating from officers, the force introduced a new strategy to update service users and victims. The strategy had many elements but included a publicly stated timescale for officers to update victims, and a robust performance monitoring process to ensure compliance. Importantly the Chief Constable championed this new policy and monitored compliance closely helping to ensure that the commitment became embedded into the day to day work of the force.
94. The result has seen improvement in performance with satisfaction from service users with feedback from officers rising from 58% in 2008-2009 to 73% in 2009-2010. Figures recently published by ACPOS for 2010-11 show a continued increase in satisfaction levels for feedback rising to 82.6%. The new policy has also provided other organisational benefits including reduced demand. The Force Control Centre have reported a 6% reduction in the number of telephone calls received and anecdotally staff are of the view that a reason for this reduction is that they are dealing with less enquiries from victims seeking crime updates from officers than in the past.
95. The figures from Scottish Policing Performance Framework, 2009/2010 showed that Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary has the highest level of satisfaction in user feedback with 73%, significantly better than other forces. Responses from victims to our telephone survey from Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary were positive about the service from the force and being kept informed although similarly positive results were also received from the other two forces.
96. We also tested the extent to which the force's approach has become accepted practice in the force by speaking to officers across all ranks through Focus Groups and meetings. It was apparent from the responses that the process has become embedded into the day to day work of the force with the robust performance management process introduced as part of the policy ensuring that it remains a priority across the force.
Case Study - Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary
Feedback to Service Users
In 2009 in response to poor user satisfaction levels Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary developed an Improvement Strategy for Public Reassurance and Feedback. The policy was developed by a Working Group that included operational police officers. The key elements of the policy were:-
- Visible leadership of the issue at Executive level including monitoring of performance and compliance through Senior Management Performance meetings and proactive communication to staff by senior officers.
- A publicly stated target for a victim to be updated from an officer on the progress of the investigation with defined 12 day (progress update) and 28 day (final outcome) timescales.
- Amendment of the force's crime recording system to include an automatic reminder to the reporting officer and supervisor of the target date for updates.
- The use of "champions" to promote the new policy internally, backed up by a marketing campaign throughout the force.
- A robust performance management process involving User Survey results broken down to local policing areas as well as regular review of cases where contact with victims is overdue.
Over the past two years Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary has seen its satisfaction levels in relation to feedback from the police rise from 58% to 73%.
97. Our first joint inspection on service to victims, published in October 2010, stated that there was a need for some consistency across Scotland on updating victims of crime and supported the view that victims have a right to be informed each time a significant decision about their case is made.
98. The argument that is often presented against defining a timescale for updating victims is that the response to victims should be based on the needs of the individual victim and the circumstances of the crime rather than based on a defined timetable. Indeed the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2009-2010 found that 20% of people who were not contacted by the police with an update actually did not wish to be kept informed.
99. The experience in Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary, supported by evidence on the effectiveness of service standards, suggests that setting a maximum period by which a victim can expect to be informed of the progress of an investigation would provide clarity for the victim and the officer dealing but would also provide the flexibility for contact to be made before that time should this be necessary due to the nature of the crime or the impact on the victim.
100. Based on the evidence from Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary we would anticipate that by setting, publishing and delivering clear service standards for the proactive updating of victims of crime on the progress of an investigation, forces would improve victim satisfaction with the service provided.
Recommendation 3 - Service Standards for Feedback to Victims
Chief Constables should ensure that police forces set, publish and deliver clear service standards for proactively updating victims of crime.
Methods of Communicating with Victims
101. During the inspection we explored the methods which forces use to communicate with victims of crime to identify whether forces adopted a flexible response to communication.
102. We commend an approach where the method of communication is based on the needs of the victim and noted a new approach by Fife Constabulary who have introduced a Contact Plan which is agreed with the victim. Whilst the policy is still in its early stages and evidence from officers in focus groups is that it is not yet embedded in practice, we nevertheless welcome this development.
Good Practice - Fife Constabulary Contact Plan
In November 2010 Fife Constabulary launched its "Support for Victims and Witnesses" Standard Operating Procedure. This directs officers to agree a "Contact Plan" with each victim of crime. This should agree a time, date and method for communicating with the victim of crime, whilst retaining the commitment to making contact "no longer than 14 days apart". Suggested methods include personal visit, telephone call or email.
The officers are instructed to include the Contact Plan in a section of the Crime Recording system so that it is available for other staff.
103. Officers identified to the Inspection Team that one of the biggest barriers to communicating with victims was the shift patterns that they worked. The combination of days off followed by nightshift working meant that it was often difficult for staff to call and update the victim within a reasonable timescale.
104. We noted that as part of Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary's approach the force set an initial update timescale with victims of crime of 12 days. This timescale was based around the force's shift pattern and was calculated to be the optimum time that would allow an officer working on the force's normal shift pattern to be able to update a victim. The audit of crime reports and the telephone survey appear to support the success of this approach by identifying that, post implementation of the new policy, almost all victims had been regularly updated and satisfaction rates for victims was good.
105. Whilst it must ultimately rest with police officers and staff to update victims, Information Technology has a part to play in managing the response to victims. We noted that Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary engaged The Scottish Police Services Authority  ( SPSA) to amend their crime recording system to include an electronic reminder tool for officers. This counts the days since the crime was reported and prompts both them and their supervisor when the 12 day and 28 day period have been reached. The tool is also capable of producing a report allowing managers to monitor compliance.
106. The other crime recording systems we viewed during this inspection did not have the same applications and did not appear to be designed and built to cater for current policing commitments to victims of crime. These systems rely on the officer recording information about a victim in a text field in the crime recording system and on the officer remembering to update the victim. They also do not include built in performance monitoring tools.
107. As part of its Business Change  agenda, ACPOS is committed to developing an improved Information Management system that will deliver better information technology for policing across Scotland. The proposals include a single crime recording system for use across Scotland. Clearly this work represents an opportunity to design and build a crime recording system that considers the needs of victims of crime and will facilitate and assist officers to better meet the needs of victims including the management of feedback.
Recommendation 4 - ACPOS Information Management Project
Chief Constables, through ACPOS Business Change and working with the Scottish Police Services Authority, should ensure that the national crime recording application being developed as part of the ACPOS Information Management Project is designed and developed to include appropriate tools and applications to support services to victims including the management of updates.
108. Currently there are many different methods available for communication. Whilst the requirement for confidentiality makes some social media methods inappropriate for updating victims of crime there are nevertheless opportunities including increased use of email and SMS text messaging.
109. Lothian and Borders Police have reported that they intend to explore the option of updating victims by text messaging via their Contact Centre and are currently developing this capability. We welcome this move towards expanding the scope of methods of communicating with victims which can only enhance the quality of contact, reduce the burden on officers and tailor a response that meets the needs of the victim.
110. As well as officers updating victims, victims themselves will often proactively seek information from the police about the progress of their case. This enquiry is invariably dealt with by the Force Contact Centres. We noted that practice varies from force to force with some forces indicating that staff can check information from the crime recording system and provide an update where this is appropriate.
111. We did note that often where contact has been made with a victim by the Force Contact Centre there is no consistency in the recording of that information. Clearly where communication has been made with the victim that information should be recorded, ideally within the crime recording system, so that a consistent record of contact with the victim is maintained. Such information would assist the investigating officer when dealing with the victim including determining what additional support the victim may need.
Suggestion 1 - Police Recording of Contact with Victims
Chief Constables should introduce policies that will ensure that all contact between police forces and a victim of crime is recorded.