Personal, Situational and Incidental Vulnerabilities: Background
This report was commissioned by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, presented in January 2013 by Dr. Helen Innes and Professor Martin Innes of the Universities Police Science Institute (UPSI) at Cardiff University. It extends and elaborates some of the findings of the UPSI 2010 report ‘Rethinking the Policing of Antisocial Behaviour’ and seeks to enable police to target their response more precisely to where it is needed, acknowledged as a vital consideration against a backdrop of reductions in policing funding.
The report is full of detailed empirical analysis of a survey of nearly 10,000 ASB victims as well as HMIC police performance assessments undertaken at each force, looking at vulnerability of victims as well as repeat callers.
Vulnerability recognises that some people and communities are more liable to being negatively impacted by anti-social behaviour because they lack social, economic and psychological resilience to withstand the negative effects associated with such experiences. The rationale is that victims who are vulnerable and/or subject to repeated incidents of ASB are at a heightened risk of harm and should therefore be prioritised by the police and given extra support.
The report identifies three main types of vulnerability:
1. Personal vulnerability – resulting from an individual or group’s characteristics, identity or status. Included here is mental or physical health status with long-term illness or disability the most common aspect in the sample.
2. Situational vulnerability – where the impact of ASB is increased because of where it happens such as socially or economically stressed neighbourhoods or areas with low level of social capital or high crime rates.
3. Incidental vulnerability – an incident of ASB likely to induce harmful effects for victims such as repeated occurrences and where victims believe they are being personally targeted.
The analysis identifies the importance for victims of being heard and knowing that the police have responded in some way. It analyses the different ways the police respond to calls and how that correlates with victim satisfaction, explaining therefore how important it is that the victim is aware of what action was taken. It also looks at the importance for the police of identifying vulnerable and repeat victims of ASB effectively. In this survey repeat victims made an average of four calls to the police over a one year period with a significant proportion calling more than 10 times.
Interestingly, though not surprisingly, callers not categorised as vulnerable or repeat victims are most likely to be from areas with little or no deprivation as well as have a disproportionate number of home owners and private renters.
ASB Call Template
The report concludes with a proposed ASB Call Template model for the police forces. The stages are as follows:
1. The primary ‘inter-personal’ stage using probing questions to establish and record who, where and why the victim is reporting
2. The secondary IT stage linking this victim information with any previous contacts, area data or previous intelligence
3. Action Planning to identify risk and deployment of resources
4. Communicate Action to the victim in a timely and appropriate manner of what the police response was to their call.
The results coming out of this detailed analysis are sensible, practical and often self-evident. We like the recognition by Innes and Innes that the overall picture of vulnerability is not static since victims can change from a non-vulnerable to a vulnerable status. The nature of the ASB can also change both qualitatively and quantitatively over time. This is an important point to note.
Of great concern, the HMIC police performance assessments indicated that at the current time (2013) no police force is viewed to be effectively and consistently identifying repeat victims and vulnerable victims at the point of report. Nearly 20% of the forces were rated ‘poor’ by HMIC and many were only ‘fair’ in their ability to effectively categorise the type of anti-social behaviour people were suffering. For example, there was wide variance between the percentage of interviewed victims who felt they were experiencing personal ASB and how many of these cases were labelled personal ASB by the police. This is likely to mean the police are not prioritising some cases that are causing great distress to people.
The suggestion of set questions to record this information will obviously improve the categorisation of ASB between victim and police as well as draw out a victim’s vulnerability if any. Whilst there is no reference made to them, the call handling trials were seeking to do just this through standardised questions and format.
Victim satisfaction with the police response is quite high which is reassuring but there is clearly a lot of work to be done. With reductions in policing funding, it is crucial that forces can properly categorise ASB calls and attend to them appropriately. There is a bit of a contradiction in the report when it suggests that spending more time communicating with the victim what the police are doing to deal with the problem and offering greater reassurance will not be resource intensive. Surely taking greater time to communicate and reassure will take up more resources, but in the long-term it could improve things to reduce repeat callers as well as avoid situations on the ground escalating.
This report chimes in with the Home Office work on putting victims first and the call handling trials and, if applied, will make a dramatic difference to the most vulnerable victims. We hope that the police will prioritise spending time (which we appreciate is in short supply with funding cuts) on implementing the suggested model as we believe it will lead to greater victim satisfaction in general and hopefully avoid victims, especially the most vulnerable, slipping through the net. Good experiences by victims may also encourage more people to report anti-social behaviour and increase public confidence in the effectiveness of the police.
Finally, the report is clear that its data has a significant limiting factor: as well as being taken from just one month period (September 2011) it is only of those members of the public who reported the ASB to the police. How to help those who suffer in silence (estimated to be greater than 2/3rds of ASB sufferers) is a much harder problem to resolve.