27th March 2015
Today marks one year on from the landmark report by HMIC into domestic abuse.
It found that the police response to domestic abuse was not good enough. It found failings in core police business – like collecting evidence at the scene. It found that officers didn’t have the knowledge and skills to work with victims of abuse. And it showed that despite domestic abuse being linked to 8% of crimes, in reality police forces did not see it as a priority.
At the time, SafeLives (then Caada) said that the report was "a damning indictment of the leadership in the police" on domestic abuse. Our chief executive wrote:
“The failings that the inspector has identified are in the basic elements of the police response. One would assume that there would be a consistent approach to arrests when a crime is committed. Apparently not. Or gathering evidence. Or showing empathy to victims. Or correctly identifying the level of risk a victim faces. Or defining a repeat incident. The list goes on.”
Sadly, we weren’t shocked. Whilst we knew of good practice in some areas, we also knew that too often the response to victims was dismissive or disbelieving, or that the officers didn’t take action to make sure the victim didn’t suffer more abuse.
It was refreshing to see such a clear challenge held up to police forces to improve their response.
So, one year on: where are we now? In short: there has been some progress, but change is taking time, and isn’t anywhere near as fast or as urgent as we would like.
Some big changes are happening. SafeLives seconded one of our team to the College of Policing to write their new training programme on domestic abuse. “Domestic Abuse Matters – 25 days of Action” is a programme, not a single event, designed to reach a critical mass of first responders in every force, supported by in-house coaches. It is not just about training, but about driving culture change, and will be co-delivered by domestic abuse charities. And it focuses on coercive control – the key pattern of domestic abuse that often gets missed. The first pilot is about to take place in Hertfordshire – and will be evaluated to see whether the attitude change does take root.
HMIC also paid tribute to the brilliant work of Idvas on the ground, saying that PCCs “should take note of the strong value placed on the role of Idvas by the victims, police and other criminal justice agencies.” And we’ve been glad to see the number of Idvas all over the country continuing to rise – even though we still only have 50% of those we need.
Other changes are slower. Inspecting the police response to domestic abuse in isolation doesn’t show the whole picture. Domestic abuse touches the whole family – and other agencies such as children’s services, housing, health, substance misuse and mental health are also responsible for helping stop domestic abuse. This is why HMIC recommended a multi-agency inspection on domestic abuse – including the police and other local agencies. Agencies not prioritising domestic abuse and not working together are failing victims and children – and the learning from a joint inspection would be crucial. But the idea appears bogged down in inter-departmental discussions.
Overall, we are still looking for the big change we need – and that means that police leaders have to make sure that their policies and priorities translate to the front line: every call, every time, for every victim and every perpetrator. Some forces still have a long way to go.
Here at SafeLives, we’ve worked with forces who want the challenge of an external partner to help them get better. We’ve run independent scrutiny panels for forces, and worked with PCCs to commission better services for victims. And we’re always here to help and challenge any force that really wants to get better at responding to domestic abuse.
The HMIC report was crystal clear about what needs to change. One year on, the pace of that change is not fast enough.