The value of diversion in policing

Inspector Jack Rowlands


Jack Rowlands is a police Inspector in the Metropolitan Police.  During his 15 years service he has focused his work around primary prevention and diversion. Working within response policing, safer neighbourhoods and specialist violence reduction he is motivated by long term solutions. DIVERT, a police custody diversion programme, is an example of his work that has been recognised nationally as best practice.

Ahead of our evidence session on policing and criminal justice, we asked Jack to share his thoughts on the value of early intervention and diversion in policing.



It was 2005, I was a response team officer in Croydon, I was on the train travelling in for a night shift. Though at that point I was just out of my probationer I was already having thoughts cycling in my mind about what a solution to all this violence I had seen already could be.

Only a few weeks before I had attended my first shooting.  A doorman had been shot in the back and was lying on the street lifeless, the intended victim was sprawled across a dance floor within the nightclub.  He’d been shot in the head several times. The perpetrator had executed this man and shot the doorman on the way out.

Whilst sitting on the train I overheard a conversation nearby to me in the carriage.  “The Met need to do more around long term prevention,” “they need to tackle root causes”,” I don’t understand why they can’t”.  I got up out of my seat and went over.  There was a man my the name of Darcus Howe, the well known broadcaster, and George Hosking, the CEO of WAVE. I explained I was very interested in what they were saying and apologised for interrupting their conversation. However, as most people who know me I’m not backwards in coming forwards.

George explained that WAVE are a charity set-up to tackle the root causes of violence, neglect and abuse. I was gripped and enthused by what he was saying.  He kindly invited me to his office the next day, based right next to Croydon Police Station.

I remember having a very good chat with Darcus too, he said some kind things and seemed to value my opinion. I was sad to hear of his passing a number of years later.

The turning point when I met George was the report he gave me that WAVE had published: Violence and what to do about it Focusing on the early years between 0-3 it made so much sense to invest then.  13 years later we are still trying to achieve that paradigm shift. However, one element really stuck out for me:-

“A violent act results from an interaction between two components, an individual’s propensity (personal factors) and external triggers (social factors). Social factors alone, however undesirable, lead to violence when the internal propensity is also present.”

The whole concept of early years and primary prevention gripped my thinking. I immediately became a member of the charity. 13 years later I’m now a trustee of WAVE.

But where does diversion come into this?

If I come into contact with people at work either by arresting them or by speaking with them at critical times what can I do to encourage them to address any social factors but at the same time put them in contact with people to deal with their personal factors. My thoughts were around if I can successfully address these issues through diversion then surely that correlates directly with the core principle of being a police officer – to prevent crime. However if done properly by nudging that person onto the right path of opportunity and support you can also stop the spiral for a future generation.

Whilst still taking an active role in frontline policing I was still letting all this sink in.  After being promoted in 2008 and being transferred to Lambeth it wasn’t until 2012 when I became a Safer Neighbourhood Sergeant in Brixton that I wanted to put together a diversion programme.

I started to do Jobs Fair within Stockwell.  An open event to everyone, however with a twist. By knowing which young people were involved in crime and violence I made an open invitation to them. I personally invited them, I got community leaders to do the same. I posted personal invites to them.  My first event went well but even with parents aware of the event I would turn up to their address to find them still in bed.  I got them out of bed.  Not my job I know but I knew an opportunity awaited them. My team were on board just being with the community for the day and showing them we cared was a benefit in itself.  The first one went well, over 100 people attended, 5 people that I had invited got a job.  I did another two and by then more people that I needed to attend turned up. In fact by the end we had 38 people involved in violence into employment.  I know that 12 have re-offended since but the rest I see as a real success. I remember vividly one chap would consistently throw me the gun sign but remember him walking out of a jobs fair with a job.  He gave me the thumbs up on the way out. One thing that did stick out in that time was when I was encouraging a young person clearly involved in street violence.

