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Linking Professionalism, Learning and Wellbeing in the Context of Rape Investigation: Early Findings from Project Bluestone



Drawing on data from Project Bluestone in Avon and Somerset Constabulary in 2021, this paper argues for a more nuanced approach to understanding the relationship between the organizational support given to officers via access to specialist learning, the service delivered to victims and survivors of rape and serious sexual offences, and officer wellbeing. To promote legitimacy within the workplace organizations, have a responsibility to enable their staff with the personal resources they need to fulfil their role (Birch et al. in Police Pract Res 18:26–36, 2017). Considering this in the context of policing, by applying organizational justice theory this piece argues that limited access to effective learning in the RASSO field can impact on personal feelings of competence and officer wellbeing within the workplace. The research found that the lack of formal learning resulted in practitioners learning from their own and their peers’ experiences and errors with limited time for critical reflection. Moving forward, the authors argue for a commitment to the input of specialist expert knowledge in the area of RASSO with time allocated for officers to apply and critically evaluate such learning in a practical context.
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International Criminology
Linking Professionalism, Learning andWellbeing intheContext
ofRape Investigation: Early Findings fromProject Bluestone
EmmaWilliams1 · JenniferNorman1 · RachelWard1 · RichardHarding1
Received: 21 February 2022 / Accepted: 20 May 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Drawing on data from Project Bluestone in Avon and Somerset Constabulary in 2021, this paper argues for a more nuanced
approach to understanding the relationship between the organizational support given to officers via access to specialist
learning, the service delivered to victims and survivors of rape and serious sexual offences, and officer wellbeing. To pro-
mote legitimacy within the workplace organizations, have a responsibility to enable their staff with the personal resources
they need to fulfil their role (Birch etal. in Police Pract Res 18:26–36, 2017). Considering this in the context of policing,
by applying organizational justice theory this piece argues that limited access to effective learning in the RASSO field can
impact on personal feelings of competence and officer wellbeing within the workplace. The research found that the lack of
formal learning resulted in practitioners learning from their own and their peers’ experiences and errors with limited time
for critical reflection. Moving forward, the authors argue for a commitment to the input of specialist expert knowledge in the
area of RASSO with time allocated for officers to apply and critically evaluate such learning in a practical context.
Keywords Wellbeing· Learning and development· Professionalism· Organizational justice· Rape· Serious sexual
offences· Policing
The ideology of professionalism within organizations is a
topic of ongoing scholarly debate (Dingwall, 1976; Evetts,
2013). Notions of professionalism link to narratives about
organizational legitimacy, trusted and autonomous deci-
sion-making, competence, and self-identifying as a profes-
sional (Evetts, 2011). Dingwall (1976) argues that a body
of knowledge is central to the achievement of a professional
workplace, however, there is contention between where that
knowledge is derived from and what knowledge matters.
This is an area that has been discussed at length in policing
literature (see Lumsden, 2017; Wood, 2018 for more discus-
sion). Sociological literature on professions has linked trust,
competence, discretion, and professionalism (Evetts, 2009).
In policing, this would equate to a blended learning approach
where formal learning intersects with the experience of prac-
titioners. Once the knowledge, skill, and competence are
acquired, they can be applied practically to complex situa-
tions through critical reflection professional judgement and
discretion (Wood, 2018).
Valuing and cultivating learning and knowledge is criti-
cal for organizational development and service improvement
(Nonaka etal., 2001). Enabling police practitioners to access
learning resources and continuous professional develop-
ment (CPD) is crucial for improved levels of professional
value and personal credibility (Norman & Fleming, 2021).
However, support for employees to undertake CPD is spo-
radic and often dependent on individual line management
to sponsor (Norman & Williams, 2017). In the context of
policing for those involved with the investigation of com-
plex crime types, having the time and organizational allow-
ance to access the specialist, expert knowledge required to
deliver professional effective investigations is imperative.
This is further problematised in the context of rape and seri-
ous sexual offences (RASSO) by several factors. Increasing
demand, increased complexity of victim needs (Charman &
Williams, 2021), austerity, a shortage of detectives nation-
ally (Williams etal., 2021), reduced experience within inves-
tigation teams to both conduct investigations and mentor
new investigators and, the dissolution of specialist units to
* Emma Williams
1 Open University, MiltonKeynes, UK
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International Criminology
1 3
investigate RASSO (Rumney etal., 2021) all contribute to
the ongoing challenge of attrition in this area.
Both within academia (Hohl & Stanko, 2015; Kelly &
Lovett, 2009) and the policy arena (Angiolini, 2015; Home
Office, 2021; Stern, 2010) there has been considerable work
undertaken to explore the problem of attrition in RASSO at
the police stage of the criminal justice process. Often such
reviews point to the need for an increased learning input for
officers in this space to improve the quality of investiga-
tions and provision of victim care. Specialist knowledge is
vital for understanding the complexity of RASSO (Rumney
etal., 2021). The specific victim and trauma typologies, and
offender psychologies and further how these factors link to
attrition should be central to an investigation strategy. How-
ever, the relationship between the officer’s perceptions of
their competence, confidence, and capability and how these
factors link to wellbeing, remains unexplored in a policing
context. This is also central to a successful investigation.
In the education sector, research has found that a key con-
tributor of job burnout relates to the incongruence between
the demands of work and available personal resources that
professionals are equipped with to cope with the workload
(Maslach, 2003; Maslach etal., 2001). In this context, pro-
fessionals with greater personal resources and competence
are found to be more likely to successfully overcome their
professional challenges and avoid burn out (Dicke etal.,
2014, 2015), presenting a further gap that requires explora-
tion within a policing context. Drawing on early findings
from Project Bluestone1 (Pillar 4) in Avon and Somerset
Police, this article argues for a more nuanced approach
to understanding the relationship between organizational
support around officer learning, the service delivered to
victims and survivors, and officer wellbeing. Applying
the organizational justice literature to policing,Bradford
and Quinton (2014)suggest that officers’ perceptions of
organizational justice in their relationships with managers
are linked to theirengagementwith organizational priori-
ties and to ‘organizational citizenship behaviours’, which
might enhance their willingness to engage with members
of the public in a positive way (Myhill & Bradford, 2013).
