Managing Registered Sex Offenders

Tabled: 28 August 2019

Audit overview

The Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 (the Act) established Victoria's sex offender registration scheme, including the Sex Offenders Register, which is administered by the Chief Commissioner of Police.

The Act requires that registered sex offenders (RSO) keep police informed of their whereabouts and other personal details and precludes them from engaging in child-related employment during their reporting period. The aim is to reduce the likelihood that they will reoffend and to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of offences.

The Chief Commissioner of Police has delegated responsibility for the Sex Offenders Register to the Sex Offenders Registry (SOR) unit in Melbourne and to compliance managers (CM) in Victoria's four police regions. The SOR unit has administrative responsibility for managing RSOs, and a CM is a police member responsible for the day‑to-day management of one or more RSOs. The CM role can be a dedicated position or performed by a staff member along with wider duties.

Inactive RSOs may be deceased or currently in custody. Those in custody may become active again when released into the community.

As of May 2019, there were 8 286 RSOs on the Sex Offenders Register. Of these, 4 436 (54 per cent) have active reporting requirements. Victoria Police expects the number of RSOs managed in the community to increase to 5 531 by June 2022, consistent with recorded growth in RSO rates.

The objective of this audit was to determine whether RSOs are safely integrated into the community. To address this, we assessed whether Victoria Police has the governance structure and organisational capability to manage RSOs. We also examined how effectively CMs operate in the field, including whether Victoria Police adequately resources CM units to ensure that they have the capacity to fulfil their requirements. We note however, that safely integrating sex offenders into the community involves a range of agencies and services, of which Victoria Police is one.

Conclusion

Victoria Police has not demonstrated a consistent level of sex offender management across the state. In the presence of such significant levels of variation in the resourcing applied to sex offender management, Victoria Police cannot be assured that all its units are best managing the risks these offenders pose, beyond the minimum legislated compliance requirements.

Victoria Police takes seriously its responsibilities under the Act to collect and maintain RSO information and has gone beyond the Act's compliance requirements to establish comprehensive risk-based offender management practices. However, its operational model—designed to be flexible to meet competing operational demands—means there are differences in the level of workload and the amount of time staff spend in the role, as well as the time they can allocate to the job on a day-to-day basis. These differences affect the extent of offender management CMs can conduct, meaning some RSOs receive less management irrespective of risk level.

Victoria Police's data analysis of reported breaches and sexual reoffending has improved to better identify reoffending risk. However, its ability to effectively monitor management of RSOs is impacted by weaknesses in its information collection and analysis. It does not know the quantum of police resources currently managing RSOs across the organisation. It also lacks insight into the most effective training or workloads, and consequently, what an ideal model is for CM units to manage RSO risks.

Victoria Police recognises many of these deficiencies and has begun to examine the current RSO management operating model for improvement opportunities. This work is in initial stages and, while positive, Victoria Police is still deciding on the appropriate next steps for the project. We encourage Victoria Police to progress this work.

Findings

Resource allocation, training and practices in RSO management

Key elements that support success in CM units

Several factors improve CMs' capability and capacity to mitigate risk through compliance monitoring and meaningful proactive actions and investigations. Derived from our findings, and echoed in the Evidence Led Sex Offender Management Project undertaken by Victoria Police, they include that CMs should:

  • be part of a dedicated unit that undertakes RSO management exclusively
  • be in the role for a sufficient period of time (at least nine months)
  • have an interest in this area and recognise the seriousness of managing RSOs
  • have a sound understanding of their supervised offenders to enable early identification of escalating risk
  • be able to build rapport with RSOs
  • work in units with adequate CM to RSO ratios and sufficient equipment
  • write high-quality Offender Management Plans (OMP) tailored to an RSO's up-to-date risk assessment
  • implement the OMPs
  • have the time and resources to conduct adequate and sufficient proactive investigations.
Structures and resources and their impact on RSO management
Resourcing arrangements

Under Victoria Police's decentralised and geographically based operating model, there is no direct reporting line between the executive position accountable for the overall management of RSOs—the Assistant Commissioner Intelligence and Covert Support Command—and the CM units, which are under the direction of Regional Commanders. Each region determines the resourcing model it considers best for its individual priorities and operational needs.

