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From policing to NGO: the officers moving to support victims

NGO Justice and Care are working to embed victim navigators into police forces to bridge the gap between officers and victims of modern slavery.

Switching roles from police officer to an NGO working as a specialist form of social worker looking after the complex needs of modern slavery victims may seem like chalk and cheese to some. 

But a number of former officers have done just that  - working as victim navigators embedded in forces in pilot schemes which are designed to improve outcomes in long running modern slavery inquiries.  

The initiative is designed not only to provide a stronger support system for the victim, but also to improve victim engagement with the criminal justice system. 

There are currently 13 navigators across six forces, Border Force, GLAA (Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority) and the East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU). 

Within that number are former officers who have made the jump from policing to the world of NGOs and they say that the skills they learnt as police officers are relevant and tranferable.  

Police Oracle spoke with two who had made the decision to move into the sector.

Susan had joined the Met in 1988. She moved to the Clubs and Vice unit in 1996 which went on to be merged with the Human Trafficking unit.  

Susan’s role was primarily looking after victims and she was part of a victim referral team set up towards the end of her career. When she reached 32 years of service, she moved over to work with Justice and Care. 

“One of the strengths of Justice and Care is that we are independent, although we are embedded within policing,” Susan explained. 

“Through my experience, very often there’s some great work being done on a case by a police officer, but perhaps a victim doesn't always know about it because of all the constraints and the other things that policing has got going on. 

“It would be nice to think that [NGOs and the police] can work in tandem, so that it’s not a question of limited resources, but also that they can they can use the NGOs. It’s that joint partnership working which I think is a really good thing.” 

Susan explained that navigators have access to police systems, meaning they are able to understand the likelihood of success in court, as well as relay back to the victim all the details they can. 

The navigators help the victims through the judicial process, but also support with areas such as asylum and housing through to “holding their babies for them”. No navigator has more than 20 victims on their caseload at a time. 

“It's all trying to make the victim's life as easy as possible, because you you want them to be in the best place as they go through the judicial system,” said Susan. 

“I would say a settled and happy victim makes a great witness.” 

Hannah joined Essex as a police cadet in 2002, and then as an officer in 2003. She spent five years in uniform before specialising in child protection, becoming a detective and eventually moving into modern slavery. She spent around 19 years in the police before moving over to Justice and Care last November. 

“My whole career was very victim-led. I've always wanted to be helping the most vulnerable. And that became a lot harder as the years went on.

“I wasn't able to give the support and care that I wanted to as a police officer and that's the problem, I think there are lots of police officers who really want to help and support more, but they're unable to because the investigations are so large and they take up such a lot of your time and you're so focused on that end result that sometimes the victims get forgotten.” 

Hannah works as the UK National Navigator, meaning she works with forces that don’t already have links with Justice and Care. 

“Some forces are so open and willing to have as much support and advice as they need [but not all of them],” explained Hannah. 

“Being able to say that I've got 19 years investigative experience makes such a big difference.

“Because we have that 'justice' attached to us, it's not just about making someone a cup of tea and seeing if they're okay, it’s about getting them justice as well.” 

For Susan: “It's always a fine balance - from a policing point of view, you want that information as soon as possible, lines of inquiry and all that sort of thing. Whereas from an NGO point of view, actually, you want to make sure that someone's okay, that they're settled, that they're safe.”  

Susan suggested that the communication skills she gained through her work in policing have helped her in this role. Her background has also enabled her to break down some of the concerns victims have around policing. 

Hannah also said that communication, interview skills and building relationships has all helped.  

“I think I do miss not being able to go into custody and get involved in that side of stuff. But my passion and my true love does lie within that victim support and victim evidence,” said Hannah. 

“What I've learned over the years, and whilst doing this role, is that we just never promise what the outcome will be. What we do promise is that we will get them through whatever process it is to find out what the outcome is. And whatever the outcome is, we then support whichever way it’s gone.” 

She explained that working for an NGO allows for a different form of engagement with victims. Where the police need to constantly assess risk and address safeguarding concerns, Hannah said that Justice and Care have that risk level under control, in the sense that giving victims space and not forcing them to accept support or speak to the police will have positive effects in the long term. 

“You have to look at the outcomes differently - in policing a conviction is a positive outcome. But we're now in the world of if that person has made a decision on their own then that's a positive outcome because that's what's been taken away from them through their exploitation.

“What I can do now, for victims of modern slavery is so much bigger [than before]. I can do more here than I could ever do as a little DC in an investigation team, within one police force in the UK. I’m now in a leading NGO that is changing the world when it comes to modern slavery.” 

You can learn more about the programme here. 

Names have been changed to protect the identities of the victim navigators. 

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