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Demystifying our intelligence department to build community confidence

Chief Constable Sarah Crew talks to community members at Avon and Somerset Police HQ
Chief Constable Sarah Crew opens the intelligence department community confidence day

Earlier this week, a number of influential community stakeholders and leaders took part in an event at our police headquarters in Avon and Somerset, organised by our Intelligence Department.

The aim of the event was to open up our intelligence tasking process, shining a light on how we process information and make decisions, so that communities have confidence in the way we handle the intelligence that comes into us and can trust that the actions we take are done with the very best of intentions and with public safety as a priority.

Attendees took part in an interactive role play exercise which started as desk based and then moved into our Operation Room. They received intelligence about a potentially risky situation and then were guided through the different stages of processing the information, research, analysis and risk assessment before having to make a decision on what action should be taken and whether firearms should be deployed.

To make the exercise as realistic as possible, participants had to brief one of our tactical firearms commanders, Superintendent Olly Cosgrove, with the clock ticking down, and make a call about stopping a vehicle in a potentially risky manoeuvre to prevent the situation from escalating.

Participants in the operation room at A&S Police HQ
Participants in the operation room at A&S Police HQ

Opening the day, Chief Constable Sarah Crew said: “Chiefs in other police forces might be nervous to carry out this type of exercise with so many influential stakeholders and community members, but we see it as vital to build trust and confidence with our communities. This will help us to build the amount of intelligence that comes into us, which will allow us to be more effective in keeping people safe.”

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Rice who organised the event said: “Because of the sensitive nature of the information we handle, some of our work has to be conducted discreetly. This can mean there is an air of mystery surrounding our intelligence processes and how we make decisions which can have a significant impact in our communities, such as deploying firearms units on to the streets.

“By taking part in this this event, our community stakeholders got a feel for the types of information we receive and the decisions we have to make based on this information, in real time. It was fully immersive and highly realistic and gave an insight into the challenges we face in processing and acting on information we receive from communities.

“My hope is that we can build on the success of today and hold more insight events with our communities, to be open and accountable for the decisions we make, improving trust and confidence and building stronger relationships.”

Feedback from participants

Maxine Sawford, Programme Officer with the NPCC on Operation Soteria said: “I didn’t know what to expect from today, but working through something in this way has given me a real insight and helped me to understand the pressures officers face when making decisions to keep the public safe.

“I think if members of the public and other stakeholders had an opportunity to witness this, there would be greater compassion towards officers and admiration for how they deal with things.”

Peninah Achieng-Kindberg, a finance consultant and community activist in Bristol said: “It’s been a very interesting day. The police need to talk more about how intelligence is used to address criminality as it can also lead to negative consequences for some of our communities. It was good to see the checks and tests that are done before decisions are made where firearms are concerned.

“Context is key. Sometimes all community members have to go on is some mobile footage on social media of officers appearing to act in a heavy-handed manner, without any other information. How can we make sure more people know the context the bigger picture and the drivers of decision making?

“I would like to see a more intervention-oriented approach with collaboration across agencies.” 

Who are the Intelligence Department?

Our Intelligence Department handles almost 50,000 pieces of vital information every year, on issues ranging from anti-social behaviour to burglary, criminal exploitation to drink driving. Over 200 intelligence specialists in a diverse range of roles operate across the whole of Avon and Somerset, working 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. The staff ensure that the issues which cause our communities the greatest harm and present the most significant risks are prioritised, considered, understood, and have the appropriate resources allocated to them.

DCI Neil Rice added: “We also wanted to show our guests the rigorous internal safeguards applied to all the information that comes into us from the public. I think there is a misconception that if you give information to the police, your name and personal details are shared with colleagues inside the organisation as well as with the public or the courts. This isn’t the case – only the minimum amount of information needed to help our front-line colleagues do their job is recorded and shared with them, and this never includes personal details of the source or anything else which could lead to them being identified. Our staff are highlight vetted and trained to ensure we only share what’s strictly necessary.”