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Operation Soteria to expand by 14 forces from October

More forces are joining Operation Soteria as it works towards informing a National Operating Model for investigating rape and sexual offences.

At the start of 2021, Avon and Somerset launched Project Bluestone, a RASSO scheme which saw academics reviewing the force’s policies, processes, training and ways of working.

The idea was that academics would help review what was currently happening, present findings back to the force and then work with them to develop an “improvement plan”.

Project Bluestone served as the pathfinder and evidence base to apply for additional funding for what has now been developed into the Operation Soteria programme – which a number of forces are due to join imminently. Meanwhile, Avon and Somerset have moved to the implementation stage of the process.

The pilot study focussed on five pillars; susp­ect-focused investigation, disrupting repeat offenders, victim engagement, learning and development for police officers and using data more effectively. There will now also be a sixth pillar focused on technology.

In September, four further forces (the Met, Durham, West Midlands and South Wales) undertook the “deep dive” processes led by academic teams in collaboration with a nominated policing lead for each pillar. Between 35 and 40 academics are involved in the deep dives in total.

Insight from these forces will provide evidence to inform the National Operating Model for the investigation of rape and serious sexual assault.

The research-based process includes an understanding of the lived experiences of victims-survivors, a conceptual foundation where actions are aligned with ‘procedural justice theory’, and continuous collaboration with the lived experience of officers.

Between October and March, 14 further forces will be involved within the programme – it will retain its six pillar approach but the foundation for the improvement plans will be based on a supported self-assessment rather than the deep-dives the other forces have seen.

The self-assessment process will run between October and March 2023. Police Oracle understands that forces will be asked to build a small internal team to support the self-assessment and to complete a self-assessment tool based on key questions raised within each of the pillars.

A self-assessment team will visit each force help them plan for how they implement their improvement plans. Forces will have the opportunity to work with academics as well as access products and learnings from other forces so far via Soteria’s National Learning Network.

Forces will also be encouraged to nominate a peer reviewer for another force’s self-assessment – to help with sharing information and knowledge transfer.

Findings so far have included the importance of refocusing on suspects in rape investigations, as well as the fact that forces could improve identification of repeat offenders through better knowledge sharing.

There has also been a gap in learning and development that has been uncovered – the College of Policing are now helping to develop an interim learning product – the RASSO Skills and Development Course which is being piloted in the Met, West Midlands and South Wales.

Chief Constable Sarah Crew, NPCC Lead for Rape and Adult Sexual Offences said: ““Opening our doors to external scrutiny isn’t always a comfortable process, it takes courage and a real commitment to change from all those taking part. Everyone who joins policing wants to do the best thing for victims, so it's difficult to hear what you're doing may not be the most productive. We work closely with leadership teams to help ensure officers / staff feel supported and empowered.

“I’m proud that we have been brave enough to take these steps with our academic colleagues. I strongly believe that, together, we have created a new framework that could be one of the solutions to one of the most challenging issues in our criminal justice system. I hope we are on the verge of something transformational that will improve the lives of many of our friends, neighbours and family who have suffered from these offences”. 

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