Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 11/2/22 – #FOIFriday

With the continuing issues plaguing the Met Police, interest in where the police are falling short of the standards they should be meeting is high, and FOI is highlighting some areas where they’re falling down.

Problematic police officers

Firstly, the Evening Standard found 129 male officers and 18 female officers had faced domestic abuse allegations in the past two years. But just 8% –  11 of the 129 accused male officers and just one of the female officers – were charged (that’s the same as the rate for all domestic abuse-related crimes recorded in 2020/21).

Secondly, Open Democracy found that problems with racism, homophobia, and misogyny are an issue for other police forces across the country based on the details of what some officers are sharing on WhatsApp and online.

Details of disciplinary cases show officers hung on to their jobs despite sharing a “racist video”, or pornographic, racist and homophobic” images, or pictures of dead people.

No place like home

Sometimes the poor quality of responses to FOIs is the story.

Property Industry Eye found 56% of councils do not accurately record the number of complaints they receive private rented housing.

It also found 98,858 inspections under the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System (HHRS) were carried out across England between 2018 to 2021 (roughly one in 45 private rented properties), but recording was inconsistent, with many councils failing to register any of their inspections.

The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper this week set a target for the number of non-decent rented homes to have fallen by 50%, with the biggest improvements in the lowest performing areas. The HHRS is used to identify non-decent homes – poor quality data on the state of private rented housing may make it more difficult to improve them.

Knives in schools

Knives were taken into schools in the West Midlands more than 650 times over the last five years, Birmingham Live has revealed.

The figures also cover the number of times other offensive weapons were reported to police, and the number of incidents where children were threatened with knives.

While lockdowns and school closures had an impact on the number of incidents, it’s an issue that’s a continuing concern.

Stolen cars

Ford Transit vans and Ford Fiestas are the most stolen vehicles in South Yorkshire, according to Yorkshire Live.

Police data shows the 10 makes most commonly logged as stolen make up nearly two-fifths of the 4,820 cars stolen in the area in 2021.

Polluting vehicles

Idling, or leaving a engine running while a vehicle is stationary, is illegal under The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. It also contributes to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Council officers have the power to ask idling drivers to turn off their engines, and issue £20-to-£80 fines if they refuse, but not all councils are using this power, according to SW Londoner.

Merton council carried out no vehicle checks for idling, while Sutton and Kingston councils together did so only 43 times, and the 10 south west London boroughs issued only 132 fines for idling from January 2019 until late November 2021.

Pothole problems

Winter is usually the season of potholes (as wet and cold weather make them worse), but has the pandemic reduced road complaints – The Oldham Times found there were 1,807 pothole enquiries made last year, less than both 2020 (1,911) and 2019 (2,247).

I’m not sure the councils refusal to supply the top 10 most complained about roads stands up, as Regulation 12(5)(b) of the Environmental Information Regulations has a high threshold – it is necessary to establish that disclosure would have an adverse effect (similar sections under the FOI Act require would or would be likely).

Road workers facing abuse

While the public are complaining about roads not being fixed, people are also hurling abuse at workers trying to improve roads.

In Gloucestershire, there were 14 reports of workers being verbally attacked and one Highways employee was shockingly physically attacked in 2021, according to Gloucestershire Live.

Compensation claims

A number of cyclists have successfully claimed after becoming unseated by potholes and suffering injuries – these were among the compensation claims to councils in Wales in the past three years.

Nation Cymru has details of the total compensation paid and the highest payouts, including claims for assaults, flood damage, data protection breaches, and emotional and psychiatric damage.

Injuries at football grounds

Asking about reported injuries and compensation claims is something that works for a number of different organisations. And sometimes where injuries are being reported to is surprising (and FOI-able).

“One fan’s wrist broken by a ‘wayward’ shot in the warm-up at Watford, another hit by a TURNSTILE at Southampton and an exploding coffee machine at Old Trafford: The grim list of Premier League match-day injuries you NEVER hear about” – until you read about it in the Daily Mail following an FOI to councils.

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