British policing is underpinned by the principle of policing by public consent and we must never take this for granted.
While the majority of police officers, staff and volunteers dedicate themselves to public service and keeping our communities safe, we’ve seen too many incidents which have damaged the public’s trust and confidence in policing.
At Avon and Somerset Police, we recognise that to repair the damage these incidents have undoubtedly caused, we must take decisive action and be clear what standards we expect from our people. Where these standards are not met, we will take robust action to ensure those who let us all down cannot remain in policing.
Improving background checks and vetting capability
We are investing in our capability to identify and get rid of those who have no place in policing. We have increased the number of investigators in our Counter Corruption Unit (CCU), and we now have more staff in our vetting teams. We are also due to grow the number of analysts and researchers in CCU which will help identify internal threats early so we can intervene.
The College of Policing (CoP) has recently strengthened the statutory code of practice for police vetting, making the obligations all forces must legally follow stricter and clearer. We are now working closely with the CoP to implement these changes and reassure ourselves that all our officers and staff meet the expected requirements.
We are checking all our officers and staff against the Police National Database following a request from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC). This will help identify anyone who has slipped through the net before vetting standards were toughened and ensure those who are unfit to serve can be rooted out.
Identifying and addressing misconduct
We proactively publish all the outcomes of any police officer misconduct hearings, the majority of which are held publicly and overseen by an independent legally qualified chair (LQC), on our website and social media. When a decision has been made by the LQC to retain someone we believe undermines our culture and the standards the public rightly expect of us, we have sought a judicial review.
Our commitment to transparency is not new. For the past couple of years, we have had a Channel 4 documentary crew embedded within our Professional Standards Department (PSD) and CCU. They have been given access to all areas and the public will soon see the hard work that goes on day in day out to ensure those whose behaviour falls below the standards we expect are held to account.
Ensuring we have a culture to be proud of
At the start of last year, we held internal focus groups which discussed our organisational culture, how easy it is for officers to report concerns relating to sexual misconduct, and what support is available. As a result of insight gathered at these sessions, we are creating a new role of Sexual Misconduct Liaison Advocate who will help support officers and staff who have been victims.
Last May we hosted the first Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) summit in Avon and Somerset bringing together a range organisations, groups and individuals to achieve a shared ambition on a societal scale to influence and action change to eliminate VAWG across our policing area. All members signed an agreement of shared commitment and working groups have been taking place with partners to develop the work around VAWG. A further summit is planned for autumn.
Tackling misogyny has been something we’ve been doing for many years. In 2017 we were one of the first police services to recognise and record gender-based hate crime. We have since adopted the national VAWG strategy framework – a priority of which is to challenge sexism and misogyny in policing.
We work with partners who provide us with an impartial assessment of our performance which often helps us shape our approach. To ensure we deliver our VAWG strategy effectively, we have invited the Women’s Independent Advisory Group to be an independent voice to challenge us and make sure we get this right. We are also working with Bristol Women’s Voice to roll out bespoke misogyny and gender related training to operational officers.
In October last year we ran an internal campaign called ‘This is not who we are’ which shone a light on the inappropriate behaviour and cases of misogyny which we had identified in our organisation. The main objective was to highlight to all our employees and volunteers that we won’t tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind. As a direct result of the campaign, our CCU received multiple referrals from officers and staff, who felt empowered to report their experiences.
In September last year we launched DA Matters, a cultural change programme designed by domestic abuse charity SafeLives. This programme, which is being delivered to 3,000 of our officers and staff who respond to domestic abuse, aims to transform our response and ensure the voice of the victim is at the centre of the way we deal with such cases.
Training and best practice
All officers who have direct contact with the public must take mandatory College of Policing training on abuse of position for a sexual purpose.
We are working with academics from the University of Bournemouth to develop a training package for frontline managers focussing on the behaviours to look out for in their colleagues which are commonly associated with those who commit acts of sexual violence.
A video produced by the NPCC’s lead for counter corruption on the ethical use of social media has been circulated to all officers, staff and volunteers. The video was produced following cases nationally in which vulnerable members of the public have been contacted and inappropriate content shared between groups of colleagues on social media.