Yorkshire’s biggest police force has carried out a shake-up of the way it deals with foreign criminals after it emerged that only a small fraction of the hundreds it arrests each month are checked for previous convictions.
West Yorkshire Police admits that until recently it was only carrying out proper checks on between ten and fifteen per cent of the around 500 ‘foreign national offenders’ it arrests every month.
Even for the small number of criminals whose history of offending in their native country were being checked prior to March last year, police had no system in place to evaluate the information and take steps to deal with the risk.
This created the possibility that “offenders who pose a significant risk to the communities they live in are not visible to local district risk assessment processes”, according to a report by the force.
As part of a new approach to the way criminals are managed locally, the force has now changed its policies so that every foreign offender who goes through custody will now have their history of criminality checked to ensure their risk to the local area is known.
Naz Shah, Bradford West MP and member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the lack of checks prior to the changes being made was “completely unacceptable”.
She said: “As the police have said themselves it makes it very difficult to assess the risk their prior offending may have on the communities they live in.
“It is only right that these changes are made to ensure the safety and protection of our communities.
“I do welcome the fact that the police are taking pro-active steps internally to lower the risk these offenders may pose, and with modern information sharing I believe the public would expect that full criminal records checks are carried out on all offenders as a minimum”
West Yorkshire Police is making other changes to its “integrated offender management”, meaning techniques that had previously only been used to monitor the county’s prolific burglars are now being used to tackle domestic abuse and child sex offending.
One possibility is that electronic tags, where an offender’s movements are monitored by satellite if they agree to wear them, will be offered to people with convictions for sexual or domestic violence offences.
A report by the force said: “Satellite tagging of offenders has not only proven itself to be a cost effective way of managing offenders, it has also been welcomed by offenders and significantly reduced the re-offending rates of the offenders who have taken part.
“Moving forward there is the desire to work even closer with partners in the use of this technology and an aspiration to share the cost and management.”
West Yorkshire is also changing the types of criminal who are tested for Class A drugs in custody, as this is often the only way to control the movements of some types of offender.
And it is looking into the possibility of using statistical analysis to try and predict how likely someone is to become a criminal in future.
The report said: “This has still to be tested and the concept proven but it could have significant benefits.
“If we are able to predict earlier in an offender’s offending journey then we are in a better position to put interventions in place with partners at an earlier point and therefore reducing demand and reducing re-offending before the offending behaviour becomes entrenched.”
This summer, a Sunday newspaper reported that of the 190,000 foreign nationals arrested in England Wales in the last 12 months fewer than half had their homeland backgrounds checked by UK police forces.
Inspector Tony Reed of West Yorkshire Police’s Force Performance Improvement Unit said its change in approach to foreign criminals was a “proactive management tool” for dealing with offenders and was not a direct response to a specific incident.
He said forces have been required to share convictions within the European Union since 2009, and that the sharing of conviction information with other agencies was the same for both UK and foreign offenders.
Mr Reed said in a statement: “The force has dedicated co-located Integrated Offender Management teams in all districts, who intercept and regularly review local offenders, and prioritise them in terms of their potential threat, risk and harm to the community.
“Where offenders are deemed necessary of intervention, they are added to the Risk of Harm cohort. At this point, they are managed by the police and/or appropriate partner agencies.”