HMICFRS hails ‘sea change’ in approach to domestic abuse

Forces have made “considerable improvements” in how they respond to domestic abuse in a period of rising demand, according to force inspections.

Nov 14, 2017

Officers and staff of all ranks have been commended for their “concerted effort” to improve their response to domestic abuse in a period of rising demand. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) was pleased to see a “sea change” in how forces protect vulnerable people despite a 61 per cent rise in recorded incidents since 2014. In a progress report, published on Tuesday (November 14), it praised forces for investing in safeguarding teams and issuing awareness-raising training to frontline staff. Seven forces were identified as a “cause for concern” as some were seen downgrading the severity of calls to cope with additional demand, and another 33 had areas for improvement. However, inspectors recognised that conditions in some forces have already improved and they have “turned things around” since the data was collected 12 months ago. HM Inspector Zoë Billingham told Police Professional: “There has been an absolute sea change in the environment in which police officers are working. We have seen a huge commitment to training and ensuring that police officers understand their role in keeping victims of domestic abuse safe. “All forces have invested heavily in training, all forces have invested in specialist domestic abuse workers and investigators who understand the complexities of some of these crimes.” She added: “There is further to go but forces acknowledge that and I am commending police officers, police staff, PSCOs and police leaders for the concerted effort it has taken to get them to this point.” HMICFRS’s first domestic abuse inspection, published in 2014, called on policing to take urgent action after finding significant weaknesses in its handling of cases. Since then the number of recorded incidents has increased by 61 per cent to 434,095 in 2015/16. In the same year, domestic abuse made up more than 11 per cent of recorded crime and a third of incidents involving assault with injury. Recorded sexual offences have also doubled since 2013. The new progress report – the third in three years – said this rise in demand has “presented significant problems” for policing but has also caused leaders to treat tackling domestic abuse as a priority. It found a strong commitment to protecting the vulnerable with more staff deployed to safeguarding units and a continued investment in public protection work. At the time the data was collected, some forces had ensured staff were given domestic abuse training, leading to them becoming more sympathetic and supportive towards victims. Hampshire Constabulary was praised in particular for its action in response to adverse inspection findings. HMICFRS found the force was discontinuing around 60 per cent of domestic abuse cases using Outcome 16, but following sustained action by the chief constable this rate has more than halved. However, inspectors found some officers are still demonstrating a negative approach to victims or are underestimating how manipulative abusers can be. The review also highlighted room for improvement in how forces dealt with the increased demand and conducted risk assessments. In some forces, emergency calls relating to domestic abuse were being downgraded to justify a later response. Other forces were seen conducting risk assessments over the phone, which HMICFRS said could put victims in further danger. Inspectors also found that officers were occasionally reluctant to use powers of arrest, potentially denying victims a window of security. Ms Billingham said this was often due to a “misplaced exercise of officer discretion”, as well as rising demand and declining officer numbers. The report added that fewer cases were leading to arrest or being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, suggesting some officers are not being properly supervised. However, forces were unable to provide reliable data on why these differences exist. By April, HMICFRS expects all English and Welsh forces to update their domestic abuse action plan

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