Written evidence submitted by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (COR0060)
1. The Police and Crime Commissioner is an elected individual whose job it is to make sure West Midlands Police (WMP) is run effectively and efficiently.
2. To co-ordinate and lead the response to Covid-19 by West Midlands Police, the West Midlands Criminal Justice System, community safety partners and commissioned services, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner has published an emergency update of his Police and Crime Plan. The Plan supports the Force's mission which is to preserve life and protect the public by working in partnership with Public Health and other agencies to provide a coordinated response to contain cases of infection; delay the onset of cases in the West Midlands Conurbation, mitigate the impact of cases on the communities, preventing deterioration where practicable; and plan for recovery.
3. The OPCC is coordinating and funding a region wide messaging campaign in relation to domestic abuse. Working with partners from the Violence Reduction Unit, Public Health, Local Authorities, Community Safety Partnerships and West Midlands Police. The messaging will be directed at victims trapped in their homes; the message is clear – services are open and we are here to help. The partnership is working hard to ensure referral pathways are in place and that women who need to flee have safe accommodation. We understand the challenges of leaving home especially among those living with perpetrators, we are seeking guidance from victim support agencies on the messaging and how best to reach out to women that are being further isolated as a result of the lockdown. We are leading a package of support to ensure that those released from prison are settled in the community and can help break the cycle of crime.
4. To offer a region-wide response, we are working with partners from across West Midlands Police, Community Safety Partnerships, West Midlands Combined Authority, Public Health and the West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit to draw up consistent messaging and ensuring that victims are aware that services that can offer support are still operating. The #noexcuseforabuse campaign was launched on the 15 April and is to ensure that victims know that help and support is available, in response to increasing concerns of DA incidents in homes during the lockdown period.
5. The West Midlands Strategic Policing and Crime Board is starting to meet virtually in public to scrutinise and hold West Midlands Police to account for the delivery of the emergency Plan.
6. These are the first set of papers updating on progress against the four main sections of the emergency Plan which are:
7. The written submission details how the Local Resilience Forum is working and how strategic co-ordination is taking place across the West Midlands and Warwickshire.
8. It also details the work we are leading with partners including supporting victims, leading the Criminal Justice System, diversion schemes and regional working to support the Strategic Policing Requirement. There have been significant challenges to service delivery during this period and knock-on impacts to providers.
9. The submission also details the financial impact and the extent of Home Office reassurances on funding for police forces. The financial impact has been double-edged, there are both increased costs and a significant reduction in revenues for police forces.
10. The submission also details necessary changes to commissioned support services, police domestic abuse demand, domestic abuse demand on commissioned services, the impact on children, reporting mechanisms and a cross sector awareness raising campaign for domestic abuse.
How police and fire and rescue service business continuity plans are being designed to best safeguard the public and emergency service workers;
The preparedness of forces to support Local Resilience Forums during a possible civil contingencies emergency;
11. West Midlands Police have a Command, Control and Co-ordination (C3) arrangements which are joint with Warwickshire and work across the West Midlands and Warwickshire conurbation. The Multi-Agency response to COVID 19 will be delivered through Strategic Coordinating Group (SCG) and Tactical Coordinating Group (TCG) arrangements. The SCG is led by ACC Vanessa Jardine from WMP.
12. The Multi-Agency Decision Making and Reporting Structure can be found in Table 4 here: https://www.westmidlands-pcc.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20.04.21-SPCB-Report-1-COVID-19.pdf?x56534#page=14
What trade-offs will have to be made by police if a significant number of officers are unable to work at any given time, and the potential impact of those decisions;
13. WMP have identified critical functions for the force and are rag rated green, amber and red in terms of criticality. Red critical functions are functions that are ‘essential’ critical activities that must not stop. Amber and green functions are also identified. There are elements of some amber functions that are red because a major incident has been declared. As a result of this the resilience of these functions are factored in as part of the Gold, Silver and Bronze command resilience (ECS, Corporate Communications, and Intelligence with the Joint Intelligence Cell).
