Home AffairsWritten evidence submitted by Dr Rodger Patrick [IPCC 03]

Executive Summary

The research into the impact of Performance Management on the Police Service indicated that “gaming” behaviours ie “cooking the books” or “fiddling the figures” was negating the potential benefits of the reform programme. The findings based on analysis of the performance data and official documents, some obtained under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, suggested the phenomenon was organisational in nature. It was also evident that the malpractice was managerially driven in a “top down” fashion and had spread as a result of ineffective regulation and governance. Establishing the evidence for this assertion involved the examination of a number of investigations carried out by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into incidents involving “gaming” type behaviours. It was clear from the review of these investigations that the IPCC were unable or unwilling to identify and address the organisational deficiencies’ or hold Chief Officers responsible for the outcomes.

1. Categories of Police “Gaming” Practices

1.1 This report is structured around the four distinct types of “gaming” behaviours identified during the research. Taken in their totality they constitute what can be referred to as the “perverse policing model”. The involvement of the IPCC will be itemised under each “gaming” category defined as follows:

Cuffing: The under-recording of reported crimes, the term being derived from the magician’s art of making objects disappear up the sleeve or cuff (Young 1991).

Nodding: This involves collusion between officers and suspects to confess to large numbers of offences, usually whilst in prison after sentence, in return for favours such as reduced sentences, access to partners, drugs or alcohol. The term is used to describe the act of a prisoner pointing out or “nodding” at locations where they claim to have committed offences. (Wilson et al 2001:63).

Skewing: This involves moving resources from areas of activity which are not subject to performance measures in order to improve performance in areas that are monitored for control purposes (Rogerson 1995).

Stitching: This includes a variety of malpractices designed to enhance the strength of evidence against a suspect in order to ensure the desired criminal justice outcome. Fabricating evidence or stitching someone up are forms of this behaviour.

2. Methodology

2.1 Examination of the trend data “before and after” known events or scandals involving “cuffing”; “nodding”; or “stitching” enabled consistent patterns to be established. This also provided an estimate of the scale of the problem and in turn could be used to identify the likely presence of the various “gaming” behaviours. The distorting effect of these three “gaming” practices made it difficult to use this method to quantify “skewing” and geographically mapping the deployment of police officers over time was one method used to overcome this obstacle. The other was the examination of IPCC reports into the investigation of serious cases, usually homicides, where police involvement was believed to be inadequate. In order to overcome researcher bias the findings and documents were commented upon by a group of retired officers with specialist experience of the areas of policing under study.

3. “Cuffing”

3.1 This form of “gaming” behaviour is relatively well documented in both the academic and practitioner literature. Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary provided a detailed account in their thematic report on police integrity (HMIC 1999), so the IPCC should be alert to its presence and symptoms.

3.2 It may also be of interest to the committee to note that during the research the correlation between “cuffing” and complaints against the police was explored. However it appeared at least one large force was categorising some complaints as “quality of service issues” thus negating this approach. This in itself is a form of “cuffing” and the equivalent of the alternative crime registers uncovered in the West Midlands Police by HMIC (1999).

3.3 The Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC) investigated a number of offences where “cuffing” formed part of the incident under investigation. The most prominent were the failure to record and investigate rapes, part of the complaint following an undercover reporter’s disclosures on Leicestershire Police (www.ipcc.gov.uk 2008) and the death of Colette Lynch, where Warwickshire officers failed to record and investigate a domestic related crime (www.ipcc.gov.uk 2006).

3.4 In the Leicestershire case the undercover reporter had recorded an officer making an unguarded comment indicating that rapes reported by street sex workers were not being recorded or investigated correctly. The subsequent investigation appeared content to interview the officer who made the comment and was unable or unwilling to substantiate her claim. Rapes are particularly prone to under-recording and this perverse behaviour featured in the joint HMIC/HMcpsi thematic reports on the investigation of rapes (2007). These reports indicate that an audit of reported incidents of rape and indecent assault and those subsequently recorded as crimes is the basic method of investigating the organisational nature of such malpractice. The failure to record and investigate such crimes benefits offenders who go undetected (Patrick 2011a). This outcome was also highlighted in a recent book exposing “cuffing” in the New York Police Department (Eterno & Silverman 2012).

3.5 In the Colette Lynch case Warwickshire officers failed to record and investigate a report of criminal damage involving the victim’s estranged partner. In this case the IPCC did comment on the force’s crime recording procedures:

“A review should be undertaken of the extent to which those who are required to implement the policies on domestic violence, crime recording and call handling are aware of their responsibilities.” (IPCC 2006:5)

However no attempt appears to have been made to quantify the extent of the problem by instigating an audit comparing reported incidents with recorded crimes or to hold the Chief Officer responsible for any organisational failings identified. An examination of the data on recorded assaults without injury, an offence associated with domestic violence, for Warwickshire Police “before and after” this incident (Fig. 1), indicates an organisational dimension.

