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Police practice in cases of sudden and unexpected child death in England and Wales: an investigative deficit?

Police practice in cases of sudden and unexpected child death in England and Wales: an... The system in England and Wales involves a joint agency response to the sudden and unexpected death of a child (SUDC) and, for various reasons, the police contribution to that investigation is sometimes inadequate. The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the dilemmas which explain this inadequacy.Design/methodology/approachThe arguments presented in the paper are made on the basis of empirically derived findings, drawing from original research based upon qualitative interviews with nine senior detectives working in the areas of child abuse or major crime, as well as focus groups of senior detectives, and a limited contribution from pathologists.FindingsThis paper explores whether there is an investigative deficit in respect of potential child homicide when compared to an adult domestic homicide, and it concludes that in some areas the most vulnerable people in society may be at risk because of issues such as inadequate training, inflexible force policies and under-resourced police investigation of child death.Practical implicationsIt is possible to kill a child and leave few, if any, physical clues on the body. To determine if homicide is the cause of death, the overall police investigation therefore has to be of high quality to identify any clues that have been left by the perpetrator at the scene or in other ways. It is usual for Child Abuse Investigation Unit detectives to investigate SUDC but they are often trying to do so with little training and few resources. Cuts to police service budgets since 2010 have affected all elements of policing, including Major Crime Teams. As a result, these teams are more discerning about which cases they take on and there is evidence they are not taking on child death investigations even if there are suspicions of homicide. The findings reveal important implications for police investigative training and a clear and significant deficit in the investigative resources available to the lead investigator on a SUDC investigation which may or may not be a homicide, compared with the resources available to the senior investigating officer on a straightforward domestic homicide when the victim is an adult. If homicide is missed, then siblings or future siblings with that family may be left at risk of harm. The College of Policing suggested standards for SUDC investigation are sometimes not being adhered to in respect of training and resources.Originality/valueThe paper is informed by original qualitative research conducted in 2019. The findings are of value to police policy makers, the College of Policing, and police senior leadership teams. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice Emerald Publishing

Police practice in cases of sudden and unexpected child death in England and Wales: an investigative deficit?

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Publisher
Emerald Publishing
Copyright
© Emerald Publishing Limited
ISSN
2056-3841
DOI
10.1108/jcrpp-03-2019-0018
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

The system in England and Wales involves a joint agency response to the sudden and unexpected death of a child (SUDC) and, for various reasons, the police contribution to that investigation is sometimes inadequate. The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the dilemmas which explain this inadequacy.Design/methodology/approachThe arguments presented in the paper are made on the basis of empirically derived findings, drawing from original research based upon qualitative interviews with nine senior detectives working in the areas of child abuse or major crime, as well as focus groups of senior detectives, and a limited contribution from pathologists.FindingsThis paper explores whether there is an investigative deficit in respect of potential child homicide when compared to an adult domestic homicide, and it concludes that in some areas the most vulnerable people in society may be at risk because of issues such as inadequate training, inflexible force policies and under-resourced police investigation of child death.Practical implicationsIt is possible to kill a child and leave few, if any, physical clues on the body. To determine if homicide is the cause of death, the overall police investigation therefore has to be of high quality to identify any clues that have been left by the perpetrator at the scene or in other ways. It is usual for Child Abuse Investigation Unit detectives to investigate SUDC but they are often trying to do so with little training and few resources. Cuts to police service budgets since 2010 have affected all elements of policing, including Major Crime Teams. As a result, these teams are more discerning about which cases they take on and there is evidence they are not taking on child death investigations even if there are suspicions of homicide. The findings reveal important implications for police investigative training and a clear and significant deficit in the investigative resources available to the lead investigator on a SUDC investigation which may or may not be a homicide, compared with the resources available to the senior investigating officer on a straightforward domestic homicide when the victim is an adult. If homicide is missed, then siblings or future siblings with that family may be left at risk of harm. The College of Policing suggested standards for SUDC investigation are sometimes not being adhered to in respect of training and resources.Originality/valueThe paper is informed by original qualitative research conducted in 2019. The findings are of value to police policy makers, the College of Policing, and police senior leadership teams.

Journal

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and PracticeEmerald Publishing

Published: Sep 19, 2019

Keywords: Justice; Policing; Evidence-based practice; Investigation; Homicide; Training/professionalization; Child death

References