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Avon and Somerset Police implements transformative approach to investigating rape and sexual offences

Avon and Somerset Police is at the helm of a new evidence-based approach, which will transform the way police respond to, and investigate, Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO).

The approach, named Project Bluestone, was developed in partnership with leading academics and in consultation with partners across the criminal justice system, as well as victim services.

In addition to being rolled out locally, Project Bluestone is set to inform a national change in the policing approach to rape and serious sexual offences after being hailed as ‘pioneering’ in the Government’s Rape Review, published last Friday.

Having completed the research phase of Project Bluestone, Avon and Somerset Police have made immediate improvements and are now testing and adjusting the recommendations presented by Project Bluestone to improve the force’s response to rape. The key recommendations outlined in Project Bluestone are:

  • A new ‘Gold Standard’ framework focusing on investigating the suspect and improving victim engagement
  • A different way of policing, with specialist teams dedicated to RASSO investigations, which will both enhance victim contact and increase the chances of disrupting repeat offenders
  • An outline of ‘Gold Standard’ for investigating RASSO cases including the use of data, closer liaison with victim support services, and enhanced training and support for investigators

Avon and Somerset Police has also committed extra resource to the investigations team with an additional 100 officers and 12 police staff investigators dedicated to investigating RASSO cases.

Project Bluestone – the research:

Project Bluestone, has seen Avon and Somerset Police open its doors to leading UK academics to undertake a comprehensive review of RASSO policies, processes, ways of working and training packages.

The study focused on five key pillars, each of which pinpoint specific areas for improvement and will form part of the new framework for investigating RASSO cases.

The pillars are:

  • Suspect-focused investigation
  • Disrupting repeat offenders
  • Victim engagement
  • Learning and development for police officers
  • Using data more effectively in RASSO investigation

As well as analysing data pulled from case reviews, academics also conducted interviews and focus groups with over 60 officers and staff from Avon and Somerset Police and other key partner organisations to gain an in-depth understanding of all the elements that shape a RASSO investigation – from the moment a victim reports all the way through to prosecution.

Beyond policing, the project has engaged with victim support services, barristers and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to conduct in-depth assessments and develop an insight-led redesign of the current approach to rape and sexual offences.

Deputy Chief Constable Sarah Crew commented:

“The journey we have taken throughout the research phase of Project Bluestone has been intense, sometimes uncomfortable but extremely important for the future of rape and sexual offences investigations.

“We have one single shared purpose and mission, and that is to transform the policing approach to these traumatic offences, which we hope will help to influence, enable and support positive change in other parts of the Criminal Justice System. By lowering the bridge to academic researchers, we knew we were opening ourselves up to public scrutiny. But, we did this with our eyes wide open, willing to learn and to improve.

“In Avon and Somerset 97% of rape and sexual offences reports will not even see a prosecution started. We are not unique in this; it is the norm across England and Wales. We’ve all heard the saying from Albert Einstein stating that ‘the first sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. The only way we can start to change the outcomes for victims of rape and sexual assault is by changing our processes when it comes to investigating these crimes. It would simply be madness to continue the way we have and expect different results.

“I’m proud that we have been brave enough to take these steps with our academic colleagues. I strongly believe that, together, we have created a new framework that could be one of the solutions to one of the most challenging issues in our criminal justice. I hope we are on the verge of something transformational that will improve the lives of many of our friends, neighbours and family who have suffered from these offences”.

Detective Superintendent Lisa Simpson, who is leading the implementation phase of the project (Operation Bluestone), said:

“While we still have a long way to go on this journey of improvement, we’re ready to embrace the recommendations from Project Bluestone, put them into practice and bring a fresh perspective to investigating RASSO offences.

“Going forward, we will be recruiting more people to join the RASSO investigations teams and will be developing insight-led training for officers to ensure they are completely equipped to respond efficiently and compassionately to victims who choose to report to us. We’re aware of the life-altering effects these awful crimes have on victims and we hope that this new way of working will improve their experience, limit any trauma they might feel by reporting their experience to us, and help them on their journey to recovery”.

Mark Shelford, Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset, added:

“I am proud to be supporting Avon and Somerset Police’s new approach, which will change – for the better – how the police deal with RASSO cases.

“The fact that Project Bluestone has been called ‘pioneering’ in the Government’s Rape Review shows how far the force has come and this is only the beginning. I know that for the team, the Project Bluestone review hasn’t always been easy but they have persevered, always remembering why the research phase was needed. This new, improved and transformative approach is the change that was needed in order to achieve justice for victims.

“I look forward to supporting the work of the RASSO investigation teams and I hope Operation Bluestone will inspire forces and officers nationally to change their approach in order to provide a better, more efficient and effective service for victims of such traumatic crimes.”

We are looking for enthused, tenacious and passionate individuals to be part of Bluestone. We have a wider range of opportunities on offer for transferee Police Constables, Detective Constables, PCs aspiring to become trainee detectives and Detective Sergeants. For more information visit – https://www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/apply/jobs-and-volunteering/police-transferees/

If you’ve been a victim of sexual abuse, recent or non-recent, you don’t have to speak to the police. You can self-refer to The Bridge, a Sexual Assault Referral Centre available 24/7 365 days a year. Visit their website at www.thebridgecanhelp.org.uk or call 0117 342 6999