A Northamptonshire Police member of staff has been given a final written warning and demoted, following an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
At a misconduct hearing held by Northamptonshire Police in November last year a case for misconduct against the member of staff, a deputy team leader in the force control room, was found proven. The member of staff was found to have downgraded a call about a 15-year-old girl missing from a residential care home in Northamptonshire from an emergency to a prompt response. The risk assessment in making this decision was found to be flawed. The panel found that while the call was graded for a prompt response, the deployment of officers was not sufficiently quick given the vulnerability of the girl when she was reported missing.
The misconduct panel decided the member of staff’s decision-making and ability to risk assess effectively at the time of the incident was unacceptable.
On the evening of November 24, 2011, staff at the residential care home reported the girl missing and gave information relating to her vulnerability and possible location. She had been reported missing frequently before. A skeleton missing persons report was created and the risk level was logged as low to medium. The incident log stated officers were to be deployed when they became available and the area sergeant was to be informed. When the girl was found several hours later at the location suggested, she was under the influence of alcohol and made an allegation of sexual assault against a man. A man was subsequently arrested and later released without charge.
The IPCC investigation found the area sergeant had not been informed and, according to the force’s own policy, a young missing person should never be risk assessed as low. The deputy team leader failed to accurately access all the relevant information available to them in making the downgrading decision. The IPCC investigation found no evidence that police officer resources were chased to go and look for the missing girl, bearing in mind they had a likely location to attend.
IPCC Commissioner Amerdeep Somal said: “Our investigation found the member of staff displayed a casual attitude towards the report of the missing girl and wrongly assessed the risk. Officers were not dispatched promptly to find her as they should have been. We also found some evidence of poor communication within the force control room and made a number of points for organisational learning which Northamptonshire Police has taken steps to address.”
A spokesman for Northamptonshire Police said: “We regret that the correct procedure was not followed on this occasion, and that, as a result of human error there was a delay in safely locating the missing girl.
“Since this time we have made significant improvements in the control room - including working hard to improve our call handling efficiency, ensuring operatives take part in scenario based training at the highest level and improving how we assess threat and risk.
“In addition, we now have a process where every incident that is graded one – emergency response, or graded two – prompt response, is reviewed and then closed by an Inspector.
“The Force has a clear and transparent ethos of open communication. We have clear expectations of our staff, and continue to regularly review policies and working practices to ensure we provide the best service we can to the public.
“We have an excellent record of responding to calls with several thousand emergency and non emergency calls responded to every month. We take our duty to protect the people of the county very seriously and members of the public can be assured that we will respond appropriately to their call.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds said: “Although this is an operational matter for the police I will be looking in detail at the report’s findings and considering what action can be taken to ensure that police responses on this kind of matter do not fall short in the future.”