Frank Dawtry Memorial Lecture: Zoë Billingham on ‘Preventative Protective Policing’
Researcher Rebecca Fox reports on the annual lecture held by the School of Law's Centre for Criminal Justice Studies.
On Wednesday 12 October, the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies hosted the 2022 Frank Dawtry Memorial Lecture.
Held annually to honour the seminal contributions made by Frank (1902-1968) in the fields of criminal justice and penal reform, the lecture features a prominent speaker discussing pressing criminal justice issues.
The theme of this year’s lecture was policing, with a particular focus on the contemporary challenges faced by the police in protecting vulnerable groups in society.
A prevalent and contentious topic, debates around policing have gained significant traction in recent years due to a striking number of high-profile incidents relating to police misconduct.
Policing is way too important to leave to the police alone.
Such stories have resulted in widespread public concern around the standards and legitimacy of the police, particularly with respect to their ability to protect the vulnerable. Faced with maintaining order in a rapidly evolving society, coupled with an erosion of public trust in the service, the future of the police appears unsettled.
Well placed to shed light on these contemporary policing issues was this year’s guest speaker, Zoë Billingham. Zoë is Chair of Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and, up until last year, served as Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services for an unprecedented 12 years.
With much of her career dedicated to investigating and recommending improvements for police practice, Zoë’s work has centred around the protection of vulnerable people, with particular emphasis on domestic abuse and violence against women and girls (VAWG).
‘Preventative Protective Policing’
Zoë’s lecture, entitled ‘Preventative Protective Policing’, explored what needs to be done to create a police service that effectively counters exploitation and abuse and offers protection for all.
Summarising the challenges currently facing the police, and reflecting the focus of much of her work, Zoë drew attention to the pressing issue of VAWG. She expressed concern that the rate and severity of cases of VAWG have left our society experiencing an ‘epidemic’ of this ‘gendered crime’.
Zoë spoke of a report she wrote last year, commissioned by the then Home Secretary, Priti Patel, in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard. Citing statistics to demonstrate the gravity of the problem, Zoë recounted how 98% of the highest risk domestic abuse victims are female, with a woman killed by a man once every three days on average.
Whilst the report noted that the police have made ‘vast improvements’ in tackling VAWG across the last decade, Zoë shared her finding that the service needs to make fundamental changes if they are to resolve the issue.
Violence against women and girls ‘a national emergency’
By way of recommendations, she stressed that VAWG should be perceived and pursued as a national emergency and treated with the same urgency as matters concerning terrorism, serious organised crime and county lines incidents.
The Lecture also highlighted that expectations of the police must be more effectively managed. Zoë suggested that, with over six million crimes committed per year and only one in ten of those detected, there is ‘a massive gap between… what the public expect of the police and what the police are actually able to deliver’.
She identified the disparity between the supply and demand for police action, and the need to acknowledge that the police are inherently limited in what they can achieve. She therefore recommended cross-agency collaboration as the answer to overcoming the limits of police action alone.
Borrowing the words of a former chief constable, Zoë stated that 'policing is way too important to leave to the police alone'.
Zoë advocated for the reinstatement and protection of neighbourhood policing. She stressed how the practice, which was severely eroded under last decade’s period of austerity, is a ‘cornerstone’ of British policing, crucial to the service’s ability to gather intelligence, proactively prevent crime and repair the currently fragmented bond between the public and the police.
Additionally, she described the need for forces to ‘root out perpetrators’ who use their position within the police to abuse vulnerable victims. She advocated for a culture of confidence to be fostered within police forces, under which individuals would be encouraged to speak out and stand up against colleagues who behave inappropriately.
Summarising her recommendations to improve policing, Zoë stressed the need for forces to focus on harm prevention, pursuing perpetrators, supporting victims and practising consistent use of police powers.
She credited the police for the positive developments achieved in recent years, specifically improvements in conducting of consistent risk assessments, identifying repeat victims, implementing safeguards and acknowledging the need for partnership work.
Zoë stated that the vast majority of officers are value-driven individuals with a commitment to their work and a commendable level of awareness and empathy.
Claiming that the current landscape has provided a pivotal moment for change, Zoë concluded by sharing a sense of optimism towards policing’s future, providing the current pursuit of improvement in the service is sustained.
West Yorkshire Police priorities
Zoë’s lecture was followed by comments from two other experts in this field. First, Detective Superintendent Lee Berry, the VAWG strategic lead for West Yorkshire Police (WYP), brought an invaluable frontline perspective to the discussion, based upon 26 years of policing experience.
Lee spoke of WYP’s acute awareness of the challenges facing the police today and the strategies being implemented by the force to tackle them. He summarised the three broad priorities governing WYP’s practice as reducing crime, protecting vulnerable people and reassuring the public. He explained how WYP are pursuing these aims with an approach that is victim-focused, preventative, responsive and orientated around problem solving.
Lee described how WYP’s prioritisation of VAWG is at an all-time high. Echoing Zoë’s contribution, Lee reiterated the need for cross-agency collaboration between the police and departments of health and education, appreciating that the police alone ‘can’t arrest [their] way out of this’.
He also mirrored Zoë’s identification of a ‘watershed moment’ in society over the last 18 months, which he suggested has furnished the police a real opportunity to achieve systematic change.
Lee concluded with a cautionary comment on targets, quotas and league tables in policing. Notwithstanding their utility, he raised the concern that ‘what gets measured gets done, [and] so there’s a real danger of hitting the targets and missing the point'.
Rural domestic abuse study
The second comment was delivered by Dr Sam Lewis, Associate Professor in Criminology and Criminal Justice in the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies. Sam discussed research that she and her team - including Dr Daniel Birks, Sat Kartar Chandan and Natacha Chenevoy – had recently conducted in collaboration with Cumbria Constabulary.
The study investigated rural domestic abuse through data on crime severity and crime frequency in cases of intimate partner violence. Corroborating comments by Zoë and Lee, Sam reiterated the belief that addressing VAWG urgently requires the police and other organisations to achieve ‘ongoing collaboration to support evidence-based criminal justice responses and multi-agency interventions with victims and perpetrators’.
She also stressed the importance of ‘political leadership’ and ‘adequate funding and sustainable funding methods’. Once again, referring to the current landscape, Sam described a 'real moment to seize to make a substantial difference in this area'.
The lecture was attended by over 60 individuals, including a wide range of academics, practitioners and students. Those present contributed to an engaging and thought-provoking discussion, with questions raised concerning the regulation of harm in online spaces, the impact of budget cuts on the police and third-sector organisations and the capacity of the police to address emotional and other forms of abuse.
The event was very well received and warm thanks were offered to Zoë, Lee and Sam for their valuable contributions.
Rebecca Fox is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Law. Currently in the second year of her PhD, her thesis ties together the concepts of vulnerability and neighbourhood policing to explore how police officers operating at the community level identify, respond to and manage vulnerable groups.