Blog post -
DC Zoe Di Carlo discusses the role of the Met's specialist Domestic Abuse and Sexual Offences investigation unit
DC Zoe Di Carlo works in the specialist Domestic Abuse and Sexual Offences investigation unit, a hand-picked team of expert detectives who were brought into the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) to use their skills to root our corrupt officers and staff. As such they are one of the teams that can be tasked with investigating information the public choose to share via the brand new Anti-Corruption and Abuse hotline run by Crimestoppers, and are on the frontline of delivering on the Commissioner's promise to reform the Met.
The unit’s work also recently featured in the BBC iplayer documentary, ‘The Real Line of Duty.’ If you didn’t catch it before, it is available until September 2023 on this link.
+ In the blog below, 36-year-old Zoe gives an insight into her Met journey to date, the challenges of dealing with the complex world of police misconduct regulations and what motivates her team on a daily basis as they delve deep into accusations made against their own colleagues.
I joined the Met pretty much straight after my Uni degree in 2008 - it was the practicality that appealed to me, and studying law had made me realise the side I was really interested in was crime. I had thought about the police when I was younger, probably like a lot of people, my Mum was a crime fan and I loved watching all of the Midsomer Murders, Morse, Lewis etc too - I'd always thought the job of being a detective would be amazing.
I started on response answering 999 calls, then got an attachment to a robbery squad, which was my introduction to being a detective and I just never left that world again really! Over the years I worked in dedicated domestic abuse units, rape and sexual assault units, and also managing sexual offenders before I came to DASO, and the combination of all of those gave me a really good grounding in everything to do with investigations.
When I saw the ad for the new team at DPS, I didn't have any preconceptions, you get people who say, 'Oh I’d never work for them, you're going to the dark side!' By that point I was missing doing actual investigations, the role was going to be focused on offences I'd specialised in and it was an opportunity to do something different and learn a whole new raft of skills.
When I rang up to find out more, I wanted to know if I’d have enough work to keep me occupied - naively, perhaps I was surprised when I heard they were building quite a big team and that they expected us to be busy. I find people both in and outside the Met I’ve spoken to have often had the same reaction. They think it's good we exist, but worrying that we need to, which is fair enough. I think people still do have that level of innate trust in police, so when people hear that an officer is committing sexual offences or is helping a member of public then actually going home and being really abusive to his family, it's more shocking somehow.
Seeing some of the awful stories about officers that emerged in the press, I think it tainted everyone’s view. Especially when talking to a lot of my female friends in the job, people were like ‘this is just unbelievable’, or you might hear about an officer you knew...you’d think ‘not again, this has to stop’. That was a motivation and it helps morale a bit because here, you feel like you're actually involved in trying to tackle it. At least then if people say to you, I'm losing faith in the police, you have a place in the conversation where you can say, actually, we are literally doing everything we can.
As none of our team had previous experience with misconduct regulations, which are very complicated and complex, at the start it was a very intense learning curve, but what helped was we all built that knowledge together - as we still do. I love working with my team, we truly collaborate. There's a lot to get your head round, a lot of pressure, a lot of training, but everyone has chosen to come, and then stay. You look around and people are passionate about their jobs, they bend over backwards to work late or volunteer to do extra days to get things moving. They are desperate to get rid of people who shouldn't be here.
We don't see ourselves as perfect, but we are all driven by a strong sense of justice. I hope people don't think we're soulless. Yes it can be hard to see a fellow officer arrested, to take their warrant card from them and think they might not get that back, especially with domestic and sexual abuse, because with those particular offences, which are often behind closed doors, it’s possible for anyone to have an allegation made that can ruin their life. But you have to put aside the fact that they might be brilliant at work in a lot of ways or they might have three kids at home, because it's not really relevant to the actual investigation side of it. On the flip side, just because they're a police officer, that doesn't mean they're not entitled to a fair investigation.