Fig. 1

4. “Nodding”

4.1 The IPCC has conducted at least three inquiries into allegations that police officers offered inducements to suspects to confess to crimes and have them “Taken Into Consideration”. These have involved officers from Merseyside, The Metropolitan Police and most recently South Wales. Again this type of “gaming” practice has a long pedigree and lay at the heart of a complaint made against the Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire by one of their own Superintendents. This featured in the Channel 4 Dispatches programme (18 March 1999). However, the IPCC reported in the most recent case, that they had found no evidence of “wider systematic abuse” (BBC Law in Action 1 November 2011).

4.2 An examination of the performance data for South Wales Police on the number of Burglary of a Dwelling (Fig 2) and Theft from Motor Vehicle (Fig 3), offences particularly prone to “nodding”, suggest the contrary.

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

4.3 This “before and after” pattern is consistent with that found in other forces where similar incidents have resulted in remedial action being taken (Patrick 2011b). These include the following:

Cleveland: Drugs and alcohol (The Observer 17 February 2002).

West Midlands Police: Drugs (Birmingham Post 7 March 2003).

reater Manchester Police, Salford Division: Alcohol (The Guardian 4 June 2004).

Bedfordshire Police: Sex (Metro News 16 May 2006).

Merseyside: Alcohol (BBC News 6 June 2007).

4.4 To accept the organisational nature of this type of “gaming” behaviour would require a major shift in the approach currently taken by the IPCC, encouraging them to examine any changes to the senior management teams when the rise in TICs first emerged. The theory on “gaming” (Legrand 2003, Bevan and Hood 2006) suggests that such practices are associated with, and therefore will follow, certain individuals with specific characteristics. Junior officers and their Police Federation representatives appear able to identify the individuals responsible for driving such behaviours and this was made clear during a presentation to a national forum of detectives (Patrick 2009). However they are in a “catch 22” situation as they could find themselves making difficult to prove allegations against senior officers who may be able to influence the punishment they subsequently receive. In any case the law works on the principle of individual responsibility, and evidence of pressure from superiors to do wrong only amounts to mitigation.

5. “Skewing”

5.1 Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary reported on the dangers of “skewing” as early as 1999 and viewed the practice as unethical:

“The drive for continuing improvements in detections should, however, be controlled to ensure high volume crimes are not unnecessarily pursued at the expense of proper investigation of more serious crime. There was evidence in one force that a divisional commander refused to allow his detectives to put more than minimal resources into a serious sexual crime investigation, preferring instead they concentrate their efforts on less serious crime such as car theft. This occurred because whether they solved a rape or the theft of a car radio, the division would only be credited with one detection.” (HMIC 1999:20)

5.2 The deaths of Police Constable Malcolm Walker in 2001 and Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis in 2003 exposed the vulnerability of the West Midlands Police to respond to the rise in gang related criminality. The force had been warned about “skewing” by HMIC in 2001 (HMIC/WMP 2001:2). Similar deployment trends were apparent from the reports on Nottinghamshire Police following the Chief Constable’s declaration that his force could not cope with a rise in murders (The Times newspaper 14 March 2005).

5.3 The rise in organised crime, particularly gang and gun related activity, resulted in HMIC undertaking a thematic study of this threat (O’Connor 2005). This report could only commend three forces, Avon and Somerset, Greater Manchester Police and the Metropolitan Police Service for their investment in measures to counter more serious crime.

5.4 The IPCC had also investigated a number of cases where “skewing” appeared to have been a feature. A focus on easy to detect crimes was proffered as a factor in the lack of resources attached by Derbyshire Police to the investigation of the brutal beating and robbery of riding instructor Tania Moore (www.ipcc.gov.uk 2006). The report on the force’s handling of the case prompted the following media response:

“A police force failed to investigate properly the violent robbery of a show jumper which led to her murder because its officers were busy inquiring into stolen chickens” (The Sunday Times 10 December 2006)

5.5 The IPCC investigation into the fatal shooting of Peter Woodhams in East London in 2006 also uncovered a poor level of response to an earlier stabbing by the same assailants. Whilst the standards of supervision was commented on, the lack of priority given to this type of crime was not identified as a major organisational issue, although operational officers in the Met were raising concerns about the lack of focus on the investigation of serious crime:

“Every borough is playing the game; those that are not are seen as under-performing. Policing has completely lost its way. We only investigate crimes that matter in terms of performance data” (Police Federation Conference 2007)

5.6 Further investigations overseen by the IPCC also indicated a lack of priority and/or resources devoted to the investigation of more serious crimes. The investigation into the death of Craig Hodson-Walker, the postmaster’s son, in Bromsgrove found that evidence of involvement in armed robberies against some of those responsible had been available to West Mercia Police prior to the murder but this had not been pursued with due diligence (www.ipcc.gov.uk March 2010). The investigation into the way the Met dealt with the handling of the serial rapist Kirk Reid also indicated that other performance related priorities had hampered the case (www.ipcc.gov.uk: June 2010). As in earlier cases the IPCC refrained from criticising the leadership of the forces involved, being content to hold operational officers responsible for the failings:

“There was pressure on the borough in relation to performance and the targets set by the centre, which at the time were robberies, street crime and burglary. Investigating sexual assaults was never a priority on the borough. But in my view none of these factors provides real mitigation for the actions of those senior supervisory officers” (www.ipcc.gov.uk June 2010:12)

5.7 It did appear that the IPCC was unwilling to consider the organisational nature of the failings they were uncovering despite the consistent pattern that was emerging. It was therefore thought beneficial to examine one of their investigations in more detail. The investigation into the contact West Midlands Police Officers had with the killer of Jordan McGann prior to her death (www.ipcc.gov.uk 2008) provided an opportunity to explore this tendency in more detail.

