Is Crime Recording really the answer?

The substandard recording of modern slavery crimes by police forces across the UK has been widely reported this week post the publishing of the independent anti-slavery commissioners annual report. It is further suggested in the report that because of the lack of crime recording, officers are failing victims.

The figures the report do not show policing in the greatest light. Of the 3,146 victims referred, 884 crimes were recorded and 118 charges made. This equates to a 4% success rate, which is unequivocally less than ideal (these figures are only representative up until March 2016).

Whilst we agree that more needs to be done to identify and support victims, correctly record and analyse associated data and increase prosecution rates, expecting law enforcement to do this in isolation is not fair or achievable.

Having worked closely with law enforcement over the last eight years we are acutely aware of the issues officers face on the ground when dealing with those who may be potential victims. There is no disputing more needs to be done but we remain unconvinced that the suggestion of ‘chronic weakness’ in crime recording is to blame for the lack of investigations and prosecutions we see in the UK. We also feel it is important to highlight that the police do not need a crime to be recorded to investigate an issue. They can act on reasonable suspicion and upon information and intelligence to save life, protect from harm, maintain public order and prevent as well as detect crime. Quite often police only establish a crime has occurred some way along such an investigation.

In order to obtain successful convictions, prosecution should only be seen as part of the solution and not the whole solution. It will only be a successful part of the UK narrative if it is used in conjunction with effective, long-term victim support and prevention efforts.

Realistically we have had new legislation, the Modern Slavery Act (2015) for less than 2 years and whilst the offences and powers incorporated allow law enforcement to effectively tackle the crime of modern slavery, the resources required to allow them to do this did not follow the legislative changes.

Without working alongside multi-agency partnerships, without provision of appropriate and sustainable long term support for potential victims and survivors, without reforming access for potential victims into support systems, without better training resources for frontline officers, without a dedicated policing resource, without a plan to make tackling slavery business as usual, without public awareness raising campaigns and without a mandate to proactively go and seek this hidden crime we are setting law enforcement up to fail.

Whilst the anti-slavery commissioner’s (IASC) report includes other priority areas that may assist law enforcement activity it is certainly the negative critique of policing that has caught the attention of the media.

Identifying the crime, rescuing the victims and prosecuting the perpetrators are fundamentally law enforcement activities and we are not condoning the fact that less than half of the forces across the UK are not currently crime recording NRM referrals. We are, however, suggesting that effective crime reporting and law enforcements role in tackling modern slavery are elements of a complicated landscape.

Modern slavery is a complex issue and we shouldn’t look at its many elements and facets in isolation. From our experience policing are not ignoring the issue, they most definitely need a helping hand to know how to address it and this has to involve multiple elements including training, working in partnership with other agencies and being given the proper resources to effectively understand the issue and how it presents.

It is all too easy to lay the blame at the foot of one agency. Naming and shaming forces who are yet to record a modern slavery crime may not equate to positive action, in fact it may prompt a ‘tick box exercise’ that the IASC is rightly keen to avoid. For too long the rhetoric and practice has been that slavery is an issue that government, non-governmental organisations and law-enforcement can tackle in isolation and it hasn’t been successful.

Prosecution will only ever form part of the story to effectively tackle slavery and will only be a successful part of the narrative if it is used in conjunction with effective, long-term victim support and prevention efforts.

We have to move the current agenda on and engage a wider range of players in this arena; businesses, the media and society at large have to be involved if we are to truly see an end to this pervasive criminality.