14. Taking into account demand and resourcing predictions, knowledge of the skills/training/equipment required for these functions to operate and professional judgement identify the greatest threats amongst the critical functions. These have been identified as: a) Force Contact b) Custody c) Firearms d) Public Order
15. In parallel to this work the remaining RED business areas and departments service level options will be swiftly assessed and presented to ensure resilience of those areas in addition to details of where additional resources may be found to support. This should wherever possible be led by each Head of Department, building on the work already undertaken. Trying to do all of this work centrally slows down the resourcing cell. This work will however need to be coordinated and presented as appropriate for consideration and sign off by Gold Command and/or Force Executive Team.
16. Agreed areas of delegation or escalation around short and medium/long term options include:
Crime – Investigation, prisoner handling, case progression, forensics & safeguarding (PPU, FCID)
Security portfolio - Investigations including CAB and surveillance
Command Cadre Resilience including FET, K&E, Negotiators & CBRN
IT&D – network team
Offender Management – MAPPA & Sex & Violent Offender Management
Shared Services (supplies of vital equipment).
Increasing the use of Special Constables (SC):
17. Conversations are underway to understand the approach of other forces to providing additional allowances to members of the SC. In the absence of a more formal approach at this stage SC officers have already worked an additional 2,000 hours over the last 2 weeks. We currently have 13 SC who are volunteering full time with the Force. Work will also be progressed to understand if there are opportunities for SC Officers who have lost their substantive roles or have been furloughed to pick either more hours as a SC Officer or move into paid employment for the force.
How the Home Office and its major contractors are working together to ensure the safe and effective operation of contracted services is maintained, particularly where these services affect vulnerable people;
18. The Commissioner has pledged to support organisations which receive grants so they do not face uncertainty. We expect these services to adapt their approach so the public can still access services during the crisis. Even if those services are delivered in a different way, we want those services to be creative and continue. We remain committed to partnership working, with a recognition that services will have to be delivered differently: we will work with others to identify and respond to vulnerability. The West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit is also adapting its activities to ensure continuity of service, including both its activities and commissioned services.
19. The PCC’s Victims Team has been working closely with our providers to understand the impact of COVID 19 on their service provision. Grant variation letters have been issued to all providers articulating what steps they have put in place to change their delivery models to ensure an adapted service is still being offered.
20. Reassurance has been offered with regard to reasonable flexibility around timescales of delivery, acknowledging that it will take time to set up alternative arrangements i.e. moving from face-to-face to remote / virtual / Skype support.
21. Organisations commissioned through the Victim Fund have had to respond to the epidemic by buying emergency IT equipment which was an unforeseen cost. Also having to bear the cost of moving helplines/phone providers to be able to deliver support remotely. Some are still in the process of purchasing IT equipment along with adapting their systems for staff to access information when off-site. Professionals offering regular support to victims of DA and SV like ISVAs, IDVAs and counsellors are among those that have had to move to remote working which has resulted in additional costs for providers. The same concerns raised nationally are evident in the region, mostly relating to limited availability of PPE kits and cleaning products. This adversely affects staff working within refuge accommodation and to address this, providers have been encouraged to spend on material that will enable staff to offer support to their clients safely. We will continue to encourage providers to flex their service delivery in an aim to maximise their preparedness increased support within their organisations. The OPCC will continue to monitor any developing trends through updates provided by the Victims Commission.
22. As well as continuing work, support and funding for victims, the OPCC is continuing to deliver projects to divert people away from crime. Including those leaving prison and female offenders. One such project is ‘New Chance.’
23. New Chance has adapted their service offer, ensuring that support can still be given virtually rather than in person, and no physical groups. The service is quickly adapting to increased need for support in certain areas due to COVID-19 for example, support with accessing benefits/universal credit, mental health support, providing necessities such as food parcels if women are self-isolating.
24. Providers of the New Chance programme have agreed to share anything they come up with such as specific support packs they are putting together to help them all navigate this together, have consistency across the programme and share best practice. We are working with partners to try and think creatively to boost referrals into the service during this time. Already, work has been done by West Midlands Police to streamline the referral process so it is quicker and easier for officers to make referrals into the service and produce multiple internal communications. We have also ensured a closer working relationship with additional interventions in custody.
