Your Questions Answered: Trust in policing – Q&A with CC Gavin Stephens
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Our Chief Constable Gavin Stephens took questions from the public live on Facebook and Instagram on the evening of Friday, 1 October. There were a huge number of questions asked, so for ease we have identified some common themes and concerns which we have pulled together into this Q&A document.
Common questions and themes
Theme: Feeling safe
What can a civilian do to verify the identity and legitimacy if they are approached by a person in plain clothes showing them a police warrant card?
If anyone doesn’t trust an officer for any reason, can you assure us that we will not be arrested or handcuffed while making inquiries about credentials and will be peacefully allowed to challenge anyone’s ‘authority’ if we don’t feel safe?
If I am driving and flashing lights come on behind me to pull over, is it okay to keep going to somewhere with other people? How do I signal that to them?
Why is flashing not seen as a more serious offence, when it is known perpetrators of flashing are more likely to go on to more high risk sexual crimes?
Why is the onus always on the female?
"One of the key topics that I've seen covered in the media is 'How can women who are on their own, who are stopped by police, be reassured that we're going to keep them safe'. The first thing is that the onus is not on women to find that safety. The onus is on those in policing to give you that reassurance. We've given guidance to our officers here in Surrey about what we expect them to do, but I know that they would be doing that anyway. This has shocked us in policing. It's rocked us to our core and we will be wanting to do everything we possibly can to reassure you that we're there to keep you safe.
"It's very rare for a lone male officer, not in uniform, to be making stops on their own with lone females. It can happen. It does happen. But what you can expect in those circumstances is very quickly for other colleagues to come and assist. I know that male colleagues will be reaching out if they find themselves in that scenario to get their colleagues to come and join them. You shouldn't have to do anything extra to ensure your own safety. That is on us and we will take those steps. Of course if you find yourself in a situation where that doesn't happen, you can seek help or can request that the officer who's dealing with you to ask somebody else to attend, or to make contact with the control room, but we will take the initiative to do that and to give you that reassurance and keep you safe.
"In most circumstances where we stop somebody, we will choose to stop them in an area that helps them be safe, but also helps officers be safe as well. Of course, we don't know what we're about to encounter when we stop a vehicle so we will want to do that in conditions that are safe for everybody. You don't have to get into our police vehicle when we do routine procedures - you can stand outside if you feel more comfortable. Typically, if you are offered to get into a police vehicle, in my experience, it might be because it's pouring down and we want to give you shelter, or you might be in a dangerous position on a fast road for example and officers are trying to give you protection, but if you want to stand somewhere else in a safe space that's absolutely fine too.
"In relation to handcuffing, we only handcuff for our safety and your safety - circumstances where we think somebody's in possession of a knife or a bladed article or drugs for a drug search. Again, in those sort of scenarios officers will be very quickly seeking assistance from their colleagues and are unlikely to do any of that on their own. It's not part of our practice if we've made an arrest and taken somebody into custody to transport that person on our own. We don't do that, not least for police officers' safety as well, so if you do find yourself arrested for an offence by a male officer on their own, they will be seeking assistance with transport into custody.
"In light of what's gone on, I understand that people may be feeling nervous. It's something that we're all going to have to work through together because policing relies entirely on the trust and confidence of our communities. Without that trust and confidence, policing is so much more difficult to do, which is why we've got to accept the damage that's been done by Wayne Couzens and it's our responsibility in policing to regain that confidence.
"In relation to questions around the seriousness of offences such as indecent exposures - we know that they can be a precursor to sexual violence, and we do take them very seriously. Earlier in the year when we did a survey across Surrey which received well over 5000 responses from predominantly women and girls in our communities about where they feel safe. A theme that emerged was that often some of these scary and dangerous acts were not reported to us.
"I would encourage them to be reported because whenever a report like that comes in, we will want to look at the whole circumstances around it. We may have information and intelligence already in our system and you may have the missing piece of the jigsaw. We will look to put themes together where we can and we absolutely want to identify those offenders and intervene in their offending behaviour as you quite rightly identify, these can be pre-curate to much more serious offences.
"Sometimes such offences take place in particular locations that are felt to be dangerous in themselves and we will want to work with our local authority partners to make those areas feel safer too. So, there is a lot that we can do and if this has happened to you and you haven't reported it then please consider doing so. You can do that anonymously through Crimestoppers if you prefer.
"There's also now an online tool that anyone can use to report areas where you don't feel safe. You can find it by searching StreetSafe/Surrey Police. It's an online tool where you mark on a map areas in Surrey where you don't feel safe or you've got concerns about safety.”
