17 August 2017

Frontline researchers: A personal experience

My experience of conducting research as a police officer and some key tips for future researchers


What is your current policing role and how did you become involved in carrying out research?

I'm currently a trainee detective in the Force Investigation Unit where I've worked for the last 18 months. I have always been interested in modern slavery. I carried out my undergraduate dissertation on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, at this time I was a special constable and it inspired me to merge the two and carry out work into modern slavery in the future. When I became a regular police officer, I completed a mandatory foundation degree in Policing as part of the initial training course. When this finished I hoped there would be an opportunity for further study. At this time I was volunteering with a charity for asylum seekers and refugees in Leicester, and was aware they were coming across potential victims of modern slavery and trafficking, however there was little support in place for the victims, and there were barriers in passing information to statutory agencies. I wanted to carry out research into this in my spare time so put together a business plan to the Force. Fortunately, this came about at the same time as the EMPAC (East Midlands Policing Academic Collaboration) Fellowship Scheme. I became the "guinea pig" and was partnered with a couple of academics at Loughborough University who guided me through my research. I'm now being supported by the force/EMPAC in disseminating my research and putting my findings into practice.

What was the scale of research?

I carried out 23 semi-structured interviews with professionals from frontline services in Leicester who I identified may have dealings with potential victims of modern slavery. I had to identify and contact these organisations to encourage them to take part in the research and then carried out interviews over the phone. I had next to no resources and had to juggle the work around my full time role in the Force Investigation Unit which was very challenging. I had been looking into ways of carrying out my research for around 8 months before the ball fully started rolling in January 2016. I completed the research in November 2016.

What were the advantages and disadvantages of carrying out research on modern slavery as a police officer?

Advantages:

  • I feel I know the practical issues surrounding modern slavery in Leicester.
  • I know how there are barriers in passing information to police because we are duty-bound to act, we also have to look at all the issues surrounding a victim, i.e. immigration status.
  • I'm also aware that the police are a limited resource, therefore understand why it can be hard to build relationships with services and their service users in our local areas.

Disadvantages:

  • I was already getting a lot of overtime with my day job and therefore struggled for time to complete research.
  • Also, I had no previous experience in this type research, especially with the data analysis. I therefore had to build in time to get my head round this issue first.
  • Many of my colleagues didn't understand why I wanted to carry out the research. I don't feel that research is something which is actively encouraged and everybody is struggling for time in the police.

Your research topic is sensitive, did you experience any difficulties in engaging participants and any ethical issues?

I had to ensure participants were aware I was a police officer, and therefore duty-bound to act if they disclosed somebody was a victim or at risk. Some participants were hesitant to provide information as they didn't want to be critical of the police. I created a participant information form, which clearly laid out that I was a police officer but that I was carrying out the work as academic research, and not a police investigation. I also had to ensure I told people over the phone of my police role. It was important to balance my role as a researcher, where confidentiality and anonymity are important, with the duty of an officer in having to act upon concerns passed. Nearly everybody I approached was willing to take part in the research, and I was not passed any specific names/details of individuals at risk therefore I did not have to take action on any information passed. A couple of the organisations did not wish to take part, however this was because they felt they had never come across a modern slavery victim and didn't have the time to participate as didn't feel the research was relevant to them.

Would you consider further academic study in the future? What benefits might this bring? (to you and the force)

I'm now formally enrolled on the EMPAC fellowship scheme and therefore will be undertaking some further research to get academic accreditation. I am hoping to build on my modern slavery research by conducting a focus group with professionals to see if the barriers faced in reporting concerns re modern slavery can be applied to CSE cases. This will take place in autumn this year.

I would be keen to carry out further academic research in the future, especially in the area of modern slavery which I'm particularly interested in. However, it would great if there was more time to do this in work hours- perhaps when the concept of frontline police doing academic work becomes more established this will become more of a reality. 

What are your top tips for conducting research while working?

I was working full time and carried out research in my spare time, therefore good time management was critical. I was very grateful for the guidance with academic supervisors as they could give me advice about how long different stages would take. We had monthly meetings with actions to complete by each meeting and I set myself a final deadline to work to. I set myself mini deadlines throughout to ensure I completed in the time I set myself. The only section which slightly overran was the participant interviews, because I had underestimated how long it would take for individuals to come back to me, and then it was challenging having to juggle their busy timetables with my own to fit in an interview.

It is important to realise how long research takes! Transcribing in particular was very time consuming and my 23 interviews was quite ambitious. An hour's transcription took around 3 hours to transcribe. I strongly recommend recording interviews as note-taking is subjective and you get so much information listening back to interviews. It's good to transcribe your own interviews as you can familiarise self with the data which helps later with analysis.

It's important to have a plan should somebody disclose information to you which needs acting on. As a researcher you should promise your participants confidentiality, however making sure that it's clear that the police role comes first. This will ensure that participants know what they are agreeing to take part in and safeguards any potential victims. Protecting them must come first over research and confidentiality. This also protects police officers themselves due to the high standards of professional conduct expected of you.

Finally, I'd recommend doing research on something you are passionate about as this will help you need to remain motivated to get it completed!


You can read Amy's final report here: The identification and reporting of modern slavery in Leicester
For further information, please email Amy.Rutland@leicestershire.pnn.police.uk

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