25. Due to reduction in referrals, all providers regionally have agreed to pool resources and adapt capacity to provide support to women anticipated to be part of the COVID19 early prison release cohort. We have set up a fortnightly meeting with criminal justice partners, providers, Combined Authority, NHS and WMP to monitor how this service delivery is working and navigate any changes or issues that arise.
26. A consistent finding from New Chance providers is that the majority of the women they support are victims of domestic abuse. Therefore, support from New Chance is especially needed right now with the rise in DA incidents during the implementation of covid-19 lockdown/self-isolation conditions, particularly if women is living with perpetrator. It is essential that West Midlands Police continue to utilise the New Chance service for female offenders.
How Police forces will support each other if mobilisation tactics, or other forms of mutual support, are compromised by the imperative to limit the possible spread of the virus;
27.As a region, the West Midlands works collaboratively with its neighbours Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Mercia to ensure the Strategic Policing Requirement is met.
28. Regional working across the OPCCs in the West Midlands region is facilitated through the employment of two Regional Policy Officers, who oversee and co-ordinate regional collaboration in the areas of Serious and Organised Crime, Counter Terrorism, Roads Policing, the National Police Air Service (NPAS) and Criminal Justice.
29. Regional oversight and scrutiny is facilitated through Regional Governance Group meetings held quarterly and are coordinated by the Regional Policy Officers. The meeting brings together the other regional PCCs, Chief Executives and Chief Constables, to provide oversight and make strategic decisions on the regional collaboration programme. During the pandemic, we have continued to use Regional Governance Group meetings to address increasing policing pressures across our collaborative services. Albeit altered from their usual format, these meetings have proven effective in allowing PCCs to gain an in-depth understanding of the current threat picture across the region and current and expected operational impacts on our collaborative services as a consequence of COVID-19. As part of these updates, consideration of business continuity plans at a local, regional and national level has provided assurances around risk and the plans to mitigate against these to ensure a continued safe and effective operation.
30. The Regional Criminal Justice Forum, is a collaborative partnership between PCCs, forces and criminal justice colleagues across the West Midlands, designed to address cross cutting themes and issues that are affecting all four force areas. The structure allows connectivity and communication with the National Criminal Justice Board and allows the Local Criminal Justice Boards to focus on local issues.
31. In response to the pandemic, the group has been stood up as a strategic decision making board, in place of the Local Criminal Justice Board, to address the emerging issues which impacting on the delivery of criminal justice services across the region. These include issues such as court closures, the use of technology in court and custody settings and early prison releases. As part of a multi-agency approach to help the criminal justice system respond and recover from the effects of COVID-19, PCCs, Chief Constables and Heads of Criminal Justice agencies are regularly working together to translate the national criminal justice response to COVID-19, at a local level. Where required, task and finish groups are being established to address localised issues arising out of the strategic conversations with the criminal justice agencies. Opportunities for regional co-commissioning of offender services are also being explored and efforts to co-ordinate regional criminal justice recovery from COVID-19 are being explored with partners.’
The effectiveness of Home Office communications to its partners, responders and the wider public about its preparations.
32. Regular phone conferences are taking place between the Policing Minister and PCCs via the APCC. These are working well, but there are concerns around the flexibility of the Home Office in relation to funding. This is most notable around surge and Violence Reduction Unit funding that is being treated as if Covid-19 had not taken place. For example flexibility to use such funding for third sector youth engagement providers rather than patrols in the night time economy would be a sensible adjustment within surge funding, given the economic and social changes that have taken place in recent weeks. Diversionary activities that Violence Reduction Units may undertake may also be disrupted by Covid-19.
Financial impact on West Midlands Police:
Table below shows expenditure on Covid-19 up to the 31 March 2020:
33. The table demonstrates that the vast majority of expenditure in March 2020 was Supplies and Services which consisted of the purchase and dissemination of PPE. In addition the force needed to make some minor alterations to the cell block at Wolverhampton to protect officers, staff and prisoners in that facility, and configure 600 laptop machines and mobile devices at pace for colleagues to be able to work effectively from home per Government guidelines.