Regional Commanders have set up a variety of structures and resource models for the 43 CM units across the state. While CMs all receive a good common baseline training course, they have:

  • different additional skill sets within their CM cohort dependent on the unit type
  • sometimes only short durations in the CM role, denying them the ability to benefit from adequate on-the-job training
  • variable workloads depending on the level of staff to RSO allocation and whether the unit is dedicated to RSO management.

Across the regions, CM units mostly sit within Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCIT) or Crime Investigation Units (CIU). These teams are either dedicated to RSO management or this role is added to their SOCIT or CIU duties. Further, the CM role can be a permanent role or a short-term appointment or secondment, ranging from six weeks to 12 months. CM units also have significant workload differences. Units based in CIUs have an average CM to RSO ratio of 1:26, and units based in SOCITs have an average ratio of 1:55. The lowest ratio across all units is 1:3 and the highest is 1:100.

These variations in workload and time spent in the role have consequences for the extent of RSO management that CMs can provide. Inadequate time or resources increases the risk that they may forgo more proactive investigations and monitoring. For example, CMs with high caseloads, or those in non-dedicated roles with less time for RSO management, told us they have little time for anything more than basic compliance work, and would like the time to develop and implement high-quality OMPs and to undertake proactive investigations. This creates a risk that CM units manage RSOs with varying degrees of effectiveness across the organisation, which might increase the risk of reoffending.

Learning and development

All CMs undertake a comprehensive two-day training course that outlines the key details of the Act and their compliance management requirements. Although our survey and interviews found that CMs consider the course sufficient, they emphasised the importance of on-the-job training to fully understand the complexities of the Act, the requirements of the CM role and to familiarise themselves with the RSOs. Short-term roles and competing tasks limit opportunities for this on-the-job training.

The skills sets within CM units vary depending on their makeup. CMs believe completing detective training—either for crime work in the CIU or for investigating sex offences in SOCIT—provides useful investigative skills. They see SOCIT training as particularly useful, as SOCIT members complete training tailored to investigating sex crimes and therefore CM work is most aligned with the interests and expertise of SOCIT. This is likely to lead to CMs completing better quality RSO management work, particularly in their approach to offenders. One CM unit includes members who have not completed either CIU or SOCIT investigatory training.

Impact on RSO management

Some CM units have good levels of training, governance and resourcing. CMs in these units are resourced by SOCITs, have benefited from SOCIT training, and work in dedicated roles for a significant period of time (at least nine months). This means they can better understand and apply their knowledge of the Act, build rapport with offenders, understand the dynamics of RSOs offending, and be in the best position to identify escalation of risk.

In contrast, other CMs may not receive relevant aspects of SOCIT training (especially if they are in CIUs), may have to balance RSO management duties with other investigative tasks and may spend a limited time in the CM role.

Some CMs expressed concern to us about a perceived conflict of interest in SOCITs' management when a police member who prosecutes a person for an original offence then goes on to manage that person as an RSO. In these situations, the police member must change their initial adversarial relationship with the offender into a productive information-sharing relationship to manage them. Victoria Police can minimise these concerns by formally maintaining a separation between the investigating police member and the member who acts as CM.

The lack of a prescribed model for CM unit structures and resourcing leads to the variations described. While some flexibility is necessary to best use policing resources across the state, the high degree of variation creates a risk that Victoria Police is not always managing RSOs in a way that best reduces the risk of reoffending. Victoria Police cannot determine its current level of resourcing for RSO management as it does not track the hours that CMs spend on this task, and the number of non-dedicated CMs and varying time in the role leads to additional complexity. Given this, Victoria Police does not have baseline data from which to project future resourcing needs to match the growing numbers of RSOs.

OMPs and proactive investigations

The inconsistencies between CM unit models also impact CMs' ability to draft and implement effective OMPs and conduct proactive investigations. The lack of resources is more pronounced in some CM models, such as those that work in non-dedicated teams or in teams with high CM to RSO ratios.