Throughthe lens of organizational justice theory, this
paperseeksto develop a more nuanced understanding of
the organizations’ responsibilityto effectively equip offic-
ersto undertake their roles.Drawing on empirical evidence
the example of the provision of effectiveand more specialist
learning in the RASSO fieldis examined and it is arguedthat
a lack of professional development can impact feelings of
competence and officer welfare within the workplace and,
furthermore, outcomes in RASSO investigations.
Professionalism, Learning, andOrganizational
The enhancement of an individual’s professional identity
through personal development is central to wellbeing (Wil-
cock & Townsend, 2000). An inability to access develop-
ment processes within an occupational setting problematises
this concept and has implications on employees’ sense of
competence, confidence, and professional identity. Relat-
edly, Birch etal. (2017) argue that feelings of inclusivity
and empowerment within the workplace and via both col-
leagues and supervisors can result in positive perceptions
of the organization.
Greenberg and Cropanzano (2001), identify three dimen-
sions of OJ: Distributive justice concerned with perceptions
of fairness of organizational outcomes; Procedural justice
which considers the fairness of the process through which
outcomes are achieved; and Interactional justice concerning
the fairness of the interactions between different areas within
the organization, for example senior leaders and front-line
staff. Furthermore, Colquitt etal (2001) argue that organi-
zational justice can influence outcomes through attitudes
and behaviours and evidence has found that people who are
satisfied with their job both achieve more and have better
psychological and physical health (Mottarella etal., 2005).
Organizational justice recognizes the requirement of inclu-
sive participation and the organizational ability to empower
people to deliver their roles in a professional way. Nilsson
and Townsend (2014) refer to this as social inclusivity where
all employees are empowered to enhance themselves within
the workplace. Central to this notion is the ability to access
the learning and development required to build esteem
and professional capacity. Despite the issues with what is
credible knowledge in policing (Williams, 2019), signifi-
cant personal value is placed on the knowledge and skills
acquired through learning, regardless of rank. The individual
benefits of engaging with learning and CPD includes the
1 Operation Soteria Bluestone is a UK Home Office-funded pro-
gramme designed to improve the investigation of rape and seri-
ous sexual offences (RASSO) in England and Wales. It is a unique
project which is underpinned by rigorous social science. With
multi-disciplined academics located in multiple universities, mixed
qualitative and quantitative methods are applied to a five pil-
laredapproach toorganizational change with police forces, uplifting
the capability of more specialist police decision-making in RASSO
cases. The research informs policing practice as well as govern-
ment policy and is set to inform a national change. These research
informed pillars pinpoint specific areas for improvement which will
form part of the new framework for investigating RASSO: (1) sus-
pect-focused investigations; (2) disrupting repeat offenders; (3) vic-
tim engagement as procedural justice; (4) promoting better learning,
development, and wellbeing for police officers; and (5) using data
more effectively in RASSO investigations. The pathfinder project
started in 2021, based in Avon and Somerset Constabulary. Designed
by Katrin Hohl and Betsy Stanko, the pillar leads include Kari
Davies, Miranda Horvath, Kelly Johnson, Jo Lovett, Olivia Smith,
and Emma Williams.
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International Criminology
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application of specialist knowledge, improved confidence to
manage work roles, credibility, particularly when engaging
with external parties, and an increased sense of profession-
alism (Norman & Fleming, 2021; Williams etal., 2019).
Indeed, in the education sector research links teachers’ sense
of professional competence and self-efficacy to professional
knowledge (Lauermann & König, 2016).The learning cli-
mate within policing is well documented particularly in rela-
tion to the roles of tacit and codified knowledge (Williams &
Cockcroft, 2019). Structural issues that exist within organi-
zations can combine with culture to play a wider role in
shaping assumptions about what knowledge is important (De
Long & Fahey, 2000). The additional benefits to learning
practices being embedded into policing include an increased
ability to think critically (Hallenberg & Cockcroft, 2017)
and the ability to engage in more reflective work practices
(Wood, 2018). Critically, a value of learning through reflec-
tion relates to personal wellbeing (Christopher, 2015).
Specialist Knowledge inaRASSO Context
Investigating RASSO is complex. Victims of these serious
offences are entitled to an ‘enhanced service’ as detailed in
the Victims’ Code of Practice (GOV.UK, 2021). Victims are
often vulnerable, and can present with mental health issues,
drug and alcohol problems, severe and complex trauma,
and allegations that can involve difficult interpersonal rela-
tionships which makes the investigation complicated. This
means that RASSO victims are far removed from the notion
of an ideal victim (Horvath etal., 2011; Stanko & Williams,
Investigating such complex crimes effectively requires
specialized and highly skilled investigators (Rumney etal.,
2021) who have completed appropriate learning and devel-
opment opportunities that provide an understanding of the
complexities of RASSO and the related trauma. However,
through working regularly with victims of RASSO, offic-
ers are routinely exposed to vicarious trauma, which may
be exacerbated by the pressures of huge workloads, sys-
temic and procedural challenges and the responsibility felt
for achieving justice for victims. This can have an adverse
effect on officer wellbeing, indeed, as Birch etal., (2017,
p. 26) contend, “psychological illness is the main cause of
medical conditions suffered by police officers, a common
pattern found globally within the profession”. Supporting
the wellbeing of those engaged in rape investigations is
vital in the interests of both organizational justice and vic-
tim outcomes. Organizational justice is a crucial part of this
and entails empowerment and support within the workplace
(Birch etal., 2017). Having positive working relationships,
a sense of inclusion, equality of opportunity, fair treatment,
and opportunities to access learning and CPD all help to
counter the development of compassion fatigue and burnout
that is the result of ineffective coping strategies (Anshell
etal., 2013). For Birch etal. (2017), policing can be under-
stood by looking at both wellbeing and organizational jus-
tice; specifically, through the existence of positive and close
working relationships with colleagues and a sense of mak-
ing a contribution. Whilst colleagues may have close and
positive working relationships, the ability to do their jobs
effectively and professionally through the provision of suffi-
cient learning, development, and the acquisition of specialist
knowledge is essential to the maintenance of wellbeing and
individual professionalism.
