Recognising and responding to vulnerability-related risks

Research Institution / Organisation

College of Policing

Principal Researcher

Anika Ludwig and Emily Dryer-Beers

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

July 2018

Research Context

The College of Policing has recently adopted a new approach to developing practice guidelines that ensures they are grounded in evidence, are clear to understand and easy to apply in practice. This new approach ensures that guidelines are:

  • based on the best available evidence
  • developed by independent and unbiased committees of experts
  • subject to stakeholder consultation allowing those affected by the guidelines to comment
  • quality-assured to ensure the process has been followed and guidelines are supported by evidence

The guidelines are developed and agreed by an independently-chaired committee, which is made up of frontline practitioners, subject matter experts and academics with support from the College. The committee uses the best available evidence (empirical research and practitioner experience) which has been systematically collected and synthesised to agree what to recommend. The guidelines set out a series of recommendations for practice and research and are subject to consultation before being agreed and released by the College.

This guideline will focus on vulnerability and risk, specifically the following three areas:

  1. Recognition: How to spot the signs of vulnerability
  2. Responding: How to create a safe, trusting environment to encourage the disclosure of risk/ harm and elicit the information required to inform appropriate actions to keep people safe
  3. Support: How forces can support frontline staff to recognise and respond to vulnerability within the scope of their duties as a police officer/ police staff.

This work will also explore the role of the police service and other agencies in responding to vulnerability-related risk and is primarily aimed at:

  • policing first responders who are required to identify and protect vulnerable people in encounters in the line of duty
  • specialists conducting secondary risk assessments, and
  • individuals who are responsible for supporting frontline staff and/or developing organisational policy and strategy related to vulnerability-related risk.

Research Methodology

Risk assessment tools: a review of the evidence base supporting frontline, vulnerability focussed, risk assessment tools currently used in policing.

Vulnerability review refresh: an update to the findings from a recent evidence review with evidence from 2015 to present.

A rapid evidence assessment (REA) to answer the question: How can police officers create safe and trusting encounters that encourage vulnerable individuals to engage and disclose abuse/ harm?

The evidence review will focus on identifying robust qualitative literature that explores the experiences and accounts of vulnerable individuals. The aim is to identify behaviours, attitudes and beliefs that would help to facilitate this positive engagement with vulnerable individuals (including verbal and non-verbal cues).
Practice evidence is being gathered using semi-structured interviews with the police service and partner organisations (including health, social work, probation etc.) in order to establish techniques and methods used to encourage individuals to disclose abuse or harm, even when they may be reluctant to do so This work will also begin to explore the menu of options available to officers and staff to identify the types of action that practitioners take to keep people safe. 

In order to begin to identify how forces can support their frontline staff (including call centre staff) to successfully recognise and respond to vulnerability, a Call for Practice was developed which asked forces to submit what training and development officers and staff receive and what supervisory models or other management techniques/ structures they use.

This work will be followed up using a series of small scale case studies in forces, based on ratings provided by HMICFRS Peel Inspections to identify factors and/ or CPD that enhance recognition and responses to vulnerability.

Date due for completion

November 2021
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