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Why we’ve taken part in new Channel 4 documentary about police misconduct

Publicity still of Chief Constable Sarah Crew. Copyright: Gareth Iwan Jones, Channel 4
Publicity still of Chief Constable Sarah Crew. Copyright: Gareth Iwan Jones, Channel 4

A ground-breaking documentary following the vital and challenging work of the officers and staff who investigate their colleagues will be broadcast on Channel 4.

In 2019, documentary-maker Story Films was invited into film with our Professional Standards Department (PSD), including our Counter-Corruption Unit (CCU), to shine a light on an area of policing which acts as a guardian of the high standards expected of those who take the oath to serve and protect.

The result is the three-part series ‘To Catch a Copper’, which will broadcast on Channel 4 on Monday nights from January 29.

Chief Constable Sarah Crew said: “When we first invited Story Films to follow the dedicated officers and staff who work in our Professional Standards Department, we could never have foreseen the intense publicity and scrutiny this area of policing would experience over the following years.

“It’s abundantly clear the public’s confidence in policing has been critically dented by the horrific actions of officers like Wayne Couzens and David Carrick, and urgent recovery work must be undertaken to restore this precious bond we have with our communities.

“We knew that taking part in this documentary would be a controversial decision. Public institutions can be reluctant to open themselves up to this level of scrutiny, but people will see that we’re facing into the issues, however uncomfortable, which I hope will help to improve trust and confidence in our ability to police by consent.

“I want people to see that we understand their concerns, and we’re taking robust action to tackle all forms of misconduct, rooting out those who have no place in this profession and making sure they can never serve again.

“This programme will inevitably show the challenges and complexities of the misconduct regime we work within; a regime which is undergoing further significant change in the months ahead in response to public concern. 

“I want to be clear from the outset, we’re sorry for the harm and distress the cases featuring in this programme have caused. Some of these cases are upsetting and appalling and we wish they had never happened.

“These cases are the exception and not the rule. They do not reflect on the professionalism and caring approach of the vast majority of officers and staff who are passionate about their role in keeping people safe, as well as fighting for fairness and justice.

“To put it into context, at the end of last year, we had 6,668 officers and staff, plus a further 211 Special Constables. And over a five-year period, between January 2019 and December 2023, a total of 56 officers and 44 staff/PCSOs either were dismissed during a misconduct hearing or would have been dismissed had they not resigned prior to it taking place.

“But to expel this minority of wrongdoers from policing takes a concerted effort from all those who work within it. Everyone has a role to play in creating a culture of upstanding and not by-standing, a culture which calls out misconduct for what it is, challenges those who don’t share our values, and doesn’t tolerate any form of discrimination, harassment or inappropriate behaviour.”

What action are we taking

Each episode of the documentary focuses on a specific theme: firstly around mental health (29 January), secondly on race (5 February) and the final episode is around sexual misconduct (12 February).

Since 2019, we’ve come a long way in our understanding of how we need to improve in each of these areas and positive and progressive action is already being taken. More details can be found below.

Changing our culture

  • We’ve Invested in our capability to identify and root out those who have no place in policing. We’ve increased the number of investigators in our Counter Corruption Unit (CCU), and now have more staff in our vetting teams. We’ve also increased the number of analysts/researchers in CCU which will help identify internal threats early so we can intervene.
  • We’re creating a culture of upstanders, not bystanders, to encourage reporting. There’s no option for officers and staff to sit on the side-lines and everyone is urged to report concerns about a colleagues’ behaviour or integrity to our Professional Standards Department (PSD) via an anonymous app or confidential phone reporting system.

