Focus on the Victim: Summary Report on the ASB Call Handling Trials
This report looks at call handling and case management trials undertaken by eight different police forces from January to July 2011. Such trials were considered necessary after an HMIC (Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary) report in 2010 found that only 16 of the 43 forces in England and Wales could effectively identify vulnerability in victims and only 13 forces could effectively identify those individuals who were most at risk (defined as vulnerable and repeat callers) when a call was made.
The aim of the new approach to handling anti-social behaviour calls from the public was to focus on the harm that victims experience and to quickly identify and deal with the highest-risk cases.
This was trialled in Avon and Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, the Metropolitan Police Service, South Wales, Sussex, and West Mercia. Each force had complete discretion to implement the trials in a way the suited their circumstances.
The Five Principles
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) and the Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group (SLCNG) did some research into what principles are at the heart of a more effective approach that focuses on harm to the victim or community rather than categorising the behaviour itself. The five principles they identified were:
1. An effective call handling system logging information from the first point of contact so that repeat callers and high-risk cases are flagged up
2. Assessing the potential risks to victims early on in the call handling process
3. Using simple, ‘off-the-shelf’ IT to share information between local agencies and enable a more joined-up approach to protecting victims at risk
4. All agencies dealing with anti-social behaviour in an area having a shared set of case management principles
5. A robust community engagement process to identify issues which are causing the most harm to individuals and neighbourhoods and how agencies and the public can work together to address them.
The trials brought better identification of vulnerable and repeat victims, improved service to callers, a cultural shift towards a focus on harm to victims, and improved multi-agency handling of high-risk cases. A lot of this was new to the police, as shown by these two quotes:
“the risk assessment process denotes a major change for police and partners and is key to supporting the organisation’s abilities to prevent vulnerable and anti-social behaviour cases slipping through the net” Leicestershire Police
In Lincolnshire Police there had been a “lack of knowledge and understanding in respect to what makes a person vulnerable … no clear definition of a repeat victim in respect of anti-social behaviour and many call takers were not aware that many callers were repeat victims before ever contacting the police”.
It is alarming that those forces not part of the trials (35 forces across England and Wales!) may still be in this concerning situation of not understanding vulnerability, not defining repeat callers, and ultimately allowing cases to slip through the net.
There were three key learning points and challenges which emerged during the trials:
1. A continued (and deeply ingrained) reluctance to share sensitive information between agencies, based on over-interpretation of current legislation.
2. Adequate training to ensure high quality risk assessment to avoid a risk-averse approach that classes every victim as vulnerable ‘just in case’.
3. A need to minimise unnecessary bureaucracy coming from the new processes for assessing risk and identifying vulnerable and repeat victims.
It is great to see this focus on the victim and the accompanying cultural shift to thinking about what harm is being caused rather than the behaviour occurring. We are sure victims will immediately feel more supported if their call is answered by someone trying to understand how they are feeling and how the anti-social behaviour is affecting them rather than just ticking boxes as to what is happening.
In terms of information sharing, it seems crazy that over-interpretation of the Data Protection Act should be prioritised over the needs of victims. This was also an issue in the Community Trigger pilot and is crucial for the success of any multi-agency approach to resolving anti-social behaviour incidents.
The ‘cloud-based’ IT system which Cambridgeshire and Sussex trialled seems very bureaucratic with Service Level Agreements and Information Sharing Agreements between agencies as well as written, informed consent from victims. This in practice surely means no case can be logged through a call alone as the victim needs to give written consent, slowing down the whole process of helping and supporting the victim. The South Wales forces’ model of a web-hosted anti-social behaviour database which links incidents reported to a range of agencies to individual victim records sounds much more sensible.
Unfortunately this whole approach to call handling and case management is not a legal requirement and Theresa May in her foreword to the report can only say their aim is for other police forces and their partners to consider introducing a similar approach. We regret the abolishment of the Policing Pledge in 2010 and whilst we accept that each force needs to be managed at a local level, believe there should be some replacement commitment by the police at a national level toward victims of crime and anti-social behaviour. Surely without a stronger call to action coming from this report, there will still be many areas of England and Wales where vulnerable victims will slip through the net, potentially with disastrous consequences.