34. In April 2020, as we have started a new financial year we have set up a budget of £250,000 each for Gold Command and Force Contingency to determine where expenditure needs to take place and track that effectively. However, it is recognised that this will need to be flexed at pace to maintain the momentum at which the force must operate in relation to its response to the pandemic.
35. To provide an understanding of expected cost challenges in the next few weeks the areas where significant expenditure is expected to take place have been summarised as follows:
Shared Services will continue to purchase PPE given the changes in Public Health England guidance around self-distancing.
Multi Agency Response Team (MART) will commenced on 10 April 2020. Whilst most officers in this team have volunteered for these roles from elsewhere in the force some have come from externally funded roles and will be a direct cost to the force. The marginal cost of this team is expected to be in the region of £25,000 for April.
Overtime in custody is expected to increase as minimum staffing levels must be maintained. This is prevalent at Wolverhampton where prisoners with suspected Covid-19 are detained.
Information Technology and Design (IT&D) have provided laptops to 600 members of staff to enable them to work from home. The purchase of a further 1,000 laptops has been accelerated to be issued in April 2020. The purchase cost of these 1,600 laptops is £1,427,000. In addition, the 1,600 machines incorporate a 4G SIM card with data access costing a further £211,000. Furthermore, there is a cost to configure and distribute these machines and given the pace at which WMP are moving to greater remote working there is an expected requirement for additional server and other hardware capacity which is estimated to cost a further £250,000.
Facilities teams have experienced additional costs for regular cleaning, decontamination and removal of clinical waste estimated to be £30,000 per month.
Police officers and staff may be moved during this time from their substantive roles to support the force in its response to the pandemic. Some of these roles will be externally funded, examples being Commonwealth Games Planning and Safer Travel. Where these post holders move roles there will be a direct cost to the force. It is estimated from posts filled at the time of writing that these roles will cost around £70,000 per month.
WMP will expect to lose income from activities which are not currently being completed during the lockdown period. Example include officers deployed to Birmingham Airport, loss of income from training and from police led prosecutions and traffic investigation. It is estimated that the loss of income for April will be £480,000.
36. There is no provision for the above costs in the overall 2020/21 budget of the Force. It is expected that the government will provide additional funding to Forces to cover the costs of PPE required in relation to COVID-19. However, it is unclear whether the government will provide additional funding to Forces to cover all other costs of COVID-19. The Home Office asked all forces to provide the indicative costs estimates of dealing with the crisis. Also representation has been made to government to allow increased flexibility in relation to specific grants and the front loading of grants to assist with cashflows. This includes funding for West Midlands Police’s share of the promised 20,000 officers. Due to Covid-19 the force had to cancel its March assessment centre and is now reliant on the College of Policing virtual assessment centre. This means that the force is at risk of not hitting its recruitment targets and missing out on much needed funding. By ring-fencing and paying the grant upfront the force will be able to meet its targets in a more sustainable timeframe.
The Home Affairs Committee has issued a further call for evidence on 6 April to inform their inquiry into Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 (Coronavirus). The Committee is inviting submissions on domestic abuse and risks of harm within the home during the crisis and particularly on any measures needed to reduce harm and support victims during the crisis.
The Committee invites evidence on the following issues:
The prevalence of these issues since the Government issued ‘stay at home’ guidance on 23 March;
Measures or proposals to reduce or avert domestic abuse and child abuse at this time;
Preparedness of responders and service providers to address the needs of victims during the pandemic; and
The effectiveness of Government advice, co-ordination and support for responders and service providers.
Measures or proposals to help support victims of domestic abuse and child abuse at this time;
37. Domestic Abuse accounts for 17% of usual TRC. Although demand is reducing overall, the number of offences related to self-isolation and restrictions on movement are increasing already. Hidden offences will increase in volume, third party reporting will be less likely due to the isolation and as tensions rise it is likely that there will be escalations in the severity of violence in some cases. These cases will create future demand for WMP, presenting as more complex and high risk cases later on. DA is currently 9.9% higher YTD than 2019; albeit April was the lowest month of last year. This continues to be monitored and WMP response to DA is specifically discussed within this paper.
