A Yorkshire police force has launched an urgent review of the way it records the details of offences and suspected criminals ahead of a watchdog inspection.
A team of 22 staff have been working at West Yorkshire Police since last month to remove duplicate records that could lead to officers being sent to the wrong address or even arresting the wrong person.
The move is one of several changes introduced since a 2012 report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said a lack of leadership resulted in “variable standards around recording crimes and incidents in a consistent and accurate manner”.
And minutes from a meeting of the force’s command team from earlier this summer show bosses are keen to “minimise reputational risk” ahead of another HMIC inspection this autumn.
One of the measures is an “urgent review” of incidents where data about addresses or suspects has been entered twice in slightly different ways, a problem that can lead to confusion for officers attending the scene.
Officials say they have also fixed the “shortcomings” of their police records management system, known as Niche, which is used by around a third of forces across the country.
The changes mean staff are no longer able to complete the process of inputting data about an incident or piece of evidence without entering the vital details which would allow it to be used in the future.
Detective Chief Superintendent Clive Wain, who was asked last month to look at the force’s data integrity by Chief Constable Mark Gilmore “as a matter of urgency”, said progress had already been made in response to the 2012 inspection. Measures include buying new software and providing extra training for front-line staff.
Mr Wain said: “Progress has also been made in identifying shortcomings on the Niche system we use in particular, and we have developed IT solutions to significantly minimise the issues identified.”
He said the issue of duplicate records created “issues for public and officer safety” and that they could lead to officers going to the wrong address to arrest someone.
“Such a person could further elude police apprehension if we are not careful. It may well be that nominals [suspects] may well be suspected or arrested for a matter that they are not connected with,” Mr Wain added.
HMIC is carrying out inspections of “crime data integrity” for all forces across the country and will examine how well police deal with reports of crime by the public.
Its inspection of West Yorkshire Police in 2012 found that there were only “limited arrangements at a senior level to secure the quality of incident and crime data, with uncertain plans, policies and strategies.” It said: “As a result, there were variable standards around recording crimes and incidents in a consistent and accurate manner, so they correctly reflect the sequence of events as described by victims.
“Staff’s skills and awareness of their responsibilities in this area were insufficiently established to help secure incident and crime data quality, and the audit and quality assurance processes in use to identify issues and take action were superficial.”
Mr Wain said some of the problems were caused by different areas of information handling being the responsibility of different senior officers, but that now all the work was being dealt with by Deputy Chief Constable Jawaid Akhtar.
He said “reputational damage” as a result of a poor HMIC inspection was something the force was aware of but its main motivation was providing the best possible service.
He said: “We are absolutely committed to resolving these issues as soon as possible. We have put a lot of time and effort into this.”
An HMIC spokeswoman said: “It is important police forces have quality crime data so they can achieve the best outcomes for victims and communities by establishing where, when and how often crime is happening.
“Quality data also means that the public, Police and Crime Commissioners, Government and HMIC can get an accurate picture of crime and anti-social behaviour across England and Wales.”