Express & Star

'Inadequate' West Mercia Police response to serious organised crime a 'cause for concern'

West Mercia Police's approach to Serious and Organised Crime (SOC) has been branded a “cause of concern” by a watchdog which has said improvements are needed in response to organised criminality in the entire West Midlands region.

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His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspected the West Midlands The Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU), which consists of four forces: West Midlands Police; West Mercia Police; Staffordshire Police and Warwickshire Police.

It made graded judgements on how the unit and the four constituent forces tackle serious and organised crime, and found West Mercia Police was 'Inadequate' at tackling serious and organised crime.

It said the force needs to improve how it works with its SOC partners and uses information and resources to tackle serious and organised crime effectively.

The grading follows a "cause of concern" issued on West Mercia's approach to SOC in 2017.

Inspectors now say they are “concerned” to find the force is "not effectively tackling” SOC.

During the latest inspection, West Mercia Police was found to have limited available data relating to the level and nature of such crime and was routinely failing to use intelligence effectively, due staffing issues. It also found the force was to focussed on catching offenders and did not do enough work on preventing serious crime.

The report authors said: "We found that the force wasn’t always using partnership data to help it understand the nature of SOC within communities. At the time of our inspection, the force told us that each of the five community safety partnerships had up-to-date information-sharing agreements. But some interviewees told us that the agreements weren’t fit for purpose.

"This has led to different arrangements across the force and doesn’t encourage effective information sharing. Senior leaders within the force told us that accessing data held by other organisations, such as the NHS and local authorities, is challenging."

The HMICFRS has told the force to complete a raft of improvements by January 2025.

John Campion - the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner

The West Midlands region's response to SOC as a whole was rated 'adequate' by the HMICFRS but it did criticise other forces in the region.

Inspectors said while West Midlands Police was rated as adequate, the other two forces in the West Midlands ROCU – Staffordshire and Warwickshire – were both rated as 'requires improvement'.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Andy Cooke said: “The Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) for the West Midlands has effective processes in place to collect and assess intelligence, supporting its ability to set priorities and tackle serious and organised crime. We found that the ROCU has a range of specialist operational capabilities, which it ensures its personnel and forces are aware of. It also prioritises tackling vulnerability, identifying opportunities to safeguard vulnerable people.

“However, the ROCU and its regional forces need to improve how they work together to tackle serious and organised crime. It’s also important that regional change is managed effectively by the newly appointed leaders in this area, to reduce any impact on services.

“We will be working closely with the ROCU and monitoring its progress against our new recommendations.”

Temporary Chief Constable Alex Murray from West Mercia Police said the force was “dedicated” to tackling SOC.

He said: “Whilst I am, of course, disappointed with the grading given, I accept that there are more improvements we need to make in the way we tackle serious organised crime. The inspection was a review of our work in 2022 and the beginning of 2023 and we’ve already made some significant changes.

“In the last 12 months we’ve seen crime reduce, including a 10 per cent decrease in robbery, more crimes detected, significant investigations concluding with lengthy prison sentences for offenders and ultimately less victims of crime in the areas we serve.

“We are dedicated to disrupting and dismantling organised crime groups; in the past year we’ve arrested 484 people and seized drugs with an estimated street value of almost £1million and almost £300,000 worth of cash. 167 weapons have been taken off our streets and 164 people have been safeguarded.

“Our communities will also have seen outcomes of significant investigations on our social media channels and in the local press, such as the February sentencing for county lines drug dealers to a combined total of more than 40 years in prison – just one example of the positive results we are seeing in pursuing offenders.

“Since the inspection we have put clear agreements in place with our community safety partnerships to ensure data and information is shared and the threat of serious and organised crime is fully understood by all agencies. A comprehensive programme is being progressed to further develop the skills and capabilities of those responsible for disrupting and dismantling organised crime groups through the 4P (Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare) framework and improve the way best practice is highlighted and recorded.”

PCC for West Mercia. John Campion also shared his disappointment in the report. He said: “Organised crime groups operating across West Mercia routinely target the most vulnerable people in our society. The impact of this crime is devastating and is felt not only by victims, but also entire communities.

“Whilst the rating is not reflective of the brilliant work officers are doing day-in-day-out pursuing criminals, more needs to be done by building stronger partnerships to prevent serious organised crime from happening in the first place.

“I am clear, the verdict of the HMICFRS report into West Mercia Police’s response to address this crime is deeply disappointing and not what I or the public expect.”

West Midlands Police acting chief constable, Damian Barratt, told the Express & Star: "We note and accept the findings of the inspection, and are absolutely committed to working with partners across the region to tackle those who cause the most harm to communities through serious and organised crime.

"Our officers work around the clock to ensure those involved in guns, drugs, exploitation and money laundering and other serious offences are brought to justice as quickly as possible."

Assistant Chief Constable Becky Riggs at Staffordshire Police also commented on the report. She said: “The inspection has identified we have some clear gaps around our ability to effectively tackle SOC, but it also recognises we understand this and have plans in place and underway to address some of these issues.

“They also acknowledged our clear aspiration to improve our work in this area through a measured approach and that we know our operating model needs to be a sustainable one. We are working on this, some remedial work has been done since the inspection and plans for the longer term work is ongoing. We are committed to reducing the harm caused by serious and organised crime and protecting those vulnerable to this threat.”