38. Within the first week following the ‘lockdown announcement’, providers reported a drop in calls to helplines as a result of victims not being able to make contact with support workers safely, specifically among those living with perpetrators. This is something we are exploring with our providers and looking at ways in which we can enhance the online support offer utilising the Victim Support 24 hour support line and their Live Chat facility. We are also monitoring this weekly as providers of DA services reported in the w/c 30th of March that numbers to helplines had increased and were above average.
39. There is concern for individuals living in refuges due to reduced staffing numbers. This will impact on the safety of women and children, as perpetrators may use the under-staffing to their advantage. Shortage of cleaning products, food in supermarkets and food banks has been concerning particularly among women living in refuges. Providers have been delivering food and cleaning materials following social distancing guidelines but this is challenging in accommodation-based support where staff work 24/7 and individuals access shared communal spaces.
40. For those relying on regular face-to-face interaction, this period of uncertainty may increase levels of anxiety and feeling unsafe due to the sudden change in their routine. Providers have reported that waiting times on waiting lists have been extended for counselling and other forms of support for victims of SV, DA as a result of staff shortages, remote working and furloughing employees. Support through advocacy has been delayed due to consent and GDPR restrictions as most advocates support victims in face-to-face meetings.
41.Agencies supporting survivors and victims of Sexual Abuse/Violence and Domestic Abuse have highlighted the following: Counsellors are unable to carry out counselling that is not face-to-face with children under 11, to address this challenge, non-abusive parents are being offered support both online and via the telephone and email on how to best support their children. As Children and young people aged 11 and over and deemed Gillick competent, services will continue being delivered to them through online/telephone support.
42. Some agencies have reported that although they are unable to carry out any comprehensive assessments for their main children and young people waiting lists, they continue to offer basic telephone assessments for crisis counselling services as this was already done in this format prior to remote working. Some of the challenges faced by providers supporting children remain, difficulties in assuring the safety and privacy of clients during support especially those sharing homes with perpetrators.
How WMP maintains the service to victims of domestic abuse:
43. West Midlands Police has not reduced the service offered to victims of Domestic Abuse. WMP has specialist teams who investigate DA, with the most serious offences being dealt with by detectives in Complex Adult Abuse Investigation teams. Furthermore, there are specialist DA Safeguarding teams, who lead safeguarding on all high risk victims and lead the multi-agency safeguarding response. All of these are part of the Public Protection Unit (PPU) led by a Detective Chief Superintendent.
44. Offences of DA have risen significantly since 2014, with an average of 120 offences being recorded each day in 2020, and January 2020 seeing the highest month on record with just over 4,000 recorded crimes. Along with the rise in recorded crime, the number of outstanding offenders has risen to a peak of 1,356 in January 2020. To deal with the increased workload, the Public Protection Unit, whilst supported by the wider Force, initiated ‘Operation Overview 2’, which saw officers from across the Force seconded into Adult Investigation Teams.
45. The PPU have also recruited additional Police Staff Investigators (PSI’s) to increase the Adult Investigation capacity. While reporting has remained constant, the level of outstanding suspects has reduced to 605 (as of 08/04/2020).
46. The Covid-19 Pandemic control measures introduced by the government present a particular risk within DA criminality. Members of the public, apart from key workers, have been directed to stay at home to protect the NHS and to save lives. Whilst this needs to be in place, it reduces opportunities for victims of DA to report offences due to the presence of the abuser within the household. It also has the potential to increase the risk of tensions and abusive behaviours within the home.
47. The Reporting mechanism for DA and general message for victims are both unchanged. If a person believes they are being abused they can report through the Live Chat Facility on the WMP website, if Live Chat is not available they can call 101. 7 If the person believes they are in immediate danger or there is a threat to their life, they can call 999.
48. If a person believes someone they know is being abused, the advice is to speak to the person where safe to do so and advise them to contact the Police themselves. If they do not want to report the abuse or cannot, then the person can report it on their behalf using Live Chat, 101 or 999 depending on whether the person is in immediate danger or not.