Theme: Police culture
What is Surrey Police doing to root out misogyny, prejudicial, sexist and discriminatory behaviour in any way, shape or form within its ranks?
This was not just one officer; it was partly the result of the culture he worked in emboldening him. What are you doing to address the broader issues within the system that can ultimately encourage this type of horrific behaviour?
Is there a fear within the force of police officers coming forward and raising concerns on other officers’ behaviours? What is the process of investigating internally within the force?
What is being done to strengthen your HR processes such as improved screening at recruitment stage, tougher code of conduct rules and disciplinary process, ongoing education of current staff?
Will you always offer an unprejudiced investigation into any allegations of this matter against a member of your force, regardless of the complainant's relationship with the force or the perpetrator's standing within your own ranks?
Is there a procedure where an officer can anonymously report if a fellow officer hears another officer making derogatory comments about women?
We've had several questions around police culture and asking what we're going to do to root out misogyny. To preface that, Chief Constable Gavin Stephens offered his thoughts about the organisation that he wants to create here in Surrey.
"I've worked at every rank here in Surrey, starting as a Police Constable over in Caterham. One of the things that's being covered in the media over the last few days is around policing culture: Has it changed? And what's acceptable in policing culture now compared to in the past? It's changed enormously in my time in service, but there's still much change to do. I'm a big believer in what an organisation feels like to work for, what the culture of the organisation is, what's accepted and not accepted - it all has a direct bearing on the quality of service that we give to our communities. If we get the organisation right in what's tolerated and what's not tolerated in the very high levels of professionalism and expectations, then that translates into the service that we give.
"One of my great passions is doing my best to lead this organisation, but I'm not blind to the fact that in policing we still see misogynistic and sexist behaviour. In Surrey last year we ran a campaign called 'Not In My Force'. It was a campaign that was led by male colleagues taking responsibility to set the standard within the organisation.
"You might hear people sometimes call it 'banter' or 'canteen culture'. It's not that. It's completely unacceptable behaviour. It's not acceptable in Surrey Police for anybody to be derogatory towards women, to be sexist in their behaviour, to exchange messages with their friends or whatever it might happen to be, because that is not who we are in policing. I accept that's what we sometimes see in policing, but we are absolutely determined to root it out.
"So how do we do that? Well, every police force has a Professional Standards Department and within that we have an even more specialist unit that deals with anti-corruption. They have the ability to take intelligence from you, our community members, but also from colleagues and partner organisations that we work with. If they see standards of behaviour and things happening that they're not comfortable with that we can proactively investigate then I have sadly, and will continue to do so, dismissed colleagues from policing who've engaged in that sort of behaviour. Information from you and inside the organisation will no doubt mean that we'll continue to tackle that.
"I mentioned that I've been policing for quite a long time and that things have changed. One of the things that has changed is that colleagues are much more willing now to speak out and challenge this behaviour. There's a particular thing in here I think, for me as a man and for my male colleagues, because it's our responsibility to challenge the issues because it's unacceptable to us as men. It's not the organisation that we want to be part of and we take it very seriously. It undermines your confidence in us and it's something that we work very hard at. Following that campaign internally, we've been using that to look for best practice.
"I hope that in the vast majority of encounters that you have with us, and I know that this is true from the letters of thanks that we get, that in the majority of calls for our help that we get every day, people are getting a brilliant service with really high standards of professionalism that we aspire to. The standards of professionalism expected in policing are way beyond what are expected in normal society and in many organisations, and rightly so because we have coercive powers that come to us as part of our duties and we must use those wisely and responsibly.
"One of the first things that I talk to our new recruits about when they join us is that one of the transitions that they've got to make from civilian life, from being a member of the public to becoming a police officer or a police staff member or a volunteer, is that whether on or off duty, you are bound by a professional standard. When there's a breach of that standard through a complaint or an internal report that's been made, an investigation will take place. Of course low-level, genuine mistakes can be dealt with by something that we call 'practice requiring improvement'. We can learn from a genuine mistake, but where it's something that's malicious or breaches that standard in such a way that requires disciplinary action then that will be dealt with through a formal process. When it's gross misconduct, unless there are exceptional reasons, those issues are dealt with in public by an independent, legally qualified chair so that process is transparent.
"Our College of Policing has a barred list, so for colleagues that are dismissed from policing, they will go on the barred list and that is available for people to view. I make the point that these cases are rare and the vast majority of the work that we do is done to an exceptionally high standard, but it's important for me to explain that where colleagues do breach those standards then there are very serious consequences.
