The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) published their first insights report into Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) this week. The response from the media was predictably misleading and concentrated on police-bashing. Their focus was on the aspects of the VAWG problems in policing, and demanding summary justice and sackings for all officers subject to any allegation.
However, the report was far wider than issues within policing, pointing to wider societal issues. In this blog, I outline the fascinating facets within this report, which no-one else has clearly read (or at least aren’t covering). I then link this to your leadership aspirations, how you can paint a brighter future, and even example presentation scenarios you might encounter on a promotion board. We’ll explore investigation standards, professionalism, officer wellbeing, performance management, inclusion, and more.
I embed below my recent YouTube discussion giving my initial thoughts. Read on for more analysis of key findings and police leadership insights…
NPCC Drop Explosive Report, Police Chiefs Run for Cover…
”I think the trust from women and girls…. has been lost in policing.” – DCC Maggie Blyth
The NPCC published its first ‘VAWG Policing Insights Report’ with great fanfare on 14 March. In the press release, DCC Maggie Blyth quite rightly outlined how policing still has far to go to “root abusers and corrupt individuals out of policing” and improve public service standards. All reasonable ambitions, however, the national media smelled blood and pounced.
You may have noticed that all articles discussing the report focused in on the ‘bad apples’ perspective. Baying for blood, there was the predictable outrage why officers aren’t simply sacked for being subject to investigations or complaints. Guilty, unless proven innocent. On these matters, a wide spectrum of the mainstream media pieces agreed, from The Guardian to The Telegraph. The angle of their story was set: The police are misogynists and all male officers must be tarred with the Wayne Couzens / David Carrick brush.
“‘Staggering’ figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council show that less than 1% of those accused have been sacked.” – Guardian
“Just 13 out of 1,539 police officers investigated over misconduct sacked.” – Telegraph
“Fraction of police officers and staff accused over treatment of women sacked.” – Independent
“Only 1% of police officers and staff accused of abusing women sacked.” – ITV
“Less than 1% of officers and staff accused of VAWG sacked.” – Police Oracle
You get the picture, and this doesn’t include the even more sensational tabloids! Police chiefs everywhere were already on the back foot and on the defensive. Reassuring statements were made, explaining how they ‘welcomed the report’ and that their force would ‘take robust action’ internally. Indeed, the data is only up to March 2022, so ‘lots has already been done since then’, they said.
Some police forces even put out press releases detailing their own findings and vowing to do better. For example, the Met Police VAWG press release detailed the various teams, stats, and processes they’re working on to improve officer behaviour.
Anyone might be forgiven for mistakenly thinking the report was all about police misconduct! But that was just one of the four ‘Key Performance Question’ (KPQ) themes covered. Yes, police conduct is important to public confidence and trust, given high-profile cases thrust in the public’s consciousness in recent years. Not to forget the ongoing challenging working environment women often face in forces. Including research reported just yesterday on motherhood disadvantages in the workplace and ‘maternal bias’.
But there’s 508,000 other reasons why this issue is much, much bigger than policing, and why better police leaders (and so, better promotion candidates) would do well to notice the bigger picture.
Below is a copy of the most important part of the NPCC publication, beyond the media reports, interviews with (and reactions of) senior leaders, and even beyond the opinions of police force press releases and the NPCC themselves. You’ll soon see why this relates to various aspects of police leadership and how you can help improve the situation. As they say, ‘the devil is in the detail’. The VAWG Insights Report is also a useful read for wider context on the metrics.
You’ll also come to realise that among the cacophony of those lambasting the police over this VAWG report, or even those commenting on behalf of forces, it’s abundantly apparent that few people have actually read the report itself! As with intelligence sources for operational matters, wouldn’t it be better to get first-hand information and insights about the issues?
Officers aspiring to promotion in Police Scotland will do well to view the brand new Police Scotland VAWG strategy. You’ll notice the commonalities in themes, but with more specific actions like tackling incel culture and delivering trauma-informed training.
How Society Treats Women and Girls
“KPI 5.1: What is the extent and nature of recorded crime within the scope of VAWG?” – VAWG Key Performance Indicator
One of the core Peelian Principles underpinning UK policing points to the fact that the police are of course members of the public. Therefore, issues in society will inevitably spill over into policing. On that point, let’s explore how our society treats women and girls. This is covered by the NPCC’s Key Performance Indicator (KPI) 5.1: What is the extent and nature of recorded crime within the scope of VAWG?
