Dr Emma Williams of the Open University’s Centre for Policing Research explores the importance of CPD in wellbeing, particularly in relation to equipping officers with the skills, knowledge and learning required to investigate complex rape cases and sexual offences more effectively.
“There is literally no teaching, no training and I think there could maybe a better input on what is expected of you as an OIC. But you literally have to do or die.” (Detective Inspector)
Knowledge attainment is not linked simply to individual development but also to organisational learning and improvement.
In the context of policing specialist areas, organisations need to think carefully about how to enable and empower their workforce through continuing professional development (CPD), and assist them in becoming both confident and capable in their roles.
Evetts (2011) suggests that this enabling of professional service delivery links to organisational legitimacy, in that decision making and subsequent actions are informed and based on appropriate knowledge input.
In the field in which policing operates, methods of criminality, offender typologies, victims and vulnerabilities change at pace, especially with the fast-moving development of technology, digital platforms, and societal change. Therefore, officers need regular professional development input to upskill and update their knowledge based on the transient nature of policing as an occupation.
The police have received ongoing criticism for their investigation of rape over a long period of time, yet changes to justice outcomes remain challenging. Complex areas of policing require effective understanding by officers; without that, the opportunity for change is put at risk and improvement stalled.
The importance of CPD and knowledge input has been discussed at length within this series of articles. What this piece aims to explore, or at least question, is the link between the learning development offer by police organisations and the wellbeing and individual sense of professionalism held by their officers, specifically in the context of the investigation of rape and sexual offending.
Empowered through knowledge
Wilcock and Townsend (2000) argue that enhancement of a professional identity through CPD is critical to wellbeing. More often than not in policing discussions about wellbeing – especially when discussing officers involved in crimes such as child and adult sexual offending – we see reference to case-related trauma, exposure to indecent images etc, but very little debate about organisational stressors and how they relate to welfare in policing.
Emerging findings from a recent research project on wellbeing and learning and development among investigating officers involved in rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) – part of the wider national Project Soteria / Bluestone research – suggest that while officers are aware of the need for more knowledge input in this area, it is not prioritised within their organisations.
Workload, austerity cuts and the national detective crisis has meant that processes of restructure and the refiguration of investigation teams have become more concerned with capacity than capability within those teams.
This leaves officers stripped of the specialist and expert knowledge they need to professionally investigate cases that involve complex victims, relationships, trauma, and questions of consent.
Birch et al (2017) argue that organisational justice is central to this debate as the workforce need to feel included, fairly supported to do their job and empowered through knowledge. Without this, coping mechanisms put in place by workers will leads to stress and potential burnout. This is becoming clear in the emerging findings in this research.
Our work on Bluestone has revealed a clear reliance in policing on omnicompetence in RASSO investigations.
While the generic procedural knowledge taught in other investigative courses is applied, the complexities officers face in understanding the intersectional issues involved in attrition – such as victim/offender relationships, vulnerabilities, previous criminality, and the chaotic lifestyles of some of the victims – is often understood through the lens of past experience or embedded cultural knowledge. This is often imparted through peers.
What is more problematic with this, in the current policing climate, is the high number of very young-in-service officers who are placed in roles to meet capacity demand without being empowered effectively to deliver what is needed.
What is required here for the officers is specialist knowledge where officers are provided with input at the start of their journey working in RASSO investigations which is continued throughout their career in this field.
This article is not focused on the issues the research found with the Serious Sexual Assault Investigative Development Programme (SSAIDP), which is the learning input that all officers working in this field should be provided. It is more concerned with the lack of individual development plans for officers which should be in place to update the skills required in this fast-moving area of criminality.
While statements about time, workload and other issues featured in conversations about the lack of CPD, what also came up time and time again was the concern officers have for their team members wellbeing if they were to have days off allocated to development options.
There appears to an assumption that demand juxtaposed with a lack of detectives needs to leave learning as secondary rather than an essential part of improvements in this area.
Placing more value on learning in this area is likely to make investigations more efficient as officers will be better equipped and competent to undertake the work with the knowledge they need to do so professionally.
At the current time the research suggests that learning conflicts with officers’ desire to manage the workload. However, paradoxically, this lack of development adds to their anxiety and welfare issues.
Key research states that organisational burnout can occur when a lack of resources, personnel included, is matched with high work demand.
Organisations have a clear role and responsibility to empower and provide their staff with the resources they need to deliver in their role. The value of CPD in this area is essential if we expect officers to make improvements in justice outcomes for all rape victims.
The relationship between organisational justice and procedural justice is clear, and if officers are falling back on culturally entrenched knowledge and practice and perceptions of victim deservedness to make decisions in this area, improvements are at risk – as is the fair distribution of justice.
There needs to be transformational change in the area of RASSO learning and CPD which makes a commitment to empowering officers and ensuring competence and subsequently a commitment to the public and victims to genuinely improve practice in this field.
Birch, P., Vickers, M.H., Kennedy, M. and Galovic, S. (2017) ‘Wellbeing, occupational justice and police practice: an ‘affirming environment’?’, Police practice & research, 18 (1), pp. 26-36
Evetts, J. (2011) ‘A new professionalism? Challenges and opportunities’, Current Sociology, 59(4), pp. 406-422.
Wilcock, A. and Townsend, E. (2000) ‘Occupational terminology interactive dialogue’, Journal of Occupational Science, 7(2), pp. 84-86.