21 September 2015

Police get new national guidance on handling domestic abuse

Police in England and Wales have been issued with new guidance on domestic abuse which advises officers on how to prosecute without relying on a victim.

​Police in England and Wales have been issued with new guidance on domestic abuse which advises officers on how to prosecute without relying on a victim.

The guidance goes into detail about spotting patterns of abuse.

The Authorised Professional Practice, released by the College of Policing, backed by domestic abuse and women’s charities, directly addresses for the first time senior officers about their responsibilities to maintain a body of specialist officers to deal with cases of abuse and ensure that pathways to support for victims are clear.

It emphasises the importance of solely evidence-led prosecutions instead of relying on victims to build the case and focuses on the dynamics of abusive relationships and coercive control, a new offence expected to come into force later this year.

Unlike previous guidance, it includes a section aimed primarily at supporting first responders at an incident who must deal with criminal offences, conduct a risk assessment and safeguard the victim.

The College is also releasing a toolkit to support first responders, along with checklists for call handlers and front counter staff when contacted about domestic abuse.

College of Policing lead for crime and criminal justice, David Tucker, said: “Domestic abuse is a pervasive problem across the UK involving both men and women and officers do exemplary work in safeguarding victims and bringing offenders to justice.

“To tackle a domestic abuse case successfully, police need to see the big picture behind an individual incident. This depends on officers being properly trained and having access to information about both the victim and the perpetrator; effective and accurate risk management, partnership working and information sharing. The failure of any of these links can be the difference between life and death for a victim.

“Our research indicated the need for a culture change within policing attitudes towards domestic abuse. Sometimes police cannot understand why a victim would stay in an abusive relationships. There are dozens of reasons why victims feel unable to leave or support prosecution. It is the responsibility of the perpetrator to stop the abuse and the responsibility of the police to bring the perpetrator to justice – the victim is not responsible for either.

“Officers need to investigate domestic abuse proactively and our APP and toolkits, as well as our training programmes and research, are designed to help them do that.”

It has been launched to coincide with Peace Day and this year the College of Policing is promoting its work against domestic abuse.

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Women’s Aid welcomes the College of Policing’s APP, following the HMIC report in 2014 that unequivocally demonstrated the need for police improvement in their response to DA. This setting of standards for the police represents progress in this area.

“In particular, Women’s Aid welcomes the emphasis on coercive and controlling behaviour. It is vital that police officers understand coercive control; this will help them to identify victims and not blame victims for staying in abusive relationships.

“We also welcome the focus on changing the attitudes of police officers and the understanding that tackling DA must be a force-wide priority – not dependent on the commitment of an individual officer.

“Our work with survivors also highlights the importance of the first responders’ approach to victims - so a greater understanding and focus on the role and responsibility of the police in a DA situation is extremely positive.”

Diana Barran, Chief Executive of SafeLives, said: “The role of the police in responding to domestic abuse cannot be underestimated. The new APP represents a huge step forward in helping police to understand the complex nature of domestic abuse and – in particular – coercive control. Most importantly, it places the responsibility for stopping the abuse squarely with the perpetrator.”

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