You’ll see I’ve summarised some key stats in the bespoke infographic above. Take a moment to let this sink in: There’s over 500,000 crimes against women and girls in just 6 months. That equates to a million per year. And that’s of course just the ones reported to police.
This equates to around 1 in 30 of the female population, subject to the crimes within scope of the VAWG monitoring, every year. Think about your 200 or so Facebook friends or Twitter followers and let’s say half are women. Now imagine how three or four of them will typically be subject to these VAWG crimes each year. Then realise how the trauma can remain, often for years thereafter.
In terms of crime types, it’s notable that several hundred thousand were domestic abuse. 85 people were killed. There were 64,000 sex offences against women and girls, of which nearly half were rape. The issues pervade all corners of society, with nearly 1,500 so-called ‘Honour Based Abuse’ (HBA) offences, including forced marriage. Several dozen of the HBA offences related to the heinous, brutal crime of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Meanwhile, modern slavery keeps growing, with 1,300 recorded offences; many of which are for sexual exploitation.
And remember, this doesn’t count all the burglary, fraud, or other crimes where the victim happened to be female.
Of course, this report doesn’t give context of who the offenders of the VAWG were. But we do know from other research that 80% of crimes are generally committed by men and boys. It’s therefore reasonable to state that there are clearly deep-seated issues with how women are treated by men, with an approximate 400,000 VAWG-related crimes committed by males against females.
Assaults on Female Police Officers
A stark statistic among the 120,000 violence with injury crimes stuck out for me as a former cop. Nearly 2,000 of these were attacks on police officers. So policing is not immune and female police officers are subject to violence at far higher rates (of reported VAWG) than women in society at large, by tenfold. Of course, being an operational cop dealing with society’s problems and with aggressive people by its very nature does unfortunately attract more aggression. Increasing assaults on police are another general issue in society, an issue regularly raised by the Police Federation.
“The police are the anvil on which society beats out the problems and abrasions of social inequality, racial prejudice, weak laws and ineffective legislation.” - Sir Robert Mark
Nevertheless, it’s a stat I find troubling, not least because my daughter followed in my footsteps to become a police officer and whilst she is young in service, she has already been repeatedly assaulted whilst working on a busy city response team.
There have been several harrowing attacks on female officers over recent years, sometimes widely reported in the national media (likely because there happened to be bodycam footage of the gruesome incidents). For example, PC Emma Agyei suffered a brutal violent attack while responding to a domestic incident.
But this figure doesn’t include the many further assaults ‘without injury’ and lewd behaviour perpetrated against female officers every day. This incident at last year’s Notting Hill Carnival is just one higher-profile example. Not to mention the even greater volume of online sexism and vitriol targeted at women police officers.
In days gone by, (long gone) it used to be said that an assault on a police officer, is an assault on society itself. There’s also the saying that the public gets the police it deserves. It can too often seem that in the absence of effective sentencing or a meaningful deterrent for assaults on police that an increased confidence is emerging within society, to the point that abusing female officers is seen as part of a night out.
As can be seen from the NPCC report, the scale of violence against women and girls links directly to public trust, confidence and the legitimacy of policing. Considering these issues and the wider impact, as an aspiring promotion candidate looking to secure a formal leadership role as a first line supervisor, what are your thoughts about this?
To put that another way, you can reasonably anticipate, predict or expect potential promotion board questions that are closely aligned to current challenges and performance issues for example:
“As a newly promoted Sergeant, how will you support the wellbeing of your team?”
“How will you focus on building public trust and confidence in policing as a new Inspector?”
“As a newly promoted Chief Inspector, what is the leadership that you need to provide? What will your priorities be and how will you monitor progress against them?”
Justice Being Served Cold? 6% of VAWG Crimes Result in Charge
“KPI 1.2: What are the formal outcomes (decisions and sanctions) of complaints and conduct allegations?” – Indicator of (apparent) performance within the VAWG Outcomes and Performance Framework
Another focal point of the NPCC VAWG report are the metrics relating to the outcomes of crimes. Such information is important for aspiring police leaders to be aware of; particularly ideas and standards around improving investigations, a topic which often features as ‘areas for improvement’ around ‘supervising investigations’ in your local force PEEL report. Another common AFI is adherence to the Victims’ Code.
Just 6% of all VAWG offences resulted in a charge. While 6% is similar to the charge rate for all crimes across England & Wales, it is far lower than the 16% seen in 2015 (if interested, 20 years ago in 2003 it was 13%). 6% is also the charge rate in the VAWG report for rape offences. From these latest national crime statistics, the average time to bring a charge for rape is well over a year. And we know from long-standing research (and bitter experience), the longer cases take to investigate from being reported, the less likely an offender outcome (or ‘sanction detection’ in old speak) will be achieved.
