Policy blog


Policing: misconduct and wholesale culture change

Policing in England and Wales is currently going through a period of huge change, sometimes supported and sometimes not, by the infrastructure that surrounds it. The UK Government has had a very public target on taking officer numbers back to their 2010 levels, but has said less about the strategic direction of policing, or acknowledged how the fundamental job of policing has changed. There have been persistent, severe instances of misconduct within forces around England and Wales – public reporting concentrates on the Met, but the London force is far from alone in problems of misogyny and racism that have been discovered.  

In that context, it’s really welcome that today the College of Policing has published new guidance on misconduct in policing, and what proper process should look like. We hope that this will just be one step in a more comprehensive, strategic approach to supporting and challenging policing to create the change people are looking for.  

For many victims of domestic abuse, what destabilises their sense of security, even after the situation is long past, is that the person or people they should have been able to rely on above all others were the ones causing harm. People who use abuse and controlling behaviour often seek out positions of power and trust to enable them to cause harm without fear of retribution.  

As new entrants flood into policing, vetting mechanisms need to take account of this risk. Chief Constable Andy Marsh, CEO of the College of Policing, noted this morning that because of attrition, ~50,000 new officers and staff will join policing in England and Wales in the next few years. The police inspectorate, HMICFRS, is warning that this high turnover also risks stripping out levels of skill, experience and oversight that are desperately needed in a job that’s inevitably contentious and subject to serious levels of ‘compassion fatigue’ and vicarious trauma, alongside outright unacceptable behaviour. 

Significant reform is needed to bring about a wholesale culture change, which reduces the motivation and opportunity for different types of power to be abused. Victims of domestic abuse whose perpetrators work for the police – including those who are themselves police officers and staff - should have trust and confidence that their cases will be investigated fairly and sensitively, and that they will be protected from harm. Within the context of today’s new guidance, a few questions were still left hanging: 

  • College of Policing figures note that 80% of misconduct hearings are chaired by an independent expert, usually a lawyer. But it would be valuable to hear more about i) who is chairing the other 20% ii) what additional expertise chairs are able to bring in, for eg where the guidance refers to misogyny being treated as an aggravating factor iii) what monitoring is in place to check the competence and consistency of the hearings? 

  • There’s reference in the guidance to checking whether a warning/other sanction is already in place before reaching a misconduct decision. What assurance is there about individuals who move between different police forces to disguise the concerns their colleagues have about them? This is something Steve Watson, now Chief Constable at Greater Manchester Police, has been concerned about in his counter corruption role for the National Police Chiefs Council 

  • The guidance notes that former officers can only have a ‘found or not found’ outcome registered, rather than any other sanction, but what does this mean about former officers who rejoin the police, or who join eg major police training organisations and other bodies with significant influence over policing? 

  • The CoP list of criteria for vulnerability doesn’t include insecure immigration status, which is an important gap. Any further iteration of the guidance will usefully add this in, if it can’t be added straight away 


Policing is a difficult job. Many of us would not step in to do it. For those who do, comprehensive systems of support and challenge are vital in creating and sustaining a system in which all members of the public can have trust and confidence. We hope today’s misconduct announcement ends up being part of a much bigger picture. 


'When are we safe, when are we home?'

“I still refuse to believe that it’s beyond us to find a way to protect vulnerable people at risk of murder or serious harm.” 

We talk a lot,  as a sector working to end domestic abuse,  about the concept of being safe at home. SafeLives even published a housing report with that very name. We’re individuals and organisations who understand that ‘safety’ and ‘home’ are complex and bittersweet concepts for many people in this country. 

Imagine, then, that not only does a lack of safety at home relate to the front door and four walls you live behind, but it also relates to your status in the country. Today, we found out that Ministers and immigration leads in the Home Office are not willing to adopt the recommendations made by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and specialist charities regarding the relationship between police and immigration enforcement, when it comes to domestic abuse cases. Charities such as Southall Black Sisters and Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) had been calling for careful mechanisms and methods to prevent sensitive information leaking through from police reports of domestic abuse reports into immigration enforcement agencies. The worry – and current reality – is that disclosure to the police could translate into action taken not against the perpetrators of abuse, but against adult and child victims of abuse. Crucially, this is a barrier to individual victims and the services who support them feeling confident that being in touch with the police is a safe option. 

This is part of more systemic concerns that many victim-survivors of domestic abuse in this country have. The draft Nationality and Borders Bill, about to go to the House of Lords for debate, contains provisions that would make it easier to remove someone’s citizenship, and remove them from the country that is their home. Just this week, the Justice Secretary has talked about changes he would like to see made to the Human Rights Act. 

I worked at the Home Office for a decade. I saw for many years the intrinsic struggle between policies on immigration control (and the frustrations, in some instances, of not being able to remove harmful individuals from the country). I still refuse to believe that it’s beyond us to find a way to protect vulnerable people at risk of murder or serious harm. If we don’t do that, which domestic abuse victims can ever gain that sense of being ‘safe’ or of being ‘home’? Can my friend, colleague or neighbour who’s been here since the 1990s feel secure in having contact with the police about an abusive situation? Can my family, who arrived in the 1950s? The Windrush scandal has already ripped out the roots some people felt they had in this country. When we commonly agree the word ‘scandal’ applies to what happened, why are we continuing to make it more likely to happen again? 

