Samuel Dupret explores how a recent investigation has exposed the failures of the Greater Manchester Police, and how a new Chief Constable looks to reform a broken system.
Photo by Gbarkz
Two reports and many testimonies have shown that the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has been failing victims. As a result, a new Chief Constable has been brought in to respond to issues found within the force.
HMICFRS investigated and declared in a report published in December 2020 that the service of the GMP was a serious cause for concern, especially in terms of crime recording and responding to vulnerable victims. In previous inspections and assessments in 2016, 2018 and 2019, HMICFRS had already found that the force needed to improve in these areas.
Failures in Servicing Victims
HMICFRS interviewed staff members, examined data from the force and had access to telephone recordings, investigation files, and crime and incident recording systems and reports. Correctly recording crimes is important because this data can help the force offer the appropriate support to victims. It also helps the force understand the current crime demand and predict its future.
Whilst the GMP improved in recording of rape crimes and maintained general good recording for sexual offence, it drastically failed in other areas of recording. The GMP only recorded 77.7% of crimes reported during the inspected period, a decrease from the 89.1% found in the 2018 inspection. The inspectors applied this rate to Home Office police-recorded crime figures (excluding fraud) from July 2019 to June 2020 and estimated that, during this period, 80,100 crimes were not recorded. This works out to approximately 220 crimes per day.
Recording was worst for crimes involving violence against the victim. This is concerning because crimes such as domestic abuse often involve vulnerable victims. Only 73.5% of these crimes were recorded; a decrease from the 86.8% recording rate found in the 2018 inspection.
The quality of investigation plans varied and lack standards, making them hard to evaluate for supervisors and investigators. In some child protection cases, the recordings held insufficient information about both the risks faced by the victim and the safeguarding provided for them, therefore putting these victims at risk. Some rape cases were not progressed in a satisfying timeframe.
The inspectors found that out-of-court outcomes such as cautions and community resolutions were too often (77% of the time) decided without taking into accounts the views of the victim and, on some occasions, were used for offence types they were not intended for.
Similarly, 80% of outcome '16s' reviewed – when “there is a known offender but the victim does not support or has withdrawn support for police action” – lacked auditable record of the victims withdrawing support of prosecution. As Inspector Zoë Billingham says: “Without a clear and accurate audit trail, we cannot be certain that victims are not being placed at further risk”. The inspectors also reported that too many domestic abuse cases (70.5%) were resolved with outcome '16'.
All these failures put victims at risk and limit opportunities to bring offenders to justice and prevent future crimes. The inspectors suggest that the GMP should identify and address issues in their systems, as well as introduce more supervision, training, and higher standards.
A Broken Computer System
Although not mentioned in the report, GMP’s new computer system, the Integrated Operational Policing System (iOPS), has also been impacting service to victims.
It replaced the previous systems in July 2019, after 16 months of delays due to technical issues. iOPS encompasses a range of functions such as logging calls from the public, tracking where officers are and managing records and data.
HMICFRS inspected iOPS in October and November 2019. Inspectors found that iOPS reduced productivity, especially as staff had to retrain and adopt new practices for this system. Even once trained, officers found that the systems search functions did not always return the correct or complete information. For example, a domestic abuse incident involved a high-risk sex offender, but the information about the offender was not visible on the new system. Unlike the previous version, phonetic searching (searching for different spellings of the same name in one go) was not possible.
Quickly after iOPS’s implementation, officers shared their concerns with the Manchester Evening News about a complicated, failing system that was potentially putting the public at risk. The Inspectorate’s report found that staff lack confidence in iOPS, felt blamed for the backlog of cases it caused and did not feel listened to when they raised issues with the system.
According to the testimonies given to BBC Newsnight, iOPS causes serious risks to the officers themselves. The system does not correctly inform officers about whether someone at a certain premise has access to firearms. Furthermore, pressing the panic radio buttons linked to iOPS does not accurately inform colleagues of an officer’s position, making it difficult to send backup.
Reforming the Police
Reactions in the media, such as those reported by BBC Newsnight, suggest that the public have a low perception of the GMP. One officer told BBC Newsnight that they "wouldn't feel confident reporting a crime to my own police force". Moreover, the BBC reported that 155 officers are applying for transfers out of the GMP.
The HMICFRS has placed the GMP in the “Engage” stage of its monitoring process, which is a process for forces that have not succeeded at managing causes for concern. The GMP may also receive support from external organisations. The Inspectorate is monitoring their performance and will be conducting a new inspection. They told us that:
“HMICFRS is committed to working with the force and other stakeholders to help drive the improvements needed to ensure that communities in Greater Manchester receive the quality of service they deserve.”
Manchester Mayor Burnham commissioned an independent investigation of the GMP by Pricewaterhousecoopers (PwC) in January 2021, which was finally released in September. This investigation involved interviews, focus groups and surveys with the force.
Core findings of the PwC report include issues with the leadership of the GMP, who are detached from the frontline and do not take responsibility. This has bred a culture of blame-shifting, reluctance to own up to mistakes and a disillusionment with leadership. In addition, the GMP does not have a performance framework and doesn’t correctly use performance information, thereby hindering its ability to improve and spot issues early.
The PwC confirmed that victims need to be treated better. The iOPS system was found to be a hindrance to the force’s performance and a source of frustration for staff. The ‘omni-competency’ model – where officers are expected to be able to do everything – results in officers with workloads that are too large and negatively impacts the force’s service to victims. Officers are not receiving the training they want and need, especially for responding to mental health incidents. Finally, the force needs to improve its collaboration with other partners to aid its support for mental health and social care.
After the HMICFRS report was published, Chief Constable Ian Hopkins stepped down in December 2020 and new Chief Constable, Stephen Watson, was sworn in on the 24th of May. Watson’s plans for the GMP can be found in the interview he gave in the Manchester Evening News, in the official GMP post and the GMP’s series of commitments called ‘Our Promises’.
Firstly, recording, investigating and arresting are to be increased. The new Chief constable isn’t “interested in determining that a particular crime is just not important enough to investigate”. Instead, every report from the public is to be followed up with appropriate scale.
The promises from the GMP involve becoming a police force that responds better to reports of crime, is more accessible to victims, and builds a more trusting relationship with the public. Watson is planning to review iOPS and make decision about its future, depending on whether it can be fixed or if a new system will have to be introduced.
According to the Manchester Evening News, Watson breaks from the narrative that the police doesn’t have enough resources, arguing instead that resources have not been used wisely. Consequently, he plans to restructure leadership, make new senior hires and introduce a ‘performance management’ framework so that leadership knows what is happening and how good or bad it is.
The new Chief Constable also wants to restructure the way the GMP deals with crime reports: first, improving the speed and quality of responses to calls; and second, ensuring that the right tasks are forwarded to officers that are well equipped to tackle them, instead of the unpopular ‘omni-competency’ model. This should avoid being overloaded and improve services to the public.
The failures of the GMP in terms of crime recording and victim support have put people at risk and need to be addressed very quickly. Hopefully, for the good of the Greater Manchester area, the GMP will tackle all causes for concern. HMICFRS new inspection and report will give us a better idea as to whether they are on good course to succeed.
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