A charge of course is just one main step in the justice system; it does not necessarily translate into justice itself for victims or their families. For example, the brutal attack of PC Emma Agyei, just one of over 3,500 assaults on constables per year, resulted in a 12-week suspended sentence for the convicted male offender. Also known as ‘a slap on the wrist’. Alas, the scope of the VAWG framework relates only to scrutinising the performance of policing, not that of other critical components of the UK justice system.
One of the biggest proportion of police outcomes (and growing in recent years) is those crimes which have an identified suspect, but the victims do not wish to proceed or are withdrawing their support. It stood at 38% in the VAWG progress report, and slightly higher for stalking and harassment offences.
The growing withdrawal or lack of victim support is a clear issue for achieving justice for victims. So much so, this concept forms the basis of another entire section and key performance question within this very same VAWG progress (and again overlooked by most):
“KPQ 7: How effectively is policing tackling the high rates of victim attrition (withdrawal of witness or victim support)?” – VAWG Key Performance Question
It also undermines the prevention of further crimes (the first and foremost Peelian Principle and measure of performance being the absence of crime and disorder) by withholding justice for the offender. In turn, this breeds lack of confidence for women to come forward and report crimes to the police; always the first step in tackling this epidemic in society.
So how are victims being supported through the investigation process in your force, especially for Domestic Abuse related crimes? How will you encourage victims to come forward, when the ‘pull factor’ of achieving justice is weaker, especially for sexual assaults and rape?
Again, as an aspiring promotion candidate, in light of these findings, consider the following wider practice promotion board questions and presentation scenarios:
“As a newly promoted Sergeant, what will your personal approach be to managing your team’s performance? How will you ensure vulnerable victims are being supported through the investigative process?”
“As a new Inspector, how will you improve the service we provide, especially to female victims of crime, and how will you maintain oversight of performance and investigation standards?”
“As a Chief Inspector how will you work collaboratively with stakeholders, to tackle the issue of Violence against Women and Girls? What do you believe police can do to mitigate the high rate of victim withdrawals and attrition?”
Police Conduct & Complaints
“KPQ 1: How effectively is policing responding to allegations of police- perpetrated violence and abuse?” – VAWG Key Performance Question
Let’s get down to the section that all the other commentators have relentlessly reported upon in tiresome uniformity. But here, we’ll dive into some different perspectives buried in the statistical bulletin. Remember that this is the primary source report from which all the press releases, media reports, and other opinions are ultimately derived (whether they’ve read it or not!).
The NPCC ‘insights’ report points out that the 1,500 or so allegations against officers equates to 0.7% of the workforce. That’s 1 in 143 officers or staff subject to some sort of VAWG allegation, be it derived from internal or external complaints. Clearly this is 0.7% too much, especially since under-reporting is suspected. But it certainly corresponds with DCC Maggie Blyth’s brief sentiment defending the ‘good apples’:
“The vast majority of officers and staff are professional and committed.”
On this note, the report does not differentiate how many related to police officers, PCSOs, or support staff. However, given the roles of each, it can be assumed that the vast majority of public complaints will relate to police officers, specials, PCSOs, and Detention Officers.
Some readers may be surprised to learn that a portion of these VAWG allegations were against female officers and staff. For example, 25% of the 867 individuals subject to a VAWG-related public complaint were themselves female. For internally driven misconduct investigations, the figure is 5%.
It’s interesting to note there were more internally-reported conduct cases (874) than from public complaints (609). Along with the exponential growth of Professional Standards Department officers across England & Wales (as shown in Home Office workforce stats) in recent years, forces are clearly taking misconduct matters seriously. There are differences however in what people complain about, compared to the internally generated conduct matters that forces are noticing and investigating.
The below charts give a visual overview of what forces are internally generating vs. what the public are complaining about. Use of force for example is the overwhelming concern arising from public complainants. Albeit there’s generally a long-standing dispute as to what constitutes acceptable force, depending on whether you ask the arresting officer or arrestee. 90% of the time, the investigation sides with the officer, and deems for example the service provided was acceptable.
What’s most interesting when comparing the two charts is the sheer amount of sexual related complaints and misconduct. Whether it’s abuse of position for sexual purposes, sexual harassment, or even outright assaults, this is a particular concern and so should be a priority to tackle in policing. It may be controversial to state it, but this leadership must start from the very top. Disciplinary cases relating to abusing positions of power have occurred at all ranks in policing; especially when in the context of when junior officers are seeking promotion. However, most published behavioural policies and guidance is geared to tackling lewd interactions between the police and the public.