We are conscious of having a great responsibility to both those we investigate and the complainants. If it ends up in a public misconduct hearing, or court case, you want the public to see we've done the most thorough investigation we possibly can. And this is something our boss says to us a lot, we don't want to end up in a grey area - we want to either be able to fully exonerate or proceed to a hearing or court case with the best evidence we can gather. Maybe you can't always be 100% sure about anything, but that's the benchmark that we're aiming for.
One of my first jobs took three months. It became clear that it was a malicious allegation, we got the officer fully back to work and that was quite encouraging to see that could happen. We are keen to speed the processes along as much as possible, while taking the time we need to do very thorough enquiries, whether misconduct and/or criminal. I know the public can find it hard to understand why investigations can take so long, but with the best will in the world it sometimes just does take a prolonged period. What I think is important is we are very good about updating complainants here, and we also have dedicated resources that help us progress more quickly, like our own phone download facility, which reduced the analysis time from months down to weeks.
At the same time, we really do need the public's help in tackling this problem. I think for them, reporting a police officer full stop probably seems quite difficult. They might have a perception that either they'll get a slap on the wrist or they won't get believed, or nothing will happen, so what's the point? But we want them to know we truly feel the onus is on us to tackle this problem, we have dedicated investigators here waiting who will take any information they report seriously.
We need their input to find out about these people, because when someone comes to work, they might be the best officer in the world and they might do an amazing job and be great to their colleagues. But when they leave, we don't know what they're doing at home - what they might be like with their family or their partner or their friends, or what they might be doing on a Saturday night. We can't police people's private phones. So we want people to tell us if they know there are police officers doing terrible things or not behaving properly, even if it's not something that is per se illegal.
A real challenge I've found here is that jobs here can be more time-consuming than first appear; in that one allegation can lead to another, so what you thought you were investigating leads to other things that might come out of it. It's almost like you're unravelling or unwrapping layers, and finding out actually it's not just this person might be doing X, but also Y and Z. And each of those parts needs to be looked into painstakingly, to get to the bottom of it. But that also makes every day different, and keeps it very interesting.
The fundamental difference though I've found when dealing with police employees in custody as opposed to members of the public as in my previous roles, are all the different dimensions to it. When you are dealing with a member of the public in custody, you're not really thinking too much about their job. You might know what it is, but if that person chooses to leave custody and go to work tomorrow, not tell anyone they've been arrested, nine times out of ten that's ok. But when you're dealing with a police officer, you know that while their whole world in their heads is potentially crashing around them, because they know just how serious it is, you have to think about the impact for the public. We need to decide should this person be being suspended, or restricted, as you can't necessarily have them walking around every day on the frontline.
There is that extra pressure, so sometimes it can be hard to switch off. If I've had a long day in custody I might be thinking in the evening about it still, e.g. has that person been suspended yet, it can be hard to avoid dwelling on that impact of our work. We often do extended hours, but I’m normally quite good at being able to switch off so I can make the most of my leisure time, whether that’s travelling, going to gigs or reading - I'm a big Harry Bosch fan! I’m also part-way through studying for a Masters in Forensic Psychology.
Of course the aim of being ruthless in getting rid of corrupt police is obviously something we all agree with strongly here, but I think people need to remember that the bottom line is what we're trying to do is not really that complicated. If you've got officers that are racist or homophobic, you don't want them in the job. If they're being abusive to their partner or their family, or if they're committing sexual offences, or making colleagues feel so uncomfortable that they don't want to come to work, you don't want them in the job.
At the same time, people don't need to feel like they're walking on eggshells or worried they can't live their own personal lives because of this focus on corruption. I think one of the biggest hurdles we face is actually that perception that reporting makes you a 'snitch', not to deviate from loyalty to the blue line. But I always stress to people this unit wasn't created to act as a witch hunt. If you're a good person and you're a good police officer, you're fine. People just need to not overthink it, come forward if they feel concerned and have the faith that we will get to the truth, whatever that might turn out to be.