"I'm not naive to the fact that there may be things that still go unreported - concerns from both members our communities and from colleagues internally for whatever reason - but what we try and do is give as many avenues and opportunities for people to be able to raise things. There's a duty within our code of ethics to speak up, but equally we have anonymous reporting systems that colleagues can use. We have systems of support inside the organisation that people can reach out to in confidence, for example through different staff networks. Externally, if you've got concerns you can report things anonymously, but also our oversight body is completely independent from policing if you didn't feel confident to report directly to us.
"Another question that's been topical in some of the media coverage is in relation to the level of vetting involved. I can't speak about the individual circumstances of this case other than I'm sure there will be more to learn. I've worked as our head of Professional Standards in the past and one of the key responsibilities in that department is of our vetting functions. When you come into policing you do go through a process of vetting and if you go into specialist roles that process of vetting becomes even more stringent. Those checks are extensive, but of course there are cases in our past in Surrey Police and in other force areas where things have been missed in vetting so we will be looking carefully at what more we need to do.
"There is one thing that's absolutely guaranteed for someone to fail their vetting on and that's on matters of honesty and integrity. If somebody doesn't disclose to us honestly in any of their screening what we then subsequently uncover, then they won't get into the police service. Of course the other opportunity that we take early on in training is to be setting the standards that we expect. It's sometimes in those early weeks and months of policing, not just because we find people are not meeting the standards, but they find actually that the standards are sometimes too high for them, that policing is actually more of a challenge than they expected it to be.
"This case has made what is already really difficult work even more difficult and I think that that's one of the aspects that's made me feel so much turmoil. My colleagues have a difficult enough job as it is without what this has done to undermine your confidence in us further. So vetting is something that we will definitely look at, but I guess my final word on that is, that for us to do that effectively we do need information from our communities. If you know of somebody that was joining our ranks and you thought 'I've got an uneasy feeling about that' then that's the sort of thing that we would want to know. Those early warning signals, just in the same way that I've been saying about our expectations of colleagues inside the organisation. If they've got concerns about colleagues, then it's our responsibility to report those in. And not just in the case that we've been talking about but whether we see misogyny or colleagues that may be in policing but perpetrating domestic abuse. That's something the Centre for Women's Justice drew attention to last year and that Surrey Police proactively responded to with a very clear plan around it. All of those things go towards making this a service with the highest degree of professionalism. We need to support each other through that and I ask for your support in reporting in your concerns."
Why does an off-duty police officer have their badge and handcuffs? Surely the entire uniform should be picked up at the start of their shifts.
Do officers undergo psych evaluations?
Will the police recruitment process be reviewed to ensure that any previous offences or re-ported offences have an impact on a potential candidate or practicing police officer?
How many police officers have abused their powers, and have been sacked, at Surrey police, or any police force?
Do Surrey Police publish online, details of officers convicted of a crime?
What are existing demographics of Officers and are we recruiting more female officers and how do we promote careers in Policing to women?
Does the force encourage Officers to have a zero-tolerance policy with regards to impropriety they see in their shared online/whatsapp groups?
"When sworn in as officers in policing, we will carry a warrant card. The warrant card is issued with a wallet, normally a small leather wallet that has a police crest in it as well. The typical thing that you'll see is a warrant card with the officer's photograph on it, their name, and a badge to go with that. If you're an office worker, I carry mine on a lanyard around my neck. We do have that with us all the time because, of course, our policing responsibility extends on and off duty. There are many occasions where officers place themselves on duty to protect the public.
"What we will not routinely do when we're off duty is carry kit or equipment with us. For the vast majority of operational officers, they have lockers at work where they leave their kit and equipment. There may be circumstances such as if we were involved in a joint operation with another force and we were going to a briefing in another area that we would take our equipment with us, but it's not routine for officers to have their kit and equipment when off duty.
"In addition, if somebody is suspended from work, then they won't have access to their kit. They may still have access to a card that allows them to meet colleagues for welfare purposes for example - if they're still employed by us we have a responsibility for their welfare so we might still need to make arrangements for them to be able to meet with their supervisor and so on, but they will not have access to their kit when they're suspended."
Theme: General safety and policing
Can the Police please help influence for the overnight street lights being reinstated across Surrey, to help everyone to feel a lot safer at night?
Will Surrey be looking to stop plain clothes officers from working alone?
When are we going to see more police actually patrolling the streets?
When attacks on women occur on the streets, is there any review of the location and circumstances, by police and local council safety teams? Might the results of these provide reassurance to local women in the aftermath?
This is all about women and girls - what about men? Don't they deserve a service?