Sexual misconduct

  • A force wide communications campaign was run in 2022 to shine a light on inappropriate sexualised behaviour, misogyny, and misconduct in our own organisation. It was unequivocal about our expectations on standards and behaviours and marked the start of a programme of positive action to eradicate sexual misconduct and misogynistic attitudes within our organisation. We can attribute 10 referrals to our Counter Corruption Unit (CCU) reporting sexual misconduct as a direct result.
  • Overhauling the support offered to staff to increase the reporting of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour. Working with academics specialising in sexual misconduct, providing a bespoke support service to victims, led by a new sexual misconduct liaison officer, and dismantling barriers to reporting.
  • PSD are delivering inputs at team briefings across the force, raising awareness of their work and the types of misconduct we are seeing and investigating, with a focus on new starters in the organisation. Externally they are also delivering inputs about abuse of position of trust for a sexual purpose and working alongside support services such as One25, SafeLives and sexual assault referral centres, to ensure this message is heard. These have previously led to referrals about officers’ behaviour/ conduct.
  • A Sexual Misconduct Risk Register collates anonymous reports / intelligence relating to officers’ behaviour. This enables monitoring of employees and ability to build a bigger picture of their conduct even when the evidence isn’t immediately there to take action.
  • The updated College of Policing guidance (2022), which guides us on misconduct outcomes, has been fully adopted, with specific additional focus on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), abuse of position for a sexual purpose, and discrimination. This is helping us make robust decisions to ensure those who shouldn’t be in policing are identified and rooted out.
  • We proactively publish the outcomes of sexual misconduct complaints and conduct matters on our website. This data is for police officers and police staff and is updated every six months.

Race and policing

Race Matters brings together the work Avon and Somerset Police are doing to implement the recommendations in the Identifying Disproportionality in the Avon and Somerset Criminal Justice System report and the National Police Race Action Plan, which will support us to become an anti-racist police service. This includes:

  • Race Matters training for all frontline police officers. The training, delivered in partnership with a community expert in representation and facilitating sensitive discussions, ensures officers learn the operational relevance of race and policing and are better equipped to recognise their own unconscious bias.
  • Creation and development of an external Race Matters Community Network to help shape work to become an anti-racist police service, for example on a new stop and search policy The Network will incorporate a scrutiny function to ensure transparency and accountability.
  • Growing a network of race allies within the organisation, with inputs from middle leaders / supervisors who have influence to shape the culture in teams.
  • Exploration of policies and procedures that will reduce disproportionality and bring equity of treatment for people from Black heritage and racially / ethnically minoritised backgrounds in their interactions with the police and the wider criminal justice system (CJS). These include:
  • Stop and Search: The disproportionate use of stop and search has a direct effect on trust and confidence levels, especially within Black heritage communities. Work is underway to reform the way stop and search is carried out in Avon and Somerset, and a plan to better engage with young people is being developed, so that they better understand their rights. 
    • Chance to Change: A deferred prosecution model that can reduce reoffending and improve outcomes for people on the cusp of entering the CJS, but unlike other out of court disposals, does not require admission of guilt, which has historically resulted in over representation of those who have lower levels of trust and confidence in the CJS. Funding to pilot this model in Avon and Somerset has been agreed and a procurement process is underway for an organisation to run the scheme.
    • Improved victim service standard for Black heritage victims of crime which recognises the disparity in the way that people of Black heritage experience crime.

Mental health and policing

It’s recognised nationally that non-crime incidents, in particular those involving mental ill health and social care needs, place a significant demand upon policing nationally, even though we’re not the most appropriate agency to respond.

There will always be a role for police, in particular when there is a real and immediate risk to life or of serious harm, but when police are not the best agency to respond, we’re committed to ensuring people receive the most appropriate support in that moment.