“Stop harassing me with your opportunity” he said. Unbeknown to him that has become a mantra of sorts with how we go about our work. Keep going with the nudge, the encouragement, the offer. It does sink in.

And because it was a success it got picked up centrally within the MPS.  Good people took the wrong approach.  They took what was a very simple strategy and encased it in a huge document, Gold, Silver, Bronze structures. Then told boroughs to do the same. I didn’t have a part to play in advising that you need to let boroughs develop their own practice and let each grow from the ground up. Support Safer Neighbourhood Teams in finding their own solution.

Ultimately I learnt a lot from the experience, I was a young sergeant still finding my way of how I wanted to lead but still make a difference.

In 2015 I took up the role as the partnership Inspector at Lambeth. Still having faith diversion worked I wanted to find another solution.  Whilst having a brew in the canteen I looked to our new custody suite at Brixton.  It got me thinking. The people who need diversion most are downstairs already, they can’t go anywhere for the minute, they probably don’t want to be there anyway. What if we spoke to them now, made them an offer around support and employment.

I called it DIVERT. I got my best mate to design me a logo and set it up so that we would speak to 18-25 year olds whilst still in police custody. Why? Because there is no statutory provision for them when you turn 18 – that’s it. You are seen by society as an adult however how many of us know that people mature differently and still take massive risks when they are younger? Also what I didn’t want to do is replicate the provision setup by YOS. The aims are to get 18-25s into employment, education and training with a view to prevent re-offending.

After an initial concept it was clear it was working. Not only were we getting people employed from police custody, but they also stop re-offending.  Working closely with the Milestone Foundation I quickly realised to make DIVERT sustainable I needed to have a delivery partner that can do this work for us. In the midst of staff cuts within the police, my programme manager Ann-Marie Willison had been made redundant from the Met. It made sense to her to start working for Milestone.  In 2016 we started our work at both Brixton and at Bethnal Green.

We have realised that whilst doing DIVERT we have uncovered a teachable moment. People come into custody, all the modern distractions are taken away from them and they are put in a cell. We know they think about their past, the present and their future.  Whilst in custody you get food, drink, your legal privileges so when someone approaches your cell and says “Do you want to come out of the cell and speak about changing your direction,” we get a huge take up.

DIVERT is kept separate to the investigation. DIVERT runs parallel to the criminal justice system. This isn’t about dealing with what you have or haven’t done. It’s about stopping you coming back.

DIVERT works:-

What has really had an effect on me though is what people who have benefitted from the programme say about it:-

“I was saved by a chat at a police station after being arrested”

“DIVERT has made me see my life differently”

“The environment I was in literally was a click away from trouble”

The stories people tell, the time we take to listen to those stories and what their aspirations are have truly changed the way my team think about people that come into custody. Some will go to prison as a result of the offence they have committed and we reconnect when they come out. For some no further action will arise and we will continue to work with them. Once someone crosses that threshold and mutual trust is gained then we are almost there.  It takes unique people to do this work.

We still have a long way to go but by the summer we will have DIVERT in six custody suites across London.  Working closely with football foundations we will train and embed Custody Intervention Coaches within police custody to speak with 18-25 year olds that come into custody.

As a police officer I will always see the value in enforcement and by no means will diversion replace that tactic, a tactic that ultimately keeps the public safe. We deal with violence directly, cops are dealing with it day in day out.   However diversion does play a part, ultimately done right it will achieve the same result, to prevent crime and even have greater outcomes. Officers need to be given the chance to find their own diversion solutions. Be given the support from leaders and tailor their efforts to their local communities and make a long term difference.




This blog was written by Inspector Jack Rowlands. Follow the work of DIVERT on Twitter.

WAVE Trust’s report on “Violence and What to Do About It”:

Photo Credit: User:Postdlf / Wikimedia Commons



This post was written by Vicky Foxcroft

May 14, 2018 11:28 am Leave your thoughts

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