What role can technology play in improving UK police investigation standards?

This month, we caught up with our Public Safety Director, Ian Kirk, on the standards of investigations within UK policing. Find out his views on how technology can contribute towards becoming an exemplary force in terms of its investigation quality.

How have the standards of police investigations in the UK developed?

Focus on the standards of police investigations can generally be traced back to the early 2000s. Investment in policing and increasing police numbers brought with it a number of national policing targets and an inspection regime to support them. 

The Home Office Police Standards Unit became a key driver of police performance supported by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), with what was then the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) acting as a support mechanism to improving police performance. 

Within forces, these developments led to a greater focus on investigative outcomes as opposed to longer term strategies such as crime reduction. The focus on detection rates in the second half of the 2000s led to a number of unintended consequences, but did highlight the importance of investigative capability and the standards of supervision of investigation.

Changes in the early 2010s led to HMIC being given a stronger role in 2011, which in turn brought a more involved comprehensive round of inspections for policing. This has evolved into the current annual PEEL inspection process.

The PEEL process has developed over time to arrive at the more balanced approach which looks in detail at three areas, effectiveness, efficiency, and legitimacy. Of these three areas, effectiveness specifically focuses on investigation, crime reduction and vulnerability in respect of the effectiveness strand of the inspection.

Where is there room for further improvement?

Let’s first look at the areas where we can improve our police investigation standards.

1 | Quality of investigations

Investigative quality brings a number of significant challenges for policing. 

One of these challenges is knowing which crimes to allocate for further investigation and which to file as requiring no further enquiries. This can vary based on local and national priorities and is continually changing.

Furthermore, there can be huge disparity with officer workloads across the country. Usually an officer works 220 days in a year, a third of which is spent on nights, which leaves 146 days to investigate offences when not responding to incidents. Generally 30 crimes per year is the maximum an officer could carry, meaning an incident is allocated every 7 days. 

However, some forces allocate crimes to officers for investigation every 3 days, meaning over 70 crimes could be investigated yearly. This could impact the quality of those investigations and the supervisory interventions from such high volumes. 

Then there’s a need to employ the most effective route to resolving the enquiry positively. Coupled with issues in other police processes such as CPIA disclosure, continuity of exhibits, warrant applications or abuse of process arguments, it’s not surprising that only 53% of allocated crimes result in a positive investigative outcome.

Failed prosecutions/trials are a huge issue for police forces and the CPS, coming with financial penalties and potentially damaging organisational reputation through loss of faith in the ability of the police in successfully prosecuting offenders.

2 | Case Quality

Most forces must prioritise investigation of the most serious crimes, such as child abuse, sexual assault, and serious violence, but there remains a national shortage of trained investigators, meaning forces are less able to meet the demands of other high-volume crimes such as burglary, assault, and theft.

Some also face challenges in allocating investigators with the right skills, and struggling to supply enough supervisory resources, both of which can cause case quality to suffer. 

Finally, delays in recovering evidence from digital devices is resulting in prolonged ‘Released Under Investigation’ (RUI) periods, which is jeopardising case quality confidence in the CJS – as well as presenting safeguarding challenges, when offenders commit further offences.

3 | Demand from Vulnerability

Added pressure on investigation quality can be traced to increasing demand from supporting vulnerable people who require police intervention because other public services have been withdrawn. Generally, incidents involving vulnerable people are complex and time-consuming for the police. 

Similarly, increasing missing person cases are creating resource challenges for the police, since while it’s not a crime to go missing from home, the police must establish their whereabouts and ensure that person doesn’t become a victim of crime, for example with vulnerable children missing from care homes. Most police forces predict the volume of missing persons investigations will become unmanageable in the next 3 years.

4 | Sharing information

Data sharing between forces is still presenting our police forces with challenges, even after the Bichard Report.

Though strategic leaders have pushed the importance of data sharing from national programmes such as NLEDS and the NPCC, a failure to share information continues to be identified as the major factor in investigation safeguarding failures.

Indeed, there are 250,000 offenders on probation in the community managed by just over 9,500 probation officers, and there’s often no mechanism when charging to involve the probation managers involved with the individual. 

How can technology support this

New technologies, like CONNECT, can assist police forces and their officers in overcoming these challenges, because they embed processes and workflows that create standardisation, personalised to individual circumstances, and make it easy to share knowledge across accredited partners. 

To explain how this works, let’s take the following example. In 2020, there were approximately 5 million recorded offences in England and Wales, 30% relating to ‘Violence against the person’ (VAP) 32% victim-based theft (VBT). VAP had higher outcome rates than theft-based offences, just like dwelling burglaries are more likely to be solved than non-dwelling burglaries. 

For such crime types that are likely to deliver higher outcome rates, forces often apply dedicated workflows that are proven to support effective investigation and result in quality file submission to the CPS. This process commonly relates to offences in relation to:

  • Violence and weapons 
  • Victim based theft
  • Sexual crime
  • Robbery
  • Public order 
  • Domestic abuse

And that’s where the right technology can support efficient investigation management through decision trees, question sets, recommended actions and supervisor review processes. More configurable workflows, tailored to specific offence types, would provide better structure in guiding officers in routing investigations to positive outcomes. 

The technology also enables greater integration across the same team and force, as well as with external services. Indeed, in a recent project with the Metropolitan Police Service, we helped integrate two processes: ‘pre-charging interventions’ and ‘support from external teams’ within one new pre-charge workflow solution. 

This enabled other forces to configure offences for an additional pre-charge review, outside of the existing investigative supervisory workflow, and added additional quality assurance for priority investigations likely to progress to a charging decision. 

Offences can be configured to reflect a forces’ priorities, meaning the workflow is only triggered for those offences. When combined with tools already in the investigative workflow, it significantly enhances the quality of investigation and case files. It also meant that:

  • There was no need for extensive post charge file re-work
  • Forces got to justice faster by ensuring the file was correct at charge
  • Investigative opportunities were maximised
  • Victim satisfaction was improved
  • More robust filters were in place prior to CPS submission, leading to less rejected case files or vacated trials
  • Released offenders were handled better, improving critical safeguarding 

In terms of partnership working, forces working with partners through technology are also better able to identify key issues in investigation supervision. By collaborating on these checks, overall quality is enhanced at various key points.

Every force is unique

We’re here to help tailor the right tech for your organisation. With CONNECT, it’s never a one-size-fits-all, but instead you choose the platform and add the modules you need to tackle the policing priorities you’re facing.

Check out CONNECT in more detail here, or drop us a note to meet our team.