An email arrived in my inbox at work this week. It was from our public protection department, officers dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in society, announcing that (for reasons that weren’t quite explained) there would from now on be no on-call Sexual Offences Officers (SOO’s for short).
SOOs are police officers with additional training on dealing with serious sexual offences, in particular rape. The police service has a patchy record on dealing with this horrible offence, but we’re getting better. As a response team, we aim to provide the most efficient and compassionate service we can to the victim, while doing our best in the “golden hour”, our best and often only opportunity to gather vital evidence which may help us achieve a conviction.
As a response supervisor, I’ll always attend incidents of rape, because it’s such a serious offence and it’s my job to direct the initial investigation. One of my first tasks, once we’ve confirmed there’s been a rape, is to contact CID who in turn call out the SOO. The SOO directs the forensic strategy, deals with the victim, and liaises with CID to direct the investigation once the response team hands it over.
Back to that email – no longer do we have the facility to call out SOO’s. Instead, it’s up to response officers, with no specialist training, to do all those tasks. A step backwards without doubt. Response officers are generalists – we are very good at dealing with the immediate such as helping victims, catching suspects, securing and gathering evidence, but not sexual offences experts.
I said I wasn’t sure of the reasons for this change, but I imagine if you follow the decision trail back to its root you’ll find that cutbacks and the budget crunch are to blame. I’m sad about this, because I want us to provide gold standard service to all victims, and particularly rape victims. But I guess the powers that be must make the cuts somewhere. I’m glad it’s not a decision I must make, and the team and I will continue to do our best.
Useful link: RAPECrisis- a registered charity who campaign continuously to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence and, in particular, they highlight the importance and need for appropriate, high-quality and specialised support.