Posts tagged ‘ACPO’

November 30, 2013

The Stalking Legislation – One Year On….full of sound and fury but what does it signify?

ImageThis week saw the anniversary of the introduction of new offences of stalking – which we believe are really important in protecting victims of domestic abuse and many others who suffer from stalking – both on and offline.  The anniversary was accompanied by a letter from the new DPP, Alison Saunders and ACC Garry Shewan about their plans to ensure that the criminal justice system addresses stalking effectively.

According to press reports this week, figures obtained under a freedom of information request showed that between November 2012, when stalking became a crime, and the end of June this year, 320 people were arrested across 30 police forces. Of those 189 were charged – so far six of those have been jailed and 27 given community disposals.

Compare that to the data that we collect directly from thousands of victims of domestic abuse which shows that 35% of those who disclosed harassment or stalking were suffering severe levels.  What do we mean by severe?  Our definition includes;

  • Constant/obsessive phone calls, texts or emails;
  • uninvited visits to home, workplace etc or loitering;
  • destroys or vandalises property;
  • pursues victim after separation, stalking;
  • threats of suicide/homicide to victim and other family members;
  • threats of sexual violence;
  • involvement of others in the stalking behaviour.

Imagine this happening to you – pretty scary and dangerous stuff.

So, we really welcome the call from both the police and the CPS to:

  Improve the awareness of frontline officers about how to risk assess stalking victims.
  Prosecute whenever possible rather than use of police information notices (otherwise known as harassment warnings)
  Ensure Victim Personal Statements are always taken and used in accordance with the Victim’s Code.
  Ensure that further evidence is secured if a charging decision has been taken on the threshold test, so that further evidence supports a charge on the Full Code Test that properly reflects the full criminality.
  Ensure that the charging decision is right first time. Stalking should be charged as a stalking offence rather than harassment.
  Proceed with the charge of stalking in court whenever possible rather than accept a plea to harassment. Acceptance of a plea of harassment rather than stalking by the defendant should only happen in particular circumstances and we should always seek the view of the victim before doing so.
  Ensure that when restraining orders are made in court, the victim’s circumstances are properly taken into account (e.g. all relevant addresses are included).
 
As practitioners, any feedback on how the stalking legislation is working in your area would be really helpful and we can pass it on to the CPS and to ACPO.  
 
These things can change a lot.  When we started CAADA in 2005, restraining orders (also part of the Protection from Harassment Act) were used in about 5% of cases.  They are now used in about 50% of cases and make a real difference to victim safety.  We see similar room for change in relation to stalking as an offence in its own right.  We are delighted to be working with Protection Against Stalking to deliver a one day training course on stalking – how to recognise it, how to respond and how to use this legislation to best effect.  Let’s hope that this time next year, we have added at least one or two noughts to the number of convictions.
 
(For more info about our training on stalking, go to http://www.caada.org.uk/learning_development/CPD-Stalking-Intro.htm )
February 11, 2013

More thoughts on the proposed ACPO domestic abuse risk assessment pilots

Diana Barran talks about CAADA’s concerns at the proposed ACPO pilot to give frontline officers discretion about the use of the risk assessment tool when attending domestic abuse incidents.

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January 23, 2013

The Slippery Slope (and I don’t mean the snow)

ACPO’s announcement this week about a pilot to reduce police bureaucracy through discretionary use of risk assessment at domestic incidents’ feels like a very slippery slope in terms of the safety of victims and children.  It sends a very different message than those coming from other experts about the importance of addressing domestic abuse.  

Let’s start with Chief Superintendent John Sutherland of the Met Police.  At a recent conference on Tackling Britain’s Gang Culture he said: “I think we’ve barely begun to understand the secondary impact that violence has on these people whose homes it’s happening in.  I promise you, it’s having a devastating effect. I regard domestic violence is the single greatest cause of harm in society.”  We would agree with that – all those working with children, women or young people constantly see domestic abuse at the centre of the suffering and dysfunction that they are dealing with.  