OMPs

High-quality OMPs should be realistic, practical and contain effective strategies to mitigate an RSO's specific risks. Mitigation actions should be specific, measurable and subject to review. For example, CMs should specify the number of visits to be conducted each year.

Victoria Police has identified that a lack of resources has led some CMs to set OMP actions based on the likelihood they can be achieved, rather than what is necessary to mitigate the risk of reoffending.

Compounding these issues, Victoria Police does not effectively monitor the quality of OMPs or determine whether identified mitigation actions are implemented as planned. Without this, the organisation cannot be sure that RSOs are being effectively managed and the safety risk to the community minimised.

Victoria Police also identified inadequate training as a barrier to developing and implementing high-quality OMPs. Some CMs drafted OMPs in which they ambiguously defined the frequency of mitigation actions, such as 'as required'. In response, the SOR unit issued updated guidance and included OMP training in regional workshops held in June 2018. Although the benefits of this training will take some time to filter through to new or revised OMPs, Regional Offender Management Operations Committee (ROMOC) minutes from September 2018 note the 'apparent tokenism of OMPs, which are generic and written to the lowest common denominator'.

Proactive work

Proactive investigations, such as a CM conducting an unscheduled visit, are a good way to detect possible reoffending and breaches of reporting obligations, but they rely on adequate financial and human resourcing.

CM units we spoke to and surveyed understand the value of proactive investigations, but they note that a lack of time and resources prevent them from doing more. This is particularly the case for units that have high CM to RSO ratios and work in non‑dedicated teams. At present, proactive investigations usually require CMs to set aside other tasks and/or work beyond their standard roster.

The Evidence Led Sex Offender Management Project also noted that CMs in dedicated teams identified that they have more time for proactive investigations because they are more engaged and 'on top of' the compliance management work.

A targeted operation is a sudden or significant increase in police allocation of resources to respond to an identified risk of increased criminal offending of a particular type or by a certain person or group. Targeted operations conducted by CMs usually involve unscheduled visits to RSOs to increase the chance of detecting reporting breaches.

The SOR unit made efforts to improve targeted operations funding for 2018–19 by moving from a system in which regions receive equal funding to one where funding is assigned in proportion to the number of high-risk RSOs. It intends to continue this approach, and therefore better reduce reoffending rates. Information gained from proactive investigations regarding the risk factors of high-risk RSOs will also contribute to better targeted OMPs.

This is a step in the right direction. However, Victoria Police should ensure it does not neglect low-risk RSOs, who generally do not have OMPs or any management strategies beyond the compliance requirements of the Act. Therefore, CMs usually see them only at annual interviews. Several CMs expressed concern about low-risk RSOs and the possibility that they may miss emerging risks, given their limited contact with them. Our data analysis also identified some reoffending by RSOs rated as low-risk. While it is appropriate to assign a greater proportion of resources for proactive monitoring on high-risk RSOs, low-risk RSOs should not be overlooked.

Investigation of improvements to CM unit structure

In mid-2018, Victoria Police's Intelligence and Covert Support Command and Family Violence Command began to investigate the feasibility of transitioning CM resourcing to SOCITs, where operationally viable. The staff involved advised us that they are working on issues such as calculating the CM resources currently assigned to RSO management, and the level of new CM resources that would be required to implement the SOCIT model. Victoria Police must also find solutions to the various concerns that exist for SOCIT units managing RSOs across the state, for example resourcing in rural locations covering a large geographical area may require a different resourcing approach to a metropolitan SOCIT.

Victoria Police is still deciding on the appropriate next steps for this work. Unless Victoria Police management ensures that this work has continuity and the resources it needs, it is unlikely that it will be able to effectively assess the feasibility of such a transition.

Organisational monitoring and reporting

Under the Act, RSOs must report any changes to their key personal details.

It is a breach of their reporting obligations if they do not report these details within the required time frame.

Systems used to manage RSOs

Victoria Police maintains the Sex Offenders Register across several separate databases and systems, none of which link to each other. This lack of integration adversely impacts the quality of the information and police members' ability to effectively use it.

