We met Superintendent Andy Bennett to find out what Avon and Somerset Police are doing to address different forms of gender-based violence and what they want to do to develop and improve this work as part of Bristol Zero Tolerance.
As Head of Criminal Justice for Avon and Somerset Police and also the Force Lead for domestic abuse, stalking and harassment, Superintendent Bennett is ideally placed to take the Bristol Zero Tolerance work forward, but he is also aware of how different forms of gender-based violence are encountered across the force and how important it is to have an organisational approach that includes all staff.
The work that Avon and Somerset Police have done to date is commendable, Detective Chief Inspector Leanne Pook’s work with communities on female genital mutilation (FGM) has been recognised nationally; the This is Not an Excuse website provides comprehensive information about domestic and sexual violence; and the recent campaign on child sexual exploitation has brought this important issue to a wide audience.
However, there is always room for improvement and more to be done to ensure that gender-based violence is addressed appropriately and that everyone is working towards the goal of a Zero Tolerance City. As Superintendent Bennett says “the first thing about Zero Tolerance is that we have to create an environment where people, victims, friends of victims and families of victims, feel the same way that we do, and actually they need to report it. The first step is that we cannot investigate things that we know nothing about and many of these crimes happen behind closed doors, so the first thing is that we have to create an environment where people have the greatest levels of confidence in us as an organisation so that then we can use that confidence and give them satisfaction that when they have called we will investigate, we will take positive action, and we will bring peace and safety back to their lives… We have had great increases in reporting particularly in domestic abuse but that doesn’t mean that every domestic abuse victim feels ready to talk to the police. So Zero Tolerance means that people report it and then we do what they can’t do, we stand up for them and we do what’s necessary to bring their plight to an end.”
This means also having a targeted approach with a focus on the most vulnerable, as he says of creating a Zero Tolerance Bristol “most simply it’s that we don’t belittle the impact of violence against vulnerable people, we don’t tolerate any violence but particularly against vulnerable people… We need to put our mark down and say that violence… has such a significant impact, not just on the day but across people’s whole lives, that we should never be blasé and should make as much effort as we can to put a stop to it.”
Ensuring that there is a force-wide understanding and that all officers are able to support vulnerable people when they need it was a key motivation for Avon and Somerset Police to be one of the first organisations to sign up to Bristol Zero Tolerance – “it was getting my officers to recognise that every time they make first contact and first response to victims of violent crimes that they have it within their power to make a difference there and then, to take positive action, to say ‘no this is not acceptable behaviour’… So the reason that I wanted to sign up was to go back and say to officers – I’m saying that we shouldn’t tolerate this, you shouldn’t tolerate this, and actually you’ve got to do something about it and you have to do what other people can’t do. So that’s why I signed up on that day because I believe that we hold a very important role in sending that message out to the perpetrators that enough is enough and it’s not acceptable and we won’t put up with it.”
Superintendent Bennett is also keen to work in partnership with organisations who are experts in gender-based violence and welcomes feedback on their existing action plans, such as on domestic abuse, and their priorities and messaging to ensure that these are meeting the needs of survivors. “I think it is really important for us to find groups, organisations, programmes of work, such as Bristol Zero Tolerance, who can give us access and information and guide us in areas where actually we don’t have all the answers. So by signing up to Zero Tolerance Avon and Somerset Police is actually opening its doors and opening its eyes to what you know about what is going on in terms of the victim’s story and their journey and learn things that we wouldn’t know without you. Because actually we don’t get a lot of victim feedback, we look at the process and say that it is fine but actually is that from our perspective or the victim’s perspective? We are joining you because I think that you can add significantly to our knowledge and understanding and you can challenge us to be better than we were in the past.”
This will also feed into their Bristol Zero Tolerance action plan which is an opportunity to look at work happening across the force and to challenge this “the action plan is really a mechanism where we show what we are doing, you have a good look at it and are able to challenge, signpost, and from that the plan gets better and actually the action gets done. So that there is some external scrutiny for what we are doing.”
We look forward to taking on this role and to working with Avon and Somerset Police to ensure that the voices of survivors feed in to their processes so that these are working best for the most vulnerable and those who need them.