This paper presents early results from Project Bluestone
(Pillar 4) conducted in Avon and Somerset Police in 2021.
The research aimed to qualitatively explore learning, devel-
opment, and wellbeing for those officers and staff involved
in managing or investigating RASSO cases. Four focus
groups were conducted with a total of 19 participants and
eight additional interviews with strategic leads for RASSO,
Learning and Development, and training. These included the
ranks of Superintendents, Detective Inspectors (DI), Detec-
tive Sergeants (DS), Detective Constables (DC), Front-line
Response Officers (FRO)2 and Police Investigators who were
involved in investigating or managing RASSO. This paper
draws predominantly on the focus groups with practition-
ers investigating RASSO. The group interviews focussed on
exploring participants’ perceptions of their role, their experi-
ences of their training and provision of continuous profes-
sional development, and their views on the organizational
support for their welfare and wellbeing. The recorded focus
groups were transcribed, coded, and thematically analysed
using NVivo.3 The authors used an open coding framework
to organize the analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) which
enabled the identification of the top-level themes or con-
ceptual categories (Punch, 1998) arising. Two researchers
analysed the data to ensure independent inter-rater reliabil-
ity. The analysis indicated that the provision of and access
to learning and development are related to perceptions of
individual competence which links to wellbeing, emphasiz-
ing the importance of organizational support in all these
areas. The next section outlines the key themes found within
this analysis.4
2 FROs are response officers with the additional task of being the ini-
tial police contact with victims of rape.
3 NVivo is a qualitative software package that assists in the manage-
ment and analysis of research data.
4 The research team have since developed a learning and develop-
ment and wellbeing survey which captures the findings of the qualita-
tive work and aims to validate the assumptions made from the analy-
sis. The schedule incorporated a validated learning and development
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International Criminology
1 3
The interviews with first response officers and investigat-
ing officers offer insights into their experiences and percep-
tions of the training they had received. Three main themes
emerged from the interview data and are set out below.5
Omnicompetence Versus Specialism inInvestigator
RASSO investigation is not a specific specialism within the
organizational structure of Avon and Somerset Police and
yet the investigation of RASSO requires specialist knowl-
edge (Rumney etal., 2021). It differs from the investigation
of other crimes as it involves an assessment of consent, often
involving those who are known to each other and individu-
als who present complex vulnerabilities when they report
the offence to the police (Hohl & Stanko, 2015). Currently,
within the RASSO context, there is a reliance on omnicom-
petence, with officers and investigators operating as ‘inves-
tigative generalists’ being expected to deal with a range of
investigations of differing types and complexities. Therefore,
the specialist knowledge and skills required to understand,
engage, and undertake this complex area of police work are
not addressed in organizational learning provision, approach,
or ethos, and are largely lacking for and amongst practition-
ers. As Evetts (2013) suggests professions and professionals
often encounter workloads associated with complex uncer-
tainties and risk. It is through the provision of expert knowl-
edge that individuals are enabled to effectively deal with
such ambiguity. Indeed, this is what empowers the workforce
to be professional, ask critical questions and reflect on their
practice. These two quotes evidence this and the impact it
has on officers:
...With the way things are at the moment, the shortage
of staff we’ve got ... we’re basically expected to be a
specialist in everything... (DS)
...The fact you’ve lost specialisation amongst dedicated
teams is very bad. I mean, not only have you removed
the opportunity for people who actually have a particu-
lar passion for this kind of work to go and that, which
they would probably feel happier about. You're then
also chucking people in who might not be as passion-
ate or as considerate towards sexual offences as say,
they would if they liked burglaries or robberies, that
makes them miserable. Because now they have this
massive RASSO job and they don’t care, they don’t
want to do it, it’s not in their avenue of interest...” (DS)
Generic procedural and practical training in this area was
supplemented by experiential learning from personal or peer
sources, learning often being derived from what went wrong.
Stanko and Hohl (2018) argue that in policing, professional
development often remains internal within policing where
officers are trained by ex-police officers whose delivery can
be unscrutinised and invisible. This can result in a reliance
on internal police knowledge and organizational logic about
what constitutes real rape. The lack of expert knowledge
resulted in a generalist application of knowledge at a practi-
cal level which fails to understand the complexity of rape
investigations. The risk of applying experiential knowledge
is highlighted here in these quotes:
...You apply your own learned experience from your
evidential test, your public interest test as you would
do with any other case; knowing your basic points to
prove and the nuances of an investigation from your
basic training. Whilst we have specialist investigators
who may pick up specialist skills along the way, at
supervising level if you hadn't actually done that, then
it's very little traction to pick up... (DI)
...I’ve quite recently done the force’s DI course, and
rape’s not on there. We had lots of other specialisms
coming and speaking to us: we had domestic abuse
for example for a couple of hours, we had intelligence,
we had covert. But no rape. So although we are taught
those basics of doing any complex investigation there
is no specialism within those three weeks around
rape... (DI)
Whilst this lack of specialism partly results from a function
of the force’s overall size and high levels of workloads given
the national challenges in recruiting and retaining detectives
(qualified investigators). This meant any investigating officer
across the teams could deal with a RASSO case, rather than
there being a dedicated specialist RASSO team. Sackmann
(1991) argues that socially created cultural cognitions are
intrinsic to what constitutes recipe knowledge in organiza-
tions and when practitioners are offered limited alternatives
this can be perceived as cognitively legitimate to practition-
ers as they attempt to deal with such complex situations.
