Moving Towards Trauma-Informed Policing: An Exploration of Police Officer’s Attitudes and Perceptions Towards Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Karri Gillespie-Smith, Zara Philip Brodie, Kimberly Collins, Kirsty Deacon, Karen Goodall

Research output: Book/ReportOther report

Abstract / Description of output

In 2018 Ayrshire Division of Police Scotland announced their aim to become a traumainformed division. Subsequently, all officers and staff took part in a Resilience documentary screening event. This project aimed to examine whether this screening influenced police perceptions and attitudes towards becoming a trauma-informed force.

Study 1: Officers from Ayrshire (exposed to screening; n = 58) and Lothians and Borders (not exposed; n = 87) divisions completed an online survey, which revealed no significant difference in attitudes towards trauma-informed care for witnesses/victims or perpetrators.
Study 2: Four focus groups were conducted with 29 officers across each area of Ayrshire division to explore attitudes towards the Resilience screenings and wider understanding and attitudes towards becoming trauma-informed.
Discussion: The lack of difference in attitudes in Study 1 may be due to the Resilience screening being awareness-raising, failing to provide a toolkit for officers to translate these principles into practice. Study 2 showed that officers believe there is merit in becoming trauma-informed, however, there is a lack of clarity on what this might be in day-to-day practice and uncertainty regarding where the responsibility lies with regards to trauma-exposed individuals.
Importantly, officers are implementing trauma-informed practices which are not necessarily ‘labelled’ as such.

i) Screenings, such as the Resilience documentary, may be a useful starting point in raising awareness, particularly during initial training.
ii) The acceptability and usefulness of the such events would be improved by basing it on material tailored to policing specifically.
iii) In addition, multi-agency screenings with smaller audiences would expose attendees to a range of views and support active participation and networking.
iv) Most notably, practical information on how ACEs-awareness could be applied to specific policing work is required.
v) Officers would benefit from information sessions defining the trauma-informed framework and its relevance to policing work. This includes defining the limitations of ACEs-aware approaches, for example clarifying that these do not include directly addressing trauma in individuals. Officers highlighted a need for improved communication between police and partner networking agencies such as social work.
vi) Identifying current policies and practices that align with an ACEs-aware framework
would assist in highlighting what is possible at different levels (e.g. individual officers vs. overarching policies)
vii) Future information sessions need to address the perceived tension between operating in ACEs-aware ways and effective policing and to highlighting potential training that could address this tension. A specific example is de-escalation training which would enable officers to work effectively in an ACEs-aware manner.
viii) An ACEs-aware approach should acknowledge and support trauma experiences in police officers. Officers reported preferring a proactive ‘check-in system’, rather a self-referral system. This could be supported by the multiple levels within the trauma-informed organisation (i.e. peers, sergeants, inspectors as well as counsellors).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


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