49. Additionally, our current communications message publicises the silent solution (pressing 55 during a silent 999 call), this alerts the police to a genuine emergency and signifies that the caller is unable to speak. If there are serious injuries, the advice is still to seek urgent medical help. Abuse does not have to be physical and comes in many forms.
50. WMP are providing a predominately unchanged service to victims of DA however, in order to assist the management of demand, and ensure wherever possible compliance with Government direction regarding social distancing, our primary and investigative response to DA may take place via telephone. This will only take place for crimes which are classed as standard risk through Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment (DARA), any other crime risk will be reviewed by a supervisor before determining whether a face to face investigation or support should continue.
51. There is no change in our response to calls where, due to the threat, risk and harm, an immediate response is required. This is usually when the offender is still present at the location.
52. Incoming reports of DA are risk assessed into high, medium and standard risk categories using the DARA risk assessment tool. Reports are reviewed and prioritised by the PPU review and allocation team. Reports are then allocated to specialist investigation teams based on the victim’s locality. Alongside this, high risk cases are also allocated to the relevant Safeguarding team for action.
53. Adult Abuse Detective Sergeants review the report and allocate to a lead investigator who will make contact with the victim and progress the investigation. Safeguarding Detective Sergeants review the report and allocate to a Safeguarding Officer who will make contact with the victim and consider any onwards safeguarding referrals such as Independent Domestic Violence Advisors, Social Care and Housing. At this point, referrals to the local Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference will also be made by the Safeguarding Officers.
54. Suspects who are not already in custody will be discussed at the Neighbourhood Policing Unit’s (NPU) daily Tactical Review Meeting and allocated to Neighbourhood officers for arrest.
55. If a criminal prosecution is not achievable, consideration will be given to securing a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO). The PPU has a specialist team who complete the application and court process for such orders and arrangement have been made with Birmingham Magistrates Court that all applications will be heard via telephone conference during the Covid-19 emergency.
Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference
56. The responsibility for the Coordination and Administration of the MARAC sits within the PPU. It is a multi-agency forum which discusses the safeguarding of the region’s highest risk domestic abuse cases.
57. The team associated are agile and were immediately able to resort to agile working and virtual meetings once the risks of Covid-19 became apparent.
58. A decision was made early on to move meetings virtually, with support from WMP Information Management, whereby the meetings themselves have been able to continue as normal without the very significant risk of infection to a key group of professionals. 39. The effectiveness of this new virtual way of working has been dependent upon the organisation of the MARAC team but most significantly, dependent on the engagement and cooperation of parents, which has been excellent.
59.There is no change to the process for referring victims to MARAC and no change to the service received or processes thereafter, it is simply all virtual during this period.
60. Referral rates into MARAC continue to be monitored and partners who are facing challenges due to staffing issues during this time are aware that the MARAC team will support them in finding ways to access the process regardless Crime Portfolio
61. In order to deal effectively with any increases in demand around DA, support for investigations is available from the Force Criminal Investigations Department (FCID). Daily conference calls between both departments and the wider force allow both forward planning and dynamic staff movement.
Year to date, total recorded crime, positive outcomes and percentage rates for DA are highlighted in the Table below.
62. The OPCC is coordinating and funding a region wide messaging campaign in relation to domestic abuse. Working with partners from the Violence Reduction Unit, Public Health, Local Authorities, Community Safety Partnerships and West Midlands Police. The messaging will be directed at victims trapped in their homes; the message is clear – services are open and we are here to help. The partnership is working hard to ensure referral pathways are in place and that women who need to flee have safe accommodation. We understand the challenges of leaving home especially among those living with perpetrators, we are seeking guidance from victim support agencies on the messaging and how best to reach out to women that are being further isolated as a result of the lockdown.
63. To offer a region-wide response, we are working with partners from across West Midlands Police, Community Safety Partnerships, West Midlands Combined Authority, Public Health and the West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit to draw up consistent messaging and ensuring that victims are aware that services that can offer support are still operating. The #noexcuseforabuse campaign was launched on the 15 April and is to ensure that victims know that help and support is available, in response to increasing concerns of DA incidents in homes during the lockdown period.