My last blog of 2015

My last blog of 2015
A turbulent year for the police ending with a really good example of why the turbulence will continue.

Last year a student of mine told me about a trainee detective working in London who was dealing with such a large number of domestic violence cases that he had started sleeping in the office. He had sent emails to his supervising officer warning him that the overload of work meant he was not on top of formal reviews and that people were at serious risk of more harm. This was a result of his and his colleagues’ personal capacity and indeed capability to deal with the level of complexities involved in the cases.

Very recently a report from the HMIC found that such anecdotal evidence is widespread. They reported that the police are currently overwhelmed by the huge increase in the reporting of domestic abuse and listed a range of issues involved:
– a lack of victim feedback
– variations across the country in relation to the attitudes of the officers, use of domestic violence protection orders, arrest rates and awareness of the factors involved in coercive control
– an over reliance of e-learning training packages
– a lack of understanding and effective use of data to review performance and enhance organisational learning

A separate report by HMIC highlighted the current problems with even recognising the extent of vulnerabilities present in the victims the police deal with. Forces have different definitions of what vulnerable means and also limited understanding of what such complex issues might require when it comes to support from the criminal justice system. Myself and colleagues have published research findings from two projects undertaken in 2004-2008 about such issues, highlighting the difficulties with recognising vulnerability factors in cases of both domestic and sexual violence. Both projects concluded that the identification of vulnerability is critical to the effective management of victims’ needs and that current classifications of what we consider as vulnerable are both too narrow and inconsistently applied. At the time of writing (2009) the research also concluded that that there was no specific training provided to officers about how to identify such factors in victims. Given the compelling evidence available about how such vulnerable factors increase the chances of cases resulting in attrition this finding is of particular concern.

Yesterday the new offence of coercive control came into effect – just a few weeks after the announcement that police are overwhelmed with domestic violence cases and are inconsistently recognising victims as vulnerable. Don’t get me wrong I am a huge advocate of this extension to the DV definitions and firmly believe that any form of control over another human being is wrong but there is something not right with this picture.
Yesterday a Twitter poll ran by @constablechaos found that from 552 responses, 89% of responders had received no training on coercive control at all. Whilst the College of Policing handed a training package to forces this month it seems it is yet to be locally delivered – this is despite of the Serious Crime Act passing into law a few months ago. Therefore we ask officers to extend their knowledge to a new form of risk / vulnerability to further violence / crime and range of victim needs without giving them any training on how to do this. It surely would not be hard to predict that any review of the police dealing with coercive control, should it be completed in the near future, might find that officers are not yet doing a ‘good enough job’.

Locally, training budgets are being cut and realistically experts are required to properly share learning when dealing with the complexities that domestic violence cases entail. Understanding the reality of the issues affecting the victims involved in controlling and violent relationships is critical and having this delivered from experts with the involvement of survivors can facilitate this understanding. Currently forces are having to prioritise training decisions given the widely changing demand they face everyday. More training on dealing with mental health complexities / cyber crime and child sexual abuse are just three of these areas.

The transferring of knowledge to officers and indeed allowing learning from good practice picked up from officers involved in this work themselves is critical. The strategic delivery of useful training in preparation for changes in legislation, regular reviews of what the police are expected to deal with (i.e. not just crime), better use of data and analysis to facilitate learning, working with partners to help support and problem solve issues for victims and early intervention planning is crucial. However not one of these issues is in line with what the current Home Secretary has articulated as ‘policing’ to be really in its purest sense. Deal with crime – crime is going down – reacting to criminality and firefighting issues is acceptable and is working. This extension of what is a criminal offence is (in this case relating to DV) is an excellent example of how some policing issues are exceptionally complex to identify and deal with. As the doxa or mandate of policing changes so must the knowledge, capacity and capability for officers to manage it change too.

Objectively we all know that what is required for this to effectively and adequately change is both the provision of better understanding via more useful training programmes for officers, the human resources that allow officers to spend time with victims and to ensure that they have ‘safe’ numbers of cases both for the wellbeing of the victim and the officers themselves. Thinking about vulnerability as a central point to any investigation would surely facilitate an individualistic approach to the development of victim care packages that both manage these vulnerabilities and also help with thinking in a more innovative way about corroborative evidence to progress cases through the system. What concerns me more than anything is that this will simply result in another toolkit, another e-learning package for officers to click on during their limited breaks or another method that shatters the ability to capture innovation and creativity which are so desperately needed in these types of cases.

It is not surprising that officers ( who lets face it are the most crucial assets in any change programme) are turned off by such methods. For fear of sounding like a broken record these methods will only negate the critical thinking and reflection that opening officers up to via the influence of academic knowledge and learning can offer. This (as most of you who read my blogs know already) seems completely contradictory to what is proposed – certainly from the programme we run at Canterbury for officers and staff.

Police officers are constantly placed in nuanced situations that require professional judgement and the use of discretion via reflection of knowledge and experience. In a forthcoming publication co-authored with my colleague Dr Dominic Wood we write that being reflexive is effectively discouraged by top down prescriptive processes and narrowly defined frames to guide police decision making. In the face of such complexities present in DV and coercive control cases I would argue there is no greater need for innovation, thinking about difference and out of the frame thinking than here.

Happy new year all

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