A lack of qualified assessors to support trainee detective’s
practice learning and achievement of formal investigative
certification exacerbated this as they had no opportunity
to blend any theoretical learning with their practice. The
Footnote 4 (continued)
component (Tones & Pillay, 2008) incorporating six factors (learning
climate, individual goal engagement, disengagement, organisational
constraints, individual goal selection and work tasks). A wellbeing
measure was derived from a licensed copy (23rd November 2021) of
the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) that consists of three separate
measures of emotional exhaustion (EE), depersonalization (DP) and
personal accomplishment (PA) eight items scored on a Likert-scale
ranging from Never [0] to Every Day [6] (Maslach & Jackson, 1981).
5 For an overview of the themes/findings arising from the 27 inter-
views please see Appendix.
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International Criminology
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practice learning and portfolio completion requirement was
not seen to be intrinsically linked to an officer’s role by prac-
titioners and was therefore often perceived to be a waste of
time, in an already pressurized role.
... to be frank, I’ve not completed any of the portfolio
or anything like that because I genuinely thought it was
a joke. It was one of those where I didn’t realise that
actually, you want me to - not continued development
- but to prove my worth in this work when the course
wasn't fit for purpose anyway... (DC)
Unfortunately, the perceived lack of worth related to the lim-
ited training offered to officers meant that officers rarely had
the opportunity or inclination to apply the limited specialist
learning they had received in any meaningful way. Further-
more, the gap in quality training linked to their perceptions
about the value placed on learning by the organization itself.
The Perceived Value ofLearning inRASSO
The research revealed situations where inexperienced offic-
ers were involved in complex RASSO investigations with
limited or no formal learning, mentoring, or support. Cur-
rently, the capability to resource RASSO cases relies on
numbers of officers rather than an overarching strategy that
takes better account of the officer’s experience, capability,
and competence to undertake this complex role. All offic-
ers involved in the investigation of RASSO are required
to undertake the College of Policing’s Specialist Sexual
Assault Investigation Development Programme (SSAIDP).
At the time of the research, only four officers had completed
both the course and the associated portfolio. Additionally,
many officers working in investigating roles had not com-
pleted the PIP26 course. It should be noted that access to the
SSAIDP course is predicated upon having completed both
the PIP2 course and the subsequent 12-month (maximum)
work-based assessment of competence portfolio required to
be certified as a detective under College of Policing policy.
Thus, access to the specific RASSO training was determined
by access to courses rather than a functional requirement.
...I’ve got somebody that I’m tutoring today that did
their course [PIP2] in June, and they’ve already been
allocated a RASSO job. That’s how strapped we areat
the moment. I think it’s irrelevant whether you’ve got
that extra training or not... (DC)
Like the investigators, the FROs who are often the first
police resources to engage RASSO victims, considered their
training to be limited. It was seen as being basic and only
focussed on technical information about the use of early evi-
dence kits. The training showcases the FRO booklet, which
provides the instructions for officers to follow when they
encounter a victim of RASSO was perceived as useful but
prescriptive. They felt that the FRO training, as a standalone
input, was insufficient. FROs felt that the training they had
received could be part of a wider remit of training that fur-
ther contextualizes rape and sexual assault.
...we go through the FRO booklet which basically,
said—it’s quite a simple procedure. You go through
the questions in the booklet. It [the training] was liter-
ally just a couple of hours, get given the early evidence
kit, get to open it see what’s in there. Get told there are
instructions in there to follow. It’s very much: this is
the procedure, here are the instructions, this is what
you’ll have to do. And you just follow it, and that’s it.
There isn’t really much else on it.... (FRO)
...I think the training itself is really poor. I love the
FRO book by the way. The actual training package is
half a day, and you go through the FRO book, a bit of
awareness and the early evidence kit. When we used
to do the chaperone training it was 2–3 days long then
bolted onto that was a 2-week ABE course. It was just
miles better, you felt so much more equipped, you’d
have half a day with a forensic scientist, an expert it
the field explained to you why you should be doing
things the way you should. The CPD days have been
really good and there have been some inputs on that,
but I think there needs to be more upfront to equip,
especially really junior officers who deal with really
serious crime, they need more training initially, so they
know what they’re doing... (FRO)
Given the limited numbers of officers who had completed
the SSAIDP course in Avon and Somerset it is problematic
to capture general experiences of the course. However, of
those who had completed the course, there were negative
perceptions. This quote from a DC that worked in the main
office said:
...I think the trouble with the training we received from
it, just being very frank and honest, it’s not fit for pur-
pose, it was a really poor course. And it was really
poor because it gave absolutely no practical indica-
tion on how to investigate sexual assault and serious
offences. It gave no kind of further inputs to how you
deal with your victims or about trauma specialising or
6 The PIP programme (developed by the UK College of Policing,
the professional body for policing in England and Wales) provides an
incremental development pathway that is intended to provide a con-
sistent programme of registration, examination, training, workplace
assessment and certification to set national standards at each level
of an investigators career development. Achievement of PIPis sup-
ported by continuous professional development. For more detail see
Professionalising investigation programme (PIP)—College of Polic-
ing (2021).
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International Criminology
1 3
anything like that. There was absolutely nothing. I felt
like it was a tick box exercise as a course, which was
what I found really disappointing…. It was, I think,
laughable, this course. It had absolutely nothing which
I thought was new information that was truly useful.
The things that I would like to know would be far more
around that kind of engagement of victims, of actu-
ally the practicality of having an input around indecent
images, things like that... (DC)
Despite the negative perceptions of the training, officers
were keen to undertake specialist learning and felt that it
was relevant to their role. This relevancy is critical as Hohl
and Stanko (2015) argue, rape presents officers with vari-
ables that cannot fall within the normative assumptions
about prescribed remedies for the police. Some officers were
frustrated about the criteria needed to access the SSAIDP
and felt excluded from a development opportunity. Feelings
of frustration were further compounded as officers who
were not formally accredited as a DC were being allocated
RASSO investigations and therefore not considered eligible
for the specialist RASSO training. As Bradford and Quinton
(2014) suggest when police officers feel fairly treated by
their organization, they have a stronger sense of personal
legitimacy and competence. They suggest these factors
may facilitate positive policing behaviours which is central
to the investigation of a RASSO case. Officers questioned
the extent to which the organizational valued learning and
the importance of correctly equipping their officers to be
effective in their roles to make improvements for victims of
RASSO. For example:
… there’s definitely the question of value – “why aren’t
I allowed to go on the course?” But it also works other
ways and people have successfully gone through the
process. Stigma isn’t the right word, but the feedback
can be, “I’m doing the work on a daily basis so why
can’t I achieve this accreditation?” It’s fair to say...