Being safe at home is a basic physical and psychological need. I deeply regret today’s decision and I hope that Peers who scrutinise Government legislation in the new year will recognise the right both to safety, and to a secure sense of being home. 

SafeLives' response to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Race Report

The recent race report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities is relevant to us all. Too few individuals and organisations have been carrying the burden of tackling racism and bringing attention to issues of race on their own for too long. Since this report was released, we’ve heard frustration, anger and sadness from those who have been doing this work relentlessly for many years. We are adding our voice in solidarity.  

For many adult and child victims and survivors, experiences of racism cannot be separated out from experiences of domestic abuse. Persistent experiences of racism may make a person vulnerable to an abusive situation, and that is then compounded by discrimination against Black, Asian and minoritised victims and survivors who are less likely to get access to an appropriate service, or their service provider is also discriminated against on the basis of race. Thinking about race and racism is not an optional extra – it is at the heart of identity, societal structures and daily life. 

All 258 pages of the report merit proper scrutiny and while we quickly signed the letter by the Runnymede Trust asking the Government to withdraw the race report, we have read the document carefully before setting out our concerns and suggestions in more detail. We publish that detail now and will be sharing it with colleagues in Government, asking for constructive engagement on the content. This document was a collaborative process across the organisation.  

We know that Black and Asian women are disproportionately at more risk of being killed by a domestic abuser, despite being as likely as any other racialised minority group to experience domestic abuse overall. We know that specialist services run by and for minoritised groups are underfunded compared to more generalised organisations. We know that migrant women have been left out of the Domestic Abuse Bill. And we know that systemic racism is woven through all stages of a victim accessing support - from healthcare to the courts. That is why we cannot pledge to eradicate domestic abuse if we don’t offer the same fight against racism.  

In July 2020, we published a statement of intent and an action plan regarding equity, equality, diversity and inclusion. We noted, specifically, that it was overdue that we as an organisation acted with more leadership, structure, pace and explicit reference to racism. Since July last year, we have published a stocktake on our progress (December 2020) and monitoring data giving public information about the composition of our staff, Trustee, Pioneer and associate teams (February 2021).  

We still have a long way to go but commit to taking due steps to be more actively anti-racist. In line with that intent, we believe it is our responsibility, on behalf of survivors and staff, to echo concerns about the Race and Ethnic Disparities Commission Report which fails to offer an honest reflection of racism in the UK today.  




#ReachIn: Nicola's story

This blog was shared with us by Nicola, a survivor of domestic abuse living in Scotland, as part of our Reach In campaign. Find out more about the campaign and what to do if you're worried about someone.

When I was with my abuser, the abuse was a kind of a hidden secret. I kept up work and had the kids immaculate, always on time for nursery – to an outsider looking in it looked like I had the perfect life. Except to one woman I worked with, Yvonne, she noticed some bruising on me completely by accident when I reached up to a top shelf for something. She became an anchor for me. She let me know that I wasn’t alone and listened and tried to help me find the courage to leave. I couldn’t have got through some days without her; a work colleague that became a forever friend.

My neighbour also turned out to be a great help to me. He was a quiet man; kept himself to himself, said hello in passing. I remember one time after a fairly ferocious beating I waited until my husband fell asleep in a drunken stupor, then passed the kids out of the bathroom window then climbed out myself. We ran to the top of the path and my neighbour had witnessed it all. He never asked any questions, he never judged me, he simply told us to get in his car and drove us to my dad’s house. He ended up a key witness in the court case, his help was invaluable.

I think what would have helped me when I was with my abuser is if my GP had asked me about the abuse. I displayed all the classic symptoms: stress, weight loss, reliant on anti-depressants, constant pregnancies and losses. I think the warning signs were there but my GP was an elderly gentleman and it possibly never occurred to him to look for these warning signs. I think if he had confirmed to me that he knew I was being abused I would have been able to confide in him. Sometimes someone just recognising what’s going on can make all the difference. 

After losing my second child – I was 20 weeks pregnant and had to have an operation, the baby had died at 15 weeks – I was hysterical and had to be sedated. After I came round there was one particular nurse that was assigned to care for me. This nurse cared for me and spoke to me but my husband was in the room. We shared a knowing look. I’m convinced she knew what I was going through due to the bruises on my body, I think if I had had some time alone with her she could have assisted me in confessing  to someone and reaching out for help. 


#ReachIn: Sophie's story

This blog was shared with us by Sophie*, a survivor of domestic abuse, as part of our Reach In campaign. Find out more about the campaign and what to do if you're worried about someone.

When I was 19, I reached in, together with another family member, to help a friend who suffered physical violence and self-harm in an early relationship, but I didn't feel I deserved the same help when I was living with coercive control and emotional/financial abuse because it 'wasn't physical'. The person I helped then helped me years later to see that it was still domestic abuse, that I could ask for specialist help, that I was at risk.

Living with domestic abuse is like living in physical and emotional lockdown. The view from outside, from supportive friends, family and neighbours, is so important - it shines a light, gives you a glimpse of how life should or could be, and shows you that others have a different view from the person causing harm.

A few words, a gesture or sign of support, and information when it is safe to give it, can make all the difference, now or even years ahead. You don't have to build the whole road ahead to safety, you can put stepping stones down for people to begin a journey, to make changes that could even save lives.

*name changed

Back to the #ReachIn campaign page