"Surrey Police recently carried out a Women's Safety Survey which was inspired by Cumbria Police's Call It Out campaign to try and establish how safe women and girls feel in the county. We had over 5000 responses to this and a common theme was that women weren't reporting these incidents where they didn't feel safe.
"The survey provided really useful information to us, but the onus isn't all on women to report. We can all take responsibility. The other responsibility that falls on us as men in particular are to challenge the things that we see on our streets, in our public spaces, in our bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants, on our public transport and in our workplaces that are not acceptable and call them out. We want to be good men and we recognise and accept that women have had enough and that horrific cases like this need to be a watershed and a turning point in our society that helps us become a safer and better society.
"In relation to street lights, that has been a key topic of debate since we did that survey back in May and well beyond that. We do work closely with colleagues in Surrey County Council and you can use the Street Safe tool to report concerns about street lighting. As well as asking you where you might not feel safe, it asks for reasons why. Street lighting does come out as a theme from that and that's what we use for those discussions with local authorities. On a practical point, one of the key things in this is having something that's environmentally friendly and cheap to run.
"We'd encourage everyone to report incidents to us and if you'd like to remain anonymous, you can do so through Crimestoppers. We also totally respect that feeling unsafe isn't exclusive to women and girls and that men and boys in Surrey have also experienced feeling unsafe and we will take all reports seriously. The survey, along with reports we receive helps us build our intelligence and better informs us when it comes to putting together our patrols and making plans with local authorities around street lighting and other safety measures."
Questioning in relation to why it feels our service is focusing so strongly on women and girls, our Chief replied: "We're here for everybody. We want our streets to be safe for all, but I think the point here is that it's really important for us not to just portray this case as a horrific and isolated case but to recognise that the circumstances of this case; the fear about being a victim at the hands of a male perpetrator, the fear about being at risk of, or on the receiving end of an indecent attack is a real and everyday one for countless women across the county and that's what we need to focus on. The sort of epidemic that's been described - violence against women and girls - that’s got to be our focus and that's why we're spending so much time on it. Of course, we're trying to make the county safe for everybody, but we know from the survey back in May that many thousands of these things are not reported by women and girls. They're everyday occurrences for them and we in policing need to tackle that and take responsibility for that. But our society also take it seriously and take action.
"Lots of things have changed during the three decades that I've been in policing and one of the things that has definitely changed is the number of female colleagues in the organisation. We're also changing the representation from black and Asian communities as well. I recognise sometimes there are vulnerabilities and added pressures if you come from a black and Asian community as well and what that means for your relationship in policing, so the representation of policing for communities to be able to see themselves in us and know that we are a service for you because we are from your community and understand your community is so important. We have got so much better at that over the years. There is along long way to go still although in terms of gender it's a much-changed position from when I first joined in policing. There are still other areas of representation where we've got a lot of ground to make up still.
"It's so important in terms of communities being able to see themselves in us and know that we understand you to be able to approach these problems with that perspective in mind. A great example of that is the question we had earlier about 'Why is the onus always on women?' - To have a whole variety and range of views on problems helps us not be tone deaf to some of these issues. It does change the internal culture of the organisation when it's more diverse. It helps us to improve our standards and give a better service whether it's through gender representation or through properly representing all aspects of our communities through race and ethnicity. It makes a better organisation.
When asked about crewing arrangements moving forward, Chief Constable Stephens responded: "Teams and supervisors will be looking at their crewing arrangements. We won't move to a blanket policy of double crewing because that diminishes the amount of service that we can give. I talked about the hundreds of calls for help that we get every day and we need to get to all of those in good time and in good order. Double crewing as a blanket policy does reduce our ability to do that, but there will be circumstances where we will want to.
"I recognise that this is a really difficult time for colleagues in policing. There are implications on us and how we change our practices to reassure communities that we're keeping them safe. Picking up on the theme of how officers feel, one of the things just to recognise and remember even when things feel so dark and so bleak is the brilliant work that colleagues do to bring serious perpetrators to justice. Just in the last few weeks for the first time since the pandemic we were able to get together again and celebrate and take pride in some of the brilliant and successful investigations we've done. That's what we should take our aspiration and inspiration from - remembering the brilliant work that we have done and continue to do across this county."
Theme: Specific questions about Wayne Couzens
There are multiple comments and questions about the case itself, particularly about Couzens' history and how the Met handled previous complaints, the culture around him.
We take an oath and promise to keep you safe from harm. In my 28-year career as a serving police officer, never have I been so repulsed by what one officer has done to another human being, a woman, a daughter, a sister. Our thoughts are with Sarah Everard’s family and friends at this difficult time. However, Surrey Police is not privy to the background detail and the ownership is with another Force, so it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the case.