(RASSO trainer)
This has serious implications on the perceived worth placed
on empowering officers fairly in this complex area of police
work and giving them the skills, resources and confidence
to investigate RASSO effectively.
The Desire Versus theReality ofBuilding Capability
Through Upskilling andCPD
Individual professional development plans were not in place
with the officers interviewed for this study, which appeared
indicative of the wider organizational learning approach.
Therefore, individual and role appropriate training require-
ments were not identified consistently or prioritized. To
legitimize a sense of professionalism in the workforce,
organizations have a responsibility to empower their staff
with the resources they need to fulfil their role (Birch etal.,
2017). This clearly linked to officers’ sense of competence
when dealing with victims of rape and sexual crime. One
FRO felt that the lack of development in this area com-
pounded police officers’ lack of confidence in their role as
first responders to rape victims. As this FRO states:
...I know on my team a lot of my colleagues haven’t
really been to a FRO job since their training and I think
it’s the lack of experience that just gives people a mas-
sive lack in confidence. It’s the type of thing because
you have your training and you’re not then doing it
over and over again, you don’t pick up ways to try and
do the job. Most people hate having to deal with it,
and it tends to be the same people on the team that are
putting their hand up and offering to go to the jobs...
Consequently, those who have received the limited FRO
training are often called repeatedly to cases. This dispro-
portionate allocation and exposure to RASSO reporting is
likely to impact on the effected officer’s wellbeing. Moreo-
ver, FROs felt that there was a reluctance amongst officers
to volunteer as FROs due to the demonstrable lack of sup-
port offered and the subsequent impact of their colleagues’
...I think you kind of have to get to breaking point for it
to be realised, if I’m honest. Otherwise, it just keeps…
it gets put on your shoulders time and time again and
you know, you want to do it because you know you can
do a good job and you’re confident doing it, but then
you’re also like, there should be other people on the
team that are feeling that way that can do it as well.
Then I think they see you getting hammered with it
and think ‘oh I don’t want to do that’ so then it kind
of, never gets better... (FRO)
The challenges noted by FROs and investigating officers
about the access to role specific learning were replicated
amongst their supervisors. There was no provision of train-
ing support for DIs involved in RASSO cases. Support in
this area is key given their role in supervising investiga-
tions, applying the evidential tests, considering what is in the
public interest, thinking about CPS decisions and reviewing
team decision-making. This quote from a DI clearly high-
lights this:
...There is no teaching, no training and I think there
could be, maybe a better input on what is expected
of you as an OIC. But you literally justhave todo or
die... (DI)
The perceived lack of value placed on organizational
learning conflicted with the requirements of the officers
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International Criminology
1 3
interviewed. CPD days, where available, were positively
received by the participants, yet there was personal con-
flict for them about whether to prioritize learning events
at the risk of falling behind on their overwhelming case-
loads. Indeed, there was evidence of officers missing out on
learning in order to provide resilience around the increasing
demand of their cases and protecting their colleagues.
...I think it’s irrelevant whether you’ve got that extra
training or not. At the moment I think on our team
we've only got two DCs so everything in my tray is
A significant learning gap exists for officers who both
respond to and investigate RASSO. There is aspiration from
the organization to make CPD a core part of an officer’s
development and to ensure a certain amount is undertaken
in a twelve-month period. However, the apparent tensions
presented with CPD offers, particularly the time allowed
for formal or self-directed learning working directly against
high workloads meant that learning became discretionary,
rather than central aspect of CPD.
...At the moment it’s just a matter of making sure
somebody is investigating; whether they are some-
body that likes it, whether they’re passionate about it,
whether they’ve got training is an aside. It’s somebody
that’s got the capacity, their workload isn’t already up
to that magic number and can take it on... (DI).
The emerging findings from this study indicate significant
gaps in specialist training for RASSO investigators and
FROs arising from the lack of provision, access to, and
uptake of relevant learning and CPD options. This shows a
clear conflict for officers who want to improve their knowl-
edge, map it to their experience to deliver a better service to
victims and at the same time, balance their casework. The
impact this is likely to have on officers’ welfare should not
be underestimated. As Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) argue,
occupational burnout occurs where a lack of resources at
work is coupled with high demands. In addition, professional
discretion implies being trusted, being committed, and mor-
ally involved in one’s work (Evetts, 2009). However, organi-
zations need to provide their workforce with the knowledge
and skills required to do this safely (Birch etal., 2017) or
it leaves a reliance on peer-to-peer and experiential learn-
ing which might tend to perpetuate poor understanding and
procedural approaches to RASSO investigation.
Concluding Remarks
Engagement with work develops if the resources in a work-
place and employee’s personal resources are sufficient. If
resources are low and demands are high, however, emotional
exhaustion and burnout can occur. Therefore, the findings
from this research offer further insights into the relationship
between organizational justice, the enabling of capability
and the delivery of professional police investigations in the
context of RASSO. An individual sense of professional cred-
ibility stretches beyond an occupational set of standardized
behaviours or values and extends into personal expertise,
judgement, and self-legitimacy. It also supports an approach
to deliver a quality of service and of professional perfor-
mance which is aligned with the interests of the individual
customers by avoiding prescriptive and generic responses.
