Policing domestic violence

This week, the Research Inspector explains the results of a study into how police officers and control rooms respond to domestic violence, highlighting the importance of knowing how the demands in this area impact on officers’ time.

Oct 25, 2017

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) is in the midst of fresh effectiveness inspections, using its new integrated PEEL assessments, particularly around vulnerability. Back in 2014, an inspection of the police response to domestic violence found that ‘the overall police response to victims was not good enough’, mentioning specifics around prioritisation, officer skills and knowledge and limited feedback from victims. This inspired recent research to explore these issues, by Dr Karen Lumsden at Loughborough University, where she leads the Policing Research Group. The research examined police control room, dispatch and frontline officers’ responses using the domestic abuse, stalking and honour-based violence (DASH) risk assessments following domestic violence incidents. The purpose of the research was to contribute to the evidence base concerning policing responses, and to further inform research and development to support policing policy and practice. Research recommendations Research pointed to the need to better understand the demand from domestic incidents, not only how many there are, but also how much of an officer’s time is required to deal with the incident and support the victim. Further suggestions include the need for better understanding of the dispatch resourcing process for ‘Grade 2’ incidents. The research also identified a shortfall in training for responding to online crime, online abuse and digital evidence, particularly with regards to offender behaviour in domestic violence incidents and their coercion and control of victims. Other insights gained from the research included the need for force control room staff and frontline officers to ensure they support victims of social media harassment through sanction of the offender, rather than expecting the victim to ‘self-exclude’, for example by asking a victim to delete their Facebook profile. There was also recognition of the need for more out of hours assistance from social services for officers dealing with vulnerable people and victims of domestic abuse. This point extended into a requirement for more efficient information sharing between partner agencies and frontline staff and an ability to see and feed into the progression of cases, particularly for repeat victims. The research also identified the importance of partner support in relation to adequate and accessible resources, and available refuge spaces for victims. An issue that may well resonate with frontline officers was the importance of the time they are allowed to build relationships with those victims at risk, particularly through scheduled appointments and to conduct follow-up visits to maintain their support for police actions. Frontline officers may also recognise the tension between the notion of being allocated to repeat incidents that are not ‘crime fighting’ but where in many ways modern policing has developed a socially-oriented welfare role. This tension is being explored at the political level, with a number of National Police Chiefs’ Council representatives and chief officers talking about the stark choices policing is having to make, sometimes inter-linked with other agencies’ operational role, and what they are able to do, or not do. In the meantime, the research suggests a process-driven approach to domestic incidents may be encouraging a risk-averse culture, which undermines the value of risk management tools like DASH. There is even reference to the need for more accessible support for staff and officers who feel that they are emotionally or physically stressed by the types of repeat incidents they are attending or calls they are handling. The modern businesses of policing and pressing demand is no better illustrated than in responses to domestic violence, but the research reminds us all of the importance of the human factor – for each individual victim and circumstance, and indeed the impact on policing professionals themselves. So what? Police Professional (PP

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