5.8 Jordan McGann was 16 months old when she was murdered on 6 August 2004 by her mother’s boyfriend. The case was referred to the IPCC in 2006 after publication of a serious case review revealed failings by a number of statutory agencies, including the police. Released from prison on licence for assaulting a mother and her child, he was not subject of the interagency monitoring arrangements normally associated with such offenders. Soon after release from prison he assaulted one woman and child. However, the child protection officers assigned to investigate this offence contacted him by phone to try and arrange for him to attend the police station for interview. He did not meet these appointments and the officers did not make vigorous efforts to track him down or circulate him as wanted. By this time he had moved in with Jordan’s mother. A few days prior to her death he was stopped by police and checked on the Police National Computer. Had his details been circulated as wanted he would have been arrested for the previous assault. The IPCC took up the case and indicated an intention to look more widely at the way the West Midlands Police dealt with child protection issues (BBC 12 January 2006).

5.9 This appeared a relatively straightforward investigation. The West Midlands Police had been criticised for under-resourcing child protection units by HMIC during their inspection of the force (HMIC/WMP 2006:48). This criticism was borne out by two internal reports; one examined staffing levels had found that in 22% of cases (122 out of a sample of 563) the level of investigation was unsatisfactory (WMP March 2004 unpublished) and the other included the following comment:

“The results of the HMIC Thematic Audit would appear to indicate vulnerabilities in strategic direction, Force ownership, and a Force Training Strategy. To reinforce the above concerns we are now met with an increasing amount of Serious Case Management Reviews into the death and serious injuries of children where the Force is being found wanting” (West Midlands Police unpublished June 2004).

5.10 The officers interviewed by the investigating officer appointed by the IPCC cited high workloads for their deficiencies. However the IPCC concluded:

“The actions taken and the resources committed by West Midlands Police demonstrates an open-minded approach to learning and improved working by a generally high-performing force, which is good news for the public of the West Midlands” (www.ipcc.gov.uk/020408)

The wide disparity between the findings of the IPCC and the evidence cited confirms the validity of the concerns now being raised by the Home Affairs Committee. What is also concerning is the IPCC’s apparent lack of interest in the reasons behind the Freedom of Information requests on their investigation into this case. It should also be noted that the Association of Chief Police Officers have suggested in their submission to the Justice Committee’s post legislative review of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that documents relating to cases investigated by the IPCC should be exempt from FOI requests for disclosure. If this were to be adopted then the information brought to your attention in this submission would no longer be available.

6. “Stitching”

Although “stitching” would encompass the planting of evidence and fabrication of confessions the research concentrated on the abuse of cautions and police “informal warnings” as a means of inflating the detection rate. Whilst the documentary evidence demonstrated that the Association of Chief Officers of Police, HMIC, the Home Office and the Information Commissioner were aware of the nature of this type of “gaming” behaviour I could not find any specific cases where the IPCC had investigated. However it does demonstrate that the lack of desire to hold Chief Officers to account for organisational failings is not restricted to the IPCC.

7. Conclusion

The IPCC appears unwilling or unable to identify the organisational nature of certain types of behaviours that are referred to them for investigation. This enables senior officers, ultimately responsible for the standards their officers subscribe, to avoid being held to account. However this criticism can also be levelled at all the bodies entrusted with the regulation and governance of the Police suggesting that a wider ranging inquiry and more radical reform are required (Patrick 2011c).

8. Recommendations

Closer external scrutiny of IPCC investigations is necessary and investigators need to be made aware of the organisational factors which manifest themselves in complaints ie they are symptoms. In such cases the introduction of Police Commissioners, with the power to hold Chief Officers to account, could provide a conduit for their findings. The appointment of a non-police Chief HMIC and closer collaboration with the IPCC could also make the skills required to investigate organisational failings more available to the IPCC. Legislative powers for investigating officers and sanctions penalising those who fail to disclose relevant information or obstruct investigations would reduce the reliance on the support of Chief Officers. Closer collaboration between the IPCC and the Police Federation of England and Wales could help in the early identification of concerning organisational trends. Better protection for “whistle blowers” should also be provided as part of this strategic approach. The ACPO proposal to restrict the provisions of the FOI Act should be rejected.


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Dr Rodger Patrick
Ex Chief Inspector West Midlands Police. PhD based on the impact of Performance Management on Police Governance and completed at the Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV), University of Birmingham in 2009.

June 2012

Prepared 1st February 2013