This is central in a complex RASSO case (Hohl & Stanko,
The connection between officer competence and confi-
dence, the provision and ability to access learning to sup-
port their development and officer wellbeing is a thread that
is central to the findings of this research. Whilst officers
and staff engaged in the management and investigation of
RASSO cases are exposed to vicarious sources of trauma
through their work with victims, they are additionally
exposed to varying degrees of trauma through organiza-
tional systems and processes as well as a lack of access to
theoretical and functional knowledge and learning. Whilst
this latter source of trauma, derived from the organization,
appears to have limited recognition within policing, it is one
that police organizations should take steps to improve not
only to enhance officer wellbeing, but ultimately to increase
the effectiveness of RASSO investigations and outcomes for
victims. It views professionalism more as a value system
where workers operate with moral legitimacy (Suchman,
1995) and a commitment to do the right thing As Sklansky
(2008) argues, the internal structures of police organiza-
tions are important as they should provide the conditions
for officers to deliver democratic and procedurally fair polic-
ing styles. He goes on to add that internal democracy results
in a more confident workforce who subsequently support
internal change.
In addition, in the absence of formal learning sources and
opportunities practitioners are, largely of necessity, learn-
ing from their own and peers’ trial and error experiences
with little time for reflection or evaluation of their decisions.
This approach to learning is unlikely to address culturally
entrenched practice and belief systems around such contex-
tually critical areas as rape myths, victim typologies and
deservedness, and investigative approaches. Moving forward
there needs to be a commitment to and recognition of the
need for specialist expert knowledge in this area of policing
aligned with the time allowance for officers to engage, apply,
reflect, and critically evaluate such learning in practice. This
reflects the research base around RASSO crimes and the link
between attrition, victim vulnerabilities, and dealing with
the trauma presented by victims and their own needs as offic-
ers (Stanko & Williams, 2009). All these components are
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International Criminology
1 3
key to understanding and delivering a supportive and effec-
tive investigation for victims. Indeed, organizations have a
responsibility to their workforce and the public to instil com-
petence and confidence and enable professionalism in this
complex field. The policing environment needs to value and
nurture the notion of being a professional officer through an
iterative and continuous learning journey that equips officers
and enables their ongoing development.
Participants Type Participant (n) Overview of par-
ticipant perceptions
& observations
Focus group 6 Investigators
Support Lead
Interview 1 Long term
challenge to
recruiting into
roles recognized
FirstResponders Focusgroup 4 Inexperienced
officers involved
in complex
RASSO inves-
tigations with
limited or no
formal learn-
ing, mentoring,
or development
support provided
– reliance on
number of offic-
ers not officer
Interview 2 Reliance on
tence rather than
Specialism for
L & D lead Interview 1
Wellbeingleads Interview 2 Challenges recruit-
ing and retaining
trained investiga-
Strategic leadfor
Interview 1 Majority of
investigators lack
detective (PIP2)
and specialist
RASSO inves-
tigative training
(Specialist Sexual
assault Investiga-
tion Develop-
ment programme
Strategic leadfor
Interview 1
Participants Type Participant (n) Overview of par-
ticipant perceptions
& observations
Focus group 5 Limited numbers
have completed
First Responding
Officer’s Course
which leads
to overuse of
those trained to
respond to initial
RASSO reports
tors (DI)
FG 4 Newly recruited
investigators may
lack previous
general policing
experience as
well as specific
training to man-
age complex
RASSO investi-
Newly recruited
investigators allo-
cated to RASSO
investigation to
manage resourc-
ing gaps, in some
cases before
receiving investi-
gative training
There is an
expectation that
more experi-
enced officers
will mentor less
investigators, but
RASSO investi-
gative teams are
currently under
Ideally RASSO
should be trained
detectives or
skilled but in def-
icit so required
to deploy other
resources to
ARSSO investi-
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International Criminology
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Participants Type Participant (n) Overview of par-
ticipant perceptions
& observations
Challenges with
officers without
training and lack
of investigator
experience rec-
ognized at senior
RASSO investiga-
tions increasingly
complex to man-
age due to factors
such as digital
Recognizes impact
of under resourc-
ing on RASSO
investigators in
post and their
desire to remain
challenges of
delivering good
outcomes to
RASSO victims
and impact of not
being able to do
so on investiga-
tors who want to
do their best for
RASSO victims
Lack of experience
and capability
of investigators
which inevitably
impacts on victim
In process of intro-
ducing new train-
ing management
system to support
strategic and
tactical training
Experienced inves-
tigators consider
newly appointed
civilian investiga-
tors are being
allocated to
RASSO inves-
tigative roles
without adequate
Participants Type Participant (n) Overview of par-
ticipant perceptions
& observations
Previously RASSO
appointment was
by competitive
selection, now
due to challenges
in recruitment
and retention
there is a percep-
tion that people
are being placed
in post without
the requisite lev-
els of experience,
specialist knowl-
edge and aptitude
for the role
There is a percep-
tion that RASSO
tive units are
relatively inex-
perienced, under
resourced and
that investigators
hold excessive
and unmanage-
able caseloads
Often forgo own
evaluation oppor-
tunities to allow
team members to
attend as oppor-
tunities limited
As leaders highly
reliant on skills
of their teams to
deliver effect but
those skills often
Immediate activi-
ties directed at
responding to/
managing per-
ceived high harm
incidents take
precedent over
historic or exist-
ing investigations
Often lack specific
RASSO techni-
cal knowledge
around case file
build to properly
supervise/ advise
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International Criminology
1 3
Participants Type Participant (n) Overview of par-
ticipant perceptions
& observations
chronic lack of
FRO avail-
ability requiring
untrained officers
to respond or
investigations to
come directly to
secondary inves-
DI’s hold investi-
gative caseload to
relieve pressure
on sergeants
and constables,
impacts on ability
to supervise and
lead teams
The main goal is
achieving the
charging thresh-
old, once this has
been achieved
cases are rarely
revisited from
a supervisory
perspective due
to workload and
capacity issues
amongst supervi-
DI’s often work
beyond their
contracted hours
and workload
often overspills
into home and
family life
Perception of lack
of value placed
on formal learn-
ing by organiza-
Investigators keen
to access training
Primary investiga-
tors only receive
basic procedural
and practice
formal training
Reliant on Peer-
to-Peer learn-
ing to develop
and practice of
complex RASSO
Participants Type Participant (n) Overview of par-
ticipant perceptions
& observations
Lack of special-
ist training
to undertake
complex RASSO
What went wrong
often most salient
Training opportu-
nities limited
Officers perceive
training as poor
quality and of
limited value in
real world use
Officers lack
capacity to attend
training even
where offered
due to high case-
loads and lack of
College of Policing
Policy of requir-
ing completion
of PIP 2 prior to
access SSAIDP
limits access to
RASSO specific
Very limited/ if
any continuous
exist for RASSO
Limited to no
additional train-
ing provided
for supervisory
ranks to manage/
supervise second-
Lack of trained
assessors to
support formal
development and
accreditation of
investigators and
RASSO special-
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International Criminology
1 3
Participants Type Participant (n) Overview of par-
ticipant perceptions
& observations
First Response
Officer (FRO)
receive basic
procedural and
practice formal
training in rela-
tion to respond-
ing to RASSO
focussed on
correct comple-
tion of reporting
No additional
training provided
for Supervisory
ranks to manage
primary RASSO
A&S undergo-
ing significant
uplift in police
due to national
recruitment exer-
cise and internal
– this is straining
the capacity to
support delivery
of courses and
mentoring to
PIP 1 training is
generic investiga-
tion training,
contains limited
RASSO related
There is often a
conflict between
managing live
and completing
training portfo-
lios for PIP2 and
SSAIDP courses.