In terms of outcomes of investigations, and just to ‘fact check’ widely misreported figures: 13 (8%) of the 167 finalised conduct investigations resulted in the individual being sacked. Yes that’s right, most media organisations reported the attention-grabbing but false statistic of ‘less than 1% of those accused of VAWG get sacked’. And senior officers around the country haven’t challenged this figure, instead agreeing with the one-dimensional media reports that sanctions must be tougher. Why, you sound surprised?
There’s further KPI metrics relating to the timeliness and other outcomes of investigations. That said, I’ll not overload you with any more stats for now! Instead, I encourage you to browse further into the NPCC publication further, should you wish. For now, I’d like to bring all this information back to your leadership and your promotion ambitions…
Bringing it Back to Your Leadership…
“A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” – Khalil Gibran
I encourage all my clients to read as part of ongoing leadership CPD. I advise various sources of targeted, smart reading. Especially in the weeks and months leading up to your promotion board or selection process! Whether it’s about emotional intelligence, aspects of the CVF, or even the future of policing, you’ll be a better leader as a result. I also print out and provide bespoke materials for attendees on my in-person promotion Masterclasses.
Such reading (or listening!) will always spark ideas about your leadership style. It will also help you build and shape your evidence for promotion. Being well informed and aware in this way, enables you to understand the wider challenges faced by policing, your own force especially and whilst it may all seem doom and gloom, being well read and aware, helps you paint a brighter picture of the future for your force, with you actively engaged in a leadership role.
Clearly, this particular VAWG report is another worthwhile read. So let’s now bring it back to five key aspects of your leadership…
The undertones and expectations of setting, communicating and reinforcing standards is clear. How will you do this as a newly promoted Sergeant? What will your contribution be at the more strategic rank of Inspector? How do these issues relate to the Code of Ethics? Are you aware of the College’s consultation on changes to the Code of Ethics? How will the proposed changes to the code support you in your leadership role?
If you’re an aspiring officer in the Met Police, the Baroness Casey review into standards and culture is due to report soon. The smart leaders and promotion candidates will make time to actually read it for themselves. Everyone else will just react to the limited titbits they hear about from across identical, third-hand news reports.
These KPIs about VAWG used nationally by the College of Policing and NPCC will no doubt in time be seeping into your force’s performance management regime. If you are seriously considering going for promotion, why not get ahead of the curve to understand more about managing performance? This is especially important if you’re aspiring to the Inspector and Chief Inspector ranks! Your leadership is essentially focused on people, performance and change, so as part of effective and meaningful preparation for your promotion opportunity, you can guarantee potential interview questions on these areas.
Diversity, Equality & Inclusion
Ultimately, this is about DEI. As a leader, how are you supporting female officers and police staff in the workplace? What environment will you hope to create or maintain as a newly promoted leader? Why? What’s important about that? My three-part DEI blog series delves further.
We covered the issues of misogyny in the workplace and assaults on duty. How are you personally supporting the wellbeing of individuals or your wider team/s? What would you change if you had new stripes or pips? What leadership approach, style or thinking is required from you to ensure that colleague’s wellbeing is a priority? You might just find my in-depth free podcast helpful, Wellbeing: Thriving or Surviving?
Given the charge rates and victim withdrawal identified earlier, what standards of investigation would you set? How could you better support victims and ensure adherence to the Victims’ Code? If you aspire to the Inspecting ranks (or beyond!), have you considered initial findings from Operation Soteria Bluestone? Op Soteria is a multi-agency attempt to draw together good practice and transform the police response to rape.
You may also find it helpful to watch my recent summary of Elizabeth (‘Betsy’) Stanko’s report into police investigation of sexual offences:
I’ll leave you with some further forward-facing promotion interview questions and practice presentation scenarios. You’ll find many more as part of the ‘Question Bank’ within my detailed Interview Success eGuide, all aligned to specific competencies and values…
“How will you help provide better policing for women and girls?”
“How will you reinforce professional standards around team behaviour and culture to support a professional working environment towards female colleagues?”
“What leadership approach will you personally adopt in tackling sexist/misogynistic attitudes and unacceptable behaviours in the workplace?”
Kind Regards, Steve
Want to go further right now? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, and/or my Police Promotion Masterclass. You can also contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videos, eGuides, a podcast.