Key areas of work
Our thematic work
We are a totally independent body, and we encounter a variety of cases covering a wide range of issues. We monitor all aspects of our work closely to help us to spot patterns or trends that may need further investigation.
Areas of concern may also emerge from conversations we have with our stakeholders. We work closely with various communities to ensure we take a balanced and well-informed approach to our work.
When an area of concern is identified, we commit additional resource and expertise to look deeper into the issue. This focused approach helps us to improve policing, and our own work – by identifying learning that drives real change. We call this our ‘thematic’ work.
Our current areas of focus are Violence Against Women and Girls and Race Discrimination.
What is thematic work?
Our other key areas of work:
All CSA investigations are carried out sensitively. We always aim to put the needs of survivors first and have specially trained staff to help survivors through the difficult process of providing us with statements.
CSA investigations can often take longer to conclude than other investigations. This is due to the sensitivities involved, and because they often involve abuse that has taken place many years earlier. Often, there are criminal investigations into sexual abuse running parallel to ours. You can read more about our approach in issue 39 of Learning The Lessons.
In June 2022 we published our findings from Operation Linden our largest investigation of this type. Operation Linden looked into complaints and conduct matters relating to South Yorkshire Police’s handling of reports into non-recent child sexual abuse and exploitation in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, between 1997 and 2013.
The police must refer allegations of serious corruption to us. The largest area of police corruption we deal with is called the abuse of power for sexual purpose (APSP).
There is a requirement in law that police forces must refer to us allegations that someone has abused their position for a sexual purpose, or to pursue an inappropriate emotional relationship.
When police officers or staff abuse their position for a sexual purpose or to pursue an inappropriate emotional relationship, this is serious corruption. It has no place in policing.
A number of recent investigations have resulted in officers being dismissed, or convicted of a criminal offence. Our recommendations to police forces are also helping to address underlying problems in the area of APSP. Learning The Lessons - issue 40 takes an in-depth look at this area of concern.
The custody environment presents a range of challenges for the police service - especially when they need to detain vulnerable people. It is vital that thorough risk assessments are carried out when individuals are taken into custody, to ensure they are treated appropriately and receive any support they need.
To make sure lessons are learnt, we regularly monitor this area, and make recommendations where we find that forces should do things differently.
Case studies found in our Learning the Lessons magazine highlight the problems that can arise in custody, and how police staff and policy makers can learn from what went wrong.
When someone dies following contact with the police, the force involved must refer the matter to us – in order for us to assess whether we should investigate what has happened.
Every death is a tragedy – with a significant impact on the families and friends of loved ones lost – and public trust and confidence in policing. Our role is to seek answers about what happened and share any learning that arises from our investigation, to help improve policing.
This leaflet is provided to families and friends of someone who has died following police contact. It explains why we must investigate the information we consider, and how we stay in touch with families.
Each year, we publish a report into deaths during or following police contact. It presents data about the nature and circumstances of these deaths. The data we gather helps to improve practice and make improvements to policing where it is needed.
As part of our role to set the standards that police should follow, we provide regular technical guidance on how allegations of discrimination should be investigated, even if the discrimination isn’t obvious.
The definition of discrimination is "the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of ethnicity, age, sex, or disability."
It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of:
- gender reassignment
- being married or in a civil partnership
- being pregnant or on maternity leave
- race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
- religion or belief
This area of policing needs constant vigilance; domestic abuse has a number of characteristics and dynamics. Victims must have confidence that, in coming forward, their allegations will be believed and given a high priority.
Ultimately it is the perpetrator who is solely responsible for any abuse suffered by domestic abuse victims however we have found on a number of occasions police forces could have performed better when victims ask for help. We regularly make recommendations following our domestic abuse investigations to help improve practice, update policy and make changes to training.
In April 2019, we launched our Make Yourself Heard campaign to raise awareness of the Silent Solution system which helps people with a genuine need, alert police they are in danger when they are unable to speak and debunk the myth that a silent call by itself will automatically bring help. This followed our investigation into prior police contact with Kerry Power, who was murdered by her ex-partner.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, police forces and domestic abuse charities have reported an increase in the number of domestic abuse related calls and in April 2020, the Home Office launched the #youarenotalone campaign. We refreshed our campaign materials and worked with the NPCC, Women’s Aid and Welsh Women’s Aid to again raise awareness of this vital tool.
Learning the Lessons issue 32 looked at domestic abuse and protecting vulnerable people.
The police play a vital role in protecting vulnerable people, ensuring that those who are experiencing mental health issues and come into contact with the police receive the appropriate care.
Some of our investigations have found issues with call handling and risk assessments relating to mental health issues. Failures in these areas can leave people unsafe and the consequences can be catastrophic. As part of our role we examine how police procedures can be adapted to improve risk assessments, and the protection of those who are experiencing mental health issues. Learning the Lessons issue 41 looks at some of these issues in detail.
In 2018, we commissioned a report to explore whether people with mental health concerns have confidence in the police complaints system - and their likelihood of, and ability, to engage with it.
In September 2017, we published a report that included national recommendations for the police when responding to people with mental health concerns. Six Missed Chances tells the story of James Herbert, who died aged 25 on 10 June 2010 while in the custody of Avon and Somerset Police.
Where death or serious injury is caused by a police-related road traffic incident (RTI) - such as a police pursuit, or a police vehicle responding to an emergency call - the police force must (by law) refer the case to us.
The majority of police-related road traffic incidents are investigated by the police, rather than independently by us, however, we do investigate the most serious cases.
Our investigations play a critical role in establishing what happened, in order to identify any learning that can help the police service to develop and improve. Previously, we recommended that forces fit their cars with equipment to record relevant data that helps us, and the public, understand exactly what happened.
Each year, we publish statistics on the number of fatalities arising from RTIs . In 2021/22, there were 32 fatal RTIs, resulting in 39 fatalities. Learning The Lessons - issue 38 takes a detailed look into the issue of roads policing.
The current Home Office code of practice aims to improve public confidence and make sure that police pursuits are carried out in a proportionate way to prevent crime.
In May 2019 the Government published its response to a public consultation on the Law, Guidance and Training Governing Police Pursuits. We provided a detailed response to the consultation.
In England and Wales, we often refer to a ‘policing by consent’ model. This means that in order for policing to be effective – it must be conducted with the consent of all of the communities it serves.
The public has the right to expect police officers to be accountable when they use force, particularly if it leads to a death or serious injury. We investigate events surrounding police use of force and - if someone dies - forces must make a referral to us (by law).
In 2021, the IOPC reviewed 101 investigations it had conducted between 2015 and 2020 involving the use of Taser. The review made a number of recommendations concerning national guidance and training; scrutiny and monitoring of Taser use; and data and research to help address public concerns.
As part of our work on Race Discrimination - in April 2022, we issued 18 national learning recommendations to improve the use of stop and search. This work aimed to improve the use of stop and search as a policing tactic. A significant focus of this work was the stopping of routine handcuffing, and/or use of force where it is not necessary.
The police service plays a vital role in protecting vulnerable people and ensuring that those at risk of abuse and those who have been abused, receive the appropriate care, protection and support.
Many of our investigations have found recurring issues with call handling and risk assessments. Failures in these areas can leave people unsafe and the consequences can be catastrophic.
We examine how police procedures can be adapted to improve risk assessments, and the protection of:
- young people
- missing persons
- those with health issues
- people with alcohol and drug addiction
- people reporting domestic violence
Find out more about how the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime applies to all criminal justice agencies, including the police.
Learning The Lessons issue 36 explores the challenges of missing people.