The conflict
arises because of
limited capac-
ity and resource
Wellbeing systems
and processes
relatively new
Participants Type Participant (n) Overview of par-
ticipant perceptions
& observations
Systemic issues
with resourcing
in training and
recognized at
senor level
A&S have very
limited capabil-
ity to undertake
learning impact
outside of recruit
degree entry
RASSO investiga-
tors have mixed
experience of the
training provi-
sion, the majority
have not had
access to RASSO
specific training
although some
Civilian investiga-
tors and non-
detective officer
(those without
PIP 2) report
they do not have
access to special-
ist RASSO inves-
tigative training
(SSAIDP) despite
working on such
cases. It is only
available to war-
ranted detective
constables under
College of Polic-
ing guidelines
New focus on
reflective practice
in learning
recently intro-
recognize the
need to keep up
with changes
to practice,
procedure and
legislation but
report that CPD
opportunities are
highly limited
and constrained
by their capacity
to engage them
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International Criminology
1 3
Participants Type Participant (n) Overview of par-
ticipant perceptions
& observations
support only pro-
vided to certain
risk assessed
included, FROs
Should be manda-
tory yearly refer-
ral but unable to
sustain on current
Current lack of
joined up systems
for monitoring
welfare referral,
engagement and
follow up
Use Trauma Risk
Incident Manage-
ment (TRiM)
Protocol for
incident related
trauma man-
agement (See:
https:// assets.
publi shing. servi
ce. gov. uk/ gover
nment/ uploa ds/
system/ uploa
ds/ attac hment_
data/ file/ 35492/
0392- 12att achme
nt2of2. pdf for
more informa-
Strategic owner-
ship of welfare
recently created
in organization
Organization has
welfare systems
and processes to
support investiga-
Reluctance of
some officers to
engage welfare
systems due to
cultural stigma
Participants Type Participant (n) Overview of par-
ticipant perceptions
& observations
Despite being
required to
undergo psycho-
logical assess-
ment/ support
investigator par-
ticipants report
that it is lacking
Welfare support is
largely dependent
on individual line
manager inclina-
tion/ interest
Funding The funded was provided by Home Office.
Conflict of interest The authors declare that there is no conflict of in-
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Using methods and data from Operation Soteria Bluestone in Avon and Somerset Constabulary in 2021, this paper proposes two key approaches to critical reflection that we suggest all police forces should be using in rape and serious sexual offences investigations: individual critical reflection throughout investigations using ‘Reflective Practice Points’ and regular ‘Case Reviews’. One of the main themes from the data examined is the cumulative impact rape and serious sexual offences investigations have on officers. Given the high case load and lack of staff to manage the work means officers default to a 'can do attitude', but this is often at the expense of the officers' wellbeing. Reflective practice points embed critical reflection in day-to-day investigations, whilst case reviews allow for routine identification of strengths and areas for improvement across the force, basic strategies which should already be familiar to policing. Fundamentally, they are tools which can be incorporated and normalised into policing that strives to embed critical reflection in its normal operation. Simultaneously implementing these two approaches will introduce processes to support staff wellbeing, learning, and development, which will in turn contribute to the improvement of rape and serious sexual offence investigations. Having a blend of regular, informal, and formal avenues for critical reflection is key in the early identification of the different stressors experienced throughout the investigation process of rape and serious sexual offences.
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The police are faced with a uniquely important role in the initiation of a process of justice. Through a framework of distributive justice, which examines both processes and outcomes of police encounters and the concrete and symbolic resources at their disposal, this paper seeks to analyse data from three policing projects over a 16-year period. The findings indicate a remarkably consistent story of barriers to justice which preclude the opportunity to access justice or of a satisfactory outcome or indeed any outcome at all. The lack of allocated concrete or symbolic resources was evident in complainants receiving limited time, investigation and voice. This paper argues that there is evidence of an unfair and inequitable distribution of resources to victims and potential victims of crime which is enabled by police discretion, justified by focusing on deservedness and personal choice and encouraged by the cultural language of stigmatisation of people and place.