  • A National Partnership Agreement regarding Right Care, Right Person (RCRP) was announced in July 2023. This is a groundbreaking strategic agreement regarding how policing and health will work together to respond to people in mental health crisis.
  • There will always be a place for policing to respond to welfare concerns to ensure the public remain safe. RCRP crucially will not stop the police attending incidents where there is a threat to life or risk of serious harm.
  • However, there is national agreement that police are not always the right service to provide the immediate care and support a vulnerable person needs at a time of crisis.
  • We’re focussing on defining what the police role is and when we will respond, not solely dictating what we won’t respond to. Avon and Somerset Police already work with health partners including mental health trusts, Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) and South Western Ambulance Service Trust.
  • Approximately 21 per cent of Avon and Somerset Police’s demand is non-crime related. In 2022-2023 ASP received 11,555 reports of a missing person and recorded 31,714 incidents relating to a concern for a person’s safety.
  • No procedural changes have been made at this time. We’re working with our partners to explore the best way to introduce RCRP, aiming for the first changes to be introduced in spring 2024.
Publicity still of DC Amber Redman and DS Geoff Smith, who work in our Professional Standards Department. Copyright: Gareth Iwan Jones, Channel 4
Publicity still of DC Amber Redman and DS Geoff Smith, who work in our Professional Standards Department. Copyright: Gareth Iwan Jones, Channel 4

Q&A

What is the documentary about?  

It’s a ‘behind the scenes’ documentary giving the public a unique insight into the work of Avon and Somerset Police’s Professional Standards Department and Counter Corruption Unit.  

Told from multiple perspectives, the series will look at the reality of being an officer under investigation, as well as the experience of the complainants – often members of the public – and the PSD investigators themselves as they conduct their operations under unique pressure and scrutiny.   

Why did we decide to do the documentary?  

Trust and confidence in policing is hanging by a thread. One of the ways to rebuild it is to be open and transparent about the issues and challenges we face. We saw this documentary as an opportunity to give the public insight into a world of policing which is normally hidden, allowing them to see the work that goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in tackling misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.  

We knew that taking part in this documentary would be a controversial decision. Public institutions can be reluctant to open themselves up to this level of scrutiny, but people will see that we’re facing into the issues, however uncomfortable, which we hope will help to improve our ability to police by consent. 

How many episodes are there? How many cases does it cover?  

There will be three hour-long episodes, covering the themes of mental health, race, and sexual misconduct. Each episode features three cases.   

When will it air and where?  

The three episodes will run on consecutive Mondays at 9pm, with the first episode due to broadcast on Monday 29 January. Episodes will be uploaded onto Channel 4’s on-demand service after broadcast and will remain available to watch for a limited time. 

Did all of those involved consent to being featured in the documentary?   

Before filming began, a legal agreement was drawn-up, signed by both the production company and Avon and Somerset Police, to ensure the issue of filming consent was clear. The sole responsibility for obtaining consent from those being filmed rested with Story Films. All those being filmed needed to provide consent at the earliest opportunity, except in cases where they were involved with, or subject to, an ongoing police standards investigation, and where obtaining consent could jeopardise this investigation. This also applied to those involved with, or subject, to a criminal investigation. 

Story Films also committed to recognising the importance of maintaining absolute anonymity of any victims, witnesses, or relatives of victims, unless they obtained express consent for the anonymity to be waived. 

What happened to the officers/staff who were under investigation in the cases featuring in this documentary? 

There were 16 Avon and Somerset officers and one PCSO involved in the cases featured in the documentary as subjects of investigation. Of these, two were dismissed, three resigned before it went to hearing, one retired with gross misconduct not proven, two had no misconduct or learnings identified and nine officers were put on reflective practice. 

Have you changed anything as a direct result of what’s come out in the documentary?  

We have taken some valuable learning and made a number of improvements going forward following what we have seen from the documentary. In order to improve how we are identifying and tackling these important issues we have strengthened our processes in terms of recruitment and vetting and how we identify risk and manage individuals, whether it’s through mitigation or formal processes where necessary.  

We have also made a number of changes to our reflective practice processes, which will be highlighted within the documentary, and have provided additional support for our staff and line managers to make sure that it is a meaningful process.   

How do we make a complaint following an interaction with a member of the police?  

To make a complaint or find out the process to do so, visit: How to make a complaint | Avon and Somerset Police