CMs and the SOR unit advise that they spend considerable time manually inputting data to maintain and update the various systems. We observed that entry of certain information is duplicated across multiple systems which, in addition to being inefficient, introduces the potential for errors or inconsistencies.

The lack of system integration also creates inefficiencies in reporting, because staff must manually collate information from various sources to generate the monthly reports, and manually calculate results for each region and division.

Further, inconsistent usage of Interpose—the system that CMs use to case manage RSOs—makes it difficult for Victoria Police to understand a CM's management of an RSO. This is particularly important when a CM is under review by Victoria Police, for example, when an RSO reoffends. In these cases, it is necessary to understand whether the CM conducted the required annual RSO interview and properly drafted and implemented an OMP.

The Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) is a Victoria Police database used to record and access information on reported crimes.

Interpose does not have adequate case management capability. Therefore, CMs use other methods, such as spreadsheets, to track their RSO management activities. While these systems and practices create the risk of inconsistency and increase the chance of error, our data integrity analysis found that the data consistency between the SOR database and LEAP is good. The relatively small number of inconsistencies does not have a practical effect on RSO management, due to the use of unique identifiers.

Monitoring and reporting

Operational and steering committees—which include members from executive command and from each of the regions—oversee the monthly performance reports of RSO management. These reports contain key operational data, such as the number of RSOs, outstanding OMPs or annual interviews, and the number of breaches and reoffences broken down by police region, division and CM unit.

For some reporting categories, the statistics show whether a result has increased or decreased from the previous month, but there is no detail on the degree of increase or decrease, or any trends over longer periods. The lack of specific information on result changes and changes over time limits the use of the report for understanding performance.

CMs also advise that due to the time taken to generate and send these reports, the results are not always up to date when the CM units receive them. This means that they are responding to performance issues or outstanding actions that have since been resolved, causing an unnecessary feedback loop and inefficiency.

ROMOC oversees operational aspects of RSO management. It is discussed further in Parts 2 and 3.

Victoria Police is working towards more detailed analysis of breach data, broken down by region and division, and is monitoring reoffending to provide relevant information to its oversight committees about RSOs who have been charged with new sexual offences. Any information that is known about an RSO's management is now included in a spreadsheet and noted for discussion and consideration by ROMOC. This is a positive initiative and Victoria Police has identified that, in future, it needs to recognise consistent regional trends and common issues that lead to reoffending. The SOR unit is planning to look at six months of data to better understand the issue. After this work, ROMOC will decide on the ongoing value of this analysis and assess its insights.

Victoria Police is also trialling a new predictive modelling tool that incorporates multiple factors, captured in LEAP, that may influence an RSO's risk of reoffending. It attempts to identify RSOs who are most likely to reoffend, in conjunction with the established risk-assessment tools. The SOR unit runs the analysis across the population of RSOs every two weeks. As the tool is in its initial stages, the SOR unit has yet to ascertain whether the risk levels determined by the model highly correlate with RSO reoffending in practice. If it determines over time that the correlation is high, the SOR unit intends to reconsider the use of the model in the context of its overall risk rating framework.

Multivariate analysis uses statistical techniques to analyse more than two statistical variables at once. A variable or factor used to analyse RSO reoffending could include employment status and type of offence committed.

We undertook a limited multivariate analysis using nine factors and found a strong correlation between the number of general criminal offences committed by an RSO and sexual reoffending. The higher the number of other criminal offences, the more likely an RSO is to sexually reoffend. While this was a limited exercise, it supports the notion of using such a process to better understand reoffending risk.

Internal auditing of RSO management

Audit units in each region—which evaluate management and reporting processes against legislative and policy requirements—provide widely different levels of scrutiny of the RSO management function across the regions. Two regional audit units have not audited RSO management since 2017 and two other regional audit units did some audits, but these varied greatly in depth and analysis. There is also a risk that issues identified through regional audit units are not consistently or appropriately fixed, as no unit could provide systematic evidence of this.