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This article examines quantitative and qualitative data in an analysis of the workings of a specialist rape investigation unit and compares its performance with a non-specialist investigative approach. This is the first study to examine the work of a specialist rape investigation unit in this way. The research finds that the specialist unit outperformed the non-specialist investigative approach in many, though not all performance measures, including charging and ‘reached court’ rates in rape cases, retention of cases characterised by complex victim vulnerability, allocation of Sexual Assault Investigation Trained (SAIT) officers, rate of referral to Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVA) and accuracy of crime recording. Further, police officer interview data suggest that team working and support, communication and a sense of common purpose were distinctive features of the specialist unit, when contrasted to experience of working in a non-specialist policing environment. These findings have policy and resource implications for the policing of rape and the need to achieve the best possible investigative standards in sexual offence cases, including the provision of appropriate care and addressing the needs of highly vulnerable victims. The article concludes by arguing that there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that investigative specialism is a crucial element in the police response to rape.
This article presents preliminary findings from a longitudinal study contributing to the current debate about police education and professionalising the police in England and Wales. The findings in this article are taken from a survey administered in 2016 to third-year students enrolled in a policing degree. Surveys were distributed to police officer students in the last year of their degree programme asking for their perceptions of the degree, their organisation's support for their learning and how they felt that learning was utilised in their workplace. Supplementary to the survey, interviews were conducted with the students after their graduation in 2018. The research findings suggest that students perceived the benefits of obtaining a degree-level qualification as fundamentally important to their professional development and personal decision-making at work. Early support initially received for study leave purposes, rarely extended beyond this practical provision. The extent to which police organisations valued the learning from the degree was perceived to be lacking. Senior-ranked students were more likely to be able to use and promote their newly acquired skills and knowledge in the workplace compared with lower-ranked students. Such findings may inform scholars’ and practitioners’ continued evaluation of police education reforms in England and Wales.
The discourse emerging from the professionalisation agenda focuses on a drive for new and diverse knowledge. The Direct Entry (DE) scheme in England and Wales is one practice that attempts to facilitate this. Controversial debates about operational experience and an over reliance on classroom-based learning, have become routine. By drawing on qualitative data from the Police Federation Pay and Morale Survey which explored perceptions of College of Policing initiatives, this paper reviews officer views on the DE scheme. The paper discusses the negativity surrounding the scheme and the consequences on both the scheme itself and the professional identity of officers. The authors conclude that without further engagement with frontline staff and a shift in what is viewed as credible knowledge, negative perceptions will prevail. Moreover, the article argues that officers' can distance the new skills bought in through the Direct Entrants and reaffirm their own competence through processes of ‘othering’.
This article reflects upon the development of the Policing Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF) in England and Wales and considers the implications it will have for policing degrees. Given the topic, the article is primarily forward-looking, but it draws upon the experiences of having worked closely with police for over 20 years in designing bespoke policing degree programmes. It is offered as an opinion piece. The PEQF represents a significant step change in the development of police training and education. In particular, it places tertiary education at the centre of all aspects of learning within the police organization. The article welcomes the PEQF as a significant opportunity to develop our understanding of police practice. In particular, it provides an impetus to explore ways of embedding learning and assessment within operational police practice. However, this will require both investment and a substantial change programme to ensure that police services have the appropriate infrastructure to support tertiary levels of learning and assessment. It will also require a cultural shift within both universities and police organizations. Most importantly, if the PEQF is to fulfil its potential, police services will need to embrace, promote, and enable reflective practitioners and become reflective practices in the fullest sense. If this is achieved, I argue, the policing degrees of tomorrow will be radically transformed for the better.
Given the growing complexity in British policing, the College of Policing are implementing a Police Education Qualification Framework through a professionalization agenda. This aims to standardise entry to the police and allow serving officers to gain accreditation for their previous training and experience. Part of this process involves the development of a national police curriculum for higher education institutions to deliver to new recruits. Different definitions of what constitutes professionalism can impact on officers’ interpretations of this concept and how they subsequently engage with the proposed reforms. This paper, which is based on in depth qualitative interviews with serving officers who have undertaken an academic qualification in policing, suggests that the relationship between police education and the development of professionalism is complex. Officers need to be trusted and encouraged to use their learning in a way that develops their own personal sense of professionalism. However, this paper will argue that current perceptions amongst officers are sceptical of the wider agenda and brings into question the development of a standardised curriculum which may ultimately be viewed as further governance over officer behaviour.
The field of organizational justice continues to be marked by several important research questions, including the size of relationships among justice dimensions, the relative importance of different justice criteria, and the unique effects of justice dimensions on key outcomes. To address such questions, the authors conducted a meta-analytic review of 183 justice studies. The results suggest that although different justice dimensions are moderately to highly related, they contribute incremental variance explained in fairness perceptions. The results also illustrate the overall and unique relationships among distributive, procedural, interpersonal, and informational justice and several organizational outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction, organizational commitment, evaluation of authority, organizational citizenship behavior, withdrawal, performance). These findings are reviewed in terms of their implications for future research on organizational justice.
After decades of research, HMIC inspection reports, enquiries, police reform and legal changes, a ‘justice gap’ remains in one of the most iconic crimes against women and girls. More rape and sexual assault victims come forward than ever; however, prosecution and conviction rates remain low. Time and again, analyses of the problem call for better training of police officers who investigate complaints and engage with victims of sexual violence. More and improved training is hoped to give officers better knowledge and understanding, and to effect changes in attitudes and behaviour towards victims of sexual violence committed against women and girls. In this chapter, we explore current challenges and barriers to effective police training on sexual violence. We reflect in particular on challenges of police-academic cooperation in producing police training and offer some conclusions on where to go from here.
The relationship between Higher Education (HE) and the knowledge and skill requirements of police officers remains a contentious policy area in England. This paper addresses experiences of 31 ‘graduate officers’ from a large urban force who have undertaken HE level study whilst in service. Overwhelmingly, officers reported a sense of indifference on the part of the organisation to their successful completion of an HE level educational programme. In addition, some participants experienced tokenistic acknowledgement of their achievement whilst others experienced outright hostility. In light of the findings, we argue that, for the police organisation, the value of HE appears in its symbolic cultural capital rather than in the substantive knowledge and skills graduate officers could bring to the organisation and practice of policing. Moreover, the lack of structural and cultural integration has a detrimental effect on how graduate officers view their work, career prospects and the organisation as a whole.