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How to be rated outstanding for offender management

Police Oracle talks to the detective who has engineered a fresh approach in dealing with his force’s high risk offenders

Bedfordshire Police was the first force to be rated outstanding by HMIC for its offender management programme. Only one other force -  Cumbria  - has achieved the same rating since.

It is easy to view these things as a bit of a tick box exercise but in Bedfordshire’s case the process of achieving excellence has produced some real operational wins. Not least of which is a 72 per cent drop in re-offending by the group of high risk people within its IOM remit. Also due to a step change in its digital forensics capability aimed at dealing with internet child abuse offenders, rape victims can expect to get their phones returned in a matter of hours rather than weeks or months.

Det Chief Supt Nick Bellingham is the architect of the force’s offender management programme. While the HMICFRS assessment of offender management is quite technical and covers 13 areas of business he told Police Oracle the key to meeting the requirement is “getting the basics right” and then concentrating on two or three areas of excellence.    

The ‘basics’ column includes things such as PNC checks, the use of RUI and Pre-charge bail, Foreign National Checks, Offender Risk Assessments and use of Reactive Management to deal with low to medium risk offenders.

So for example PNC would be simply about having an effective policy for ‘Wanted on PNC’ checks. The same goes for FNCs when a foreign national is brought into custody. Always conducting an ACRO system check to see if the suspect is wanted in another country is basic good practice. It is not always possible if the country they claim to be from is not on the system but in Bedfordshire’s case the check rate is 74 per cent of all foreign nationals who come into custody. 

As widely reported inappropriate use of Released Under Investigation (RUI) for public protection type offences is recognised as bad practice. Recent changes in the Pre-Charge Bail arrangements with attached conditions means that this should be seen as the default route in most cases rather than RUI.

According to Det Chief Supt Bellingham the force has managed to reduce its use of RUI by 9 per cent while use of Pre-charge bail has increased by 33 per cent. “We would also only use RUI for public protection offences in exceptional circumstances,” he adds.

With offender risk assessments he stressed “you need to use appropriate verification methods for child abuse sex offenders using the right matrixes.” This feeds into how forces deal with visits with offenders and the way it manages backlogs.

He says having hundreds of offenders being dealt with via reactive management tactics rather than receiving regular visits  - as some forces do  - is poor practice. Achieving this during lockdown was clearly an issue. “How do you deal with an elderly high risk sex offender in those circumstances?” he says. “That is a real challenge.”

Bedfordshire’s solution was to conduct those visits virtually using the GoodSAM system which allows offenders to share their location and live video link with offender management teams from a mobile device.

Offender management is all about making critical decisions based on risk and intelligence as no force can monitor every offender on its books to the same level. Bedfordshire has more than 100 high risk sex offenders in its remit which is higher than most forces of a similar size.

It has used a number of approved techniques to deal with its offender management workload not just for registered sex offenders but for high harm burglary and domestic abuse perpetrators.

This produces a priority list of offenders it calls the ‘Felonious Few’ which would comprise up to 100 nominals. That list is compiled using the Home Office Monetary Index which measures the financial cost of the offending together with another index that measures crime harms.

The structure of the offender management team in Bedfordshire is also different. Unlike other forces the Offender Management Unit combines IOM (fixed, free and flexed) MAPPA arrangements, registered sex offenders, youth offending, the Prolific Intensive Scheme and Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPOs).

This is a complex set of different disciplines but the whole unit is managed by a chief inspector with two reporting inspector-led teams based in the north and south areas of the force.

“There are differences in how you manage different types of offenders,” says Det Chief Supt Bellingham. “But there is more that they have in common in terms of governance and management of risk so it makes sense to have them under one roof.”  

It also allows the partnership agencies who work within those different disciplines to work together closely. For example the mental health agencies have signed an agreement with Bedfordshire Police which will alert the MAPPA team when a high risk offender is released from a secure mental health unit.

He makes special mention of a charity the offender management unit works with called YouTurn which helps offenders turn their lives around.

“I can’t overstate their influence,” he says. “They are a small team who design a bespoke plan for each individual offender.” They have also addressed the common issue of prisoners who are released on a Friday with no housing provision in place.

“if you have 72 hours after coming out of prison sleeping on the street it is much more likely that an individual is going to return to their previous offending behaviour,” he adds.

Stuart Smith, Director of YouTurn, told Police Oracle: “The integrated offender management (IOM) model in Bedfordshire is unique in having YouTurn as an independent charity co-ordinating and supporting the delivery of IOM.

“YouTurn was set up in 2014 to ensure that there was effective partnership working during the Transforming Rehabilitation strategy implementation.

“Its initial role was to act as a coordinating body, developing service level agreements, managing budgets, developing a suite of performance indicators and delivering a joined-up approach amongst partners.

“Since then, YouTurn’s role has grown considerably. It led partners through the IOM refresh programme to agree priorities and undertook the significant data analysis to identify the cohorts.

“Operationally, YouTurn bids for additional funding to support IOM delivery and has commissioned specialist services such as housing providers and mental health support.

“Additionally, it chairs the multi-agency case conferences and is able to ‘plug the gaps’ at short notice, for example providing mobile phones to ensure service users are contactable and delivering starter kits on release from prison. It all adds value to the IOM programme.”

The work of YouTurn has made a major contribution to the Unit’s record on reducing re-offending rates according to Bedfordshire Police. 

The headline figures are that 72 per cent of IOM offenders either stopped or part stopped offending in 2020/21. Measured on the harm index the financial cost of that offending reduced by £2.1 million. There has also been a 91 per cent drop in burglary.

The force has also attracted praise from HMICFRS for its “different approach to cybercrime.”

Within the cyber unit there are digital media investigators, digital forensic examiners, cyber dependent fraud investigation and the ICAIT team (Internet Child Abuse Investigation Team).

This is one of the areas of excellence that Bedfordshire has concentrated resources on. Seventy per cent of the workload for the unit stems from the ICAIT team and some of the innovation has flowed from that work.

More generally though Bedfordshire’s approach has been to keep on top of the technology side of these investigations with steady and regular investments. Det Chief Supt Bellingham explains: “If you don’t invest in digital forensics regularly you end up spending millions a few years down the line in order to catch up. We have put a lot of effort into updating our systems and training with relatively low levels of investment put in at regular intervals.”

One of those investments is the DigiVan  - a fully equipped digital forensics examination vehicle that can be taken to a suspected offender’s address to effectively triage evidence.

The thinking is simple. If Bedfordshire officers for example obtain a warrant to search a suspect CSA offender they may seize several lap tops, hard discs and mobile phones at the premises. Searches of those devices used to take up to 400 days during which time the offender is under suspicion when either the devices may produce nothing incriminating or he may be committing further offences.

Using the DigiVan each seized item is examined at the scene and if there is nothing to see it is returned straight away.

This was a fairly modest but highly successful investment. The DigiVan cost £40,000 to kit out. The force now has four of them. In 2018/19 the average return time for seized devices was between 314 and 400 days. That has now come down to 28 days.

There are more than 20 other forces now using similar approaches  - some with the help of Home Office funding.

The investment in technology and training has reduced backlogs across the board and has led to broader outcomes. Det Chief Supt Bellingham says that for rape victims phones are now returned “within a few hours” of being taken for examination.  

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