The SOR unit is working with regional audit units to standardise practice by providing a template to use. However, these efforts will not result in significant improvements in the regional audit process without:

  • an assessment of whether OMPs adequately address the RSOs' identified key risks
  • determining a regular frequency and number of CM units to audit
  • standardised audit criteria
  • a process to track the implementation of audit recommendations.
Issues in overall monitoring and management

We consistently received feedback from CM staff that RSO management is not perceived to be an organisational priority. CMs advised that despite the general lack of resources and organisational attention for RSO management, if something goes wrong, it is the CM's job that is 'on the line'. They stated that a lack of resources would not be considered a legitimate excuse for failing to comply with OMPs if an RSO reoffends. This reflects a lack of confidence of staff in management's role in supporting high-quality compliance management.

Victoria Police only recently acknowledged that current resourcing may not be able to keep up with compliance management requirements as the number of RSOs increases. Its 2018–19 State-Wide Community Safety Profile, which is an internal planning document, describes the risk as 'increasing numbers of registered sex offenders are impacting compliance enforcement and subsequently community safety'. Victoria Police recognises the need to manage these risks by focusing on achieving efficiency in compliance management, while not compromising effectiveness.

Victoria Police's ability to effectively monitor RSO management is also impacted by its lack of information collection and analysis. Its current processes do not allow it to know with sufficient precision the quantum of police resources managing RSOs across the organisation. Victoria Police cannot yet compare the impact of different compliance management approaches, nor does it have measures to understand which balance of training and resources is most effective and efficient for CM units in reducing breaches and reoffending, either for individual units or the organisation collectively.

RSO management is complex and it is difficult to define what operational success looks like. Unless Victoria Police establishes a way to accurately measure and compare compliance management performance, it will not know how well it is managing RSOs.

Recommendations

We recommend that Victoria Police:

1. determines the current and the projected level of financial and human resources necessary across the organisation for effective compliance management and proactive registered sex offender management and use this as an input into resourcing decisions (see Section 2.2)

2. establishes avenues through which examples of best practice within compliance manager units—such as local guidance material or standard operating procedures—can be shared with other compliance managers (see Section 2.3)

3. reviews the compliance manager course and assesses whether there are relevant elements from other training courses, such as the Crime Investigation Unit or Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team training, that could enhance the capability of compliance managers to do the role (see Section 2.5)

4. investigates opportunities to improve the registered sex offender management operating and resource model and ensures that this project has appropriate representation and team membership and sufficient resources to fulfil its mandate (see Section 2.8)

5. ensures that the business case for the system that will replace Interpose requires adequate case management functionality to manage registered sex offenders, compliance activities and investigations (see Section 3.2)

6. improves the timing of, and include trend analysis in, Regional Offender Management Operations Committee reports so they are more useful (see Section 3.3)

7. implements a process to effectively monitor the quality of Offender Management Plans and whether identified mitigation actions are implemented (see Section 3.3).

8. ensures that regional audit units:

  • include analysis of whether Offender Management Plans address the key risks identified by Registered Sex Offenders' risk assessments in their audit assessment template
  • have guidance on the criteria against which to choose compliance manager units to audit
  • track the implementation of the improvement opportunities they identify (see Section 3.3)

9. formulates and implements an effective data collection and analysis strategy to facilitate comparison of reoffending data between compliance manager teams within units across Victoria Police and evaluates the overall success of registered sex offender management for community safety (see Section 3.3).

Responses to recommendations

We have consulted with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) and Victoria Police, and we considered their views when reaching our audit conclusions. As required by the Audit Act 1994, we gave a draft copy of this report to those agencies and asked for their submissions or comments. We also provided a copy of this report to the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The following is a summary of those responses. The full responses are included in Appendix A.

Victoria Police accepts all nine of our recommendations, notes that it is already working towards implementation of each of them, and advises that it will continue to look for opportunities to further enhance outcomes for a safer community. It also outlines some operational aspects that impact its position on audit findings relating to resourcing the RSO management task.

DJCS states that it accepts the findings of the audit in principle and that it takes its contribution to the management of RSOs seriously. While no recommendations were directed towards DJCS, it supports ongoing improvements to the scheme.

DHHS have no comments to make as no recommendations were directed towards it.

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