Similarly, the Home Office has just extended the definition of domestic abuse to include 16 and 17-year-olds and also patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour.  This recognises the risks not just in physical and sexual violence, but also in coercion, stalking and control –  as well as specifically highlighting the typical characteristics of an abusive relationship which includes a pattern of behaviour and escalation in severity.

Finally, the IPCC ( Independent Police Complaints Commission) has highlighted in a number of domestic homicides, the need for consistent and high quality risk assessment even in cases where the victim is minimising what has happened to her. For those who want to read more see the reports on the murders of Casey Brittle and Christine and Shania Chambers.  In the case of Casey Brittle, the Commissioner wrote about the response of the police, saying that it “was borne of a lack of knowledge and a willingness to accept the word of a woman who had suffered years of abuse when she said she did not want or need their help.” 

So why are we so worried about ACPO’s announcement?  Some parts are perfectly sensible – the risk identification checklist which we developed together with ACPO was not designed to be used in cases of ‘two brothers fighting over a remote control’.  Indeed, we didn’t think that anyone would call the police in such a situation but obviously we were wrong!  But the other areas such as ‘one off incidents reported by a neighbour’, no previous history or no record of violence in the relationship simply go against everything we know about domestic abuse.  We estimate that in the highest risk cases only about 50% of people tell the police.  Where the risk is lower, the level of reporting to the police falls sharply.  Our research shows that about 10% of MARAC cases have never told the police about their abuse despite they, and their children, being at risk of murder or serious harm.  A significant number of women who are killed have never called the police.  How are we going to spot which ones those are, if they do decide to seek help that way?

Secondly, the focus on bureaucracy misses two crucial points.  The checklist was developed in the first place because it was clear that the police did not feel competent to judge and assess risk without it.  It just isn’t bureaucracy – it is a practical tool that allows officers to do their job better in a world where resources for training and supervision are shrinking. Every question on the list relates to a risk factor for domestic homicide.  The real issue is how well the checklist is completed, how the information is used and what other services are brought in to support the family.  The quality of risk assessments has been variable and in some cases left much to be desired – see the Christine and Shania Chambers IPCC report for more on this.  But describing the process as bureaucratic is missing the point – paper only gets shuffled when the information on it is of poor quality.  We see risk assessments forming a central role in safety planning in many areas – in others people whisper that they are ‘filled out in the back of the car’  This is a supervision issue, not bureaucracy.

So back to the slippery slope…Hampshire police is now moving on to allow officers complete discretion in when they judge it worth asking the risk questions and we are really concerned that other forces might follow.  This is a big step backwards and goes against everything that we are striving to achieve in terms of helping families in sooner and using a multi agency approach to ensure that public resources are put to best effect.  

To quote the IPCC once more: “Victims of domestic violence are frequently most at risk from a coercive and controlling partner when they seek external help or try to end the relationship.”

Safety or bureaucracy?  You choose.

October 26, 2011

Doubly depressing this time?

I have just finished reading the IPCC report into the police handling of the domestic abuse incidents involving Casey Brittle prior to her murder in October 2010.  It is pretty depressing reading in any context – a litany of missed opportunities to identify the risks she faced as a woman of 21, with a small child.  There were 11 incidents of domestic abuse involving her ex partner Sanchez Williams – who had ‘an extensive criminal record and warnings on the Police National Computer for violence’ – interesting in the context of the DV Disclosure Scheme proposal (see earlier post on Clare’s Law). Would these convictions meet the criteria for disclosure?

Other than a feeling of puzzlement that such apparently obvious signs were missed – Casey Brittle’s own expression of fear, multiple incidents, assaults in a public place with CCTV footage – and a reality check about being wise after the event, I am left with three other thoughts – none very uplifting.

Firstly, we do get some pushback on the guidance we give about using the CAADA DASH risk checklist in every case involving domestic abuse.  People ask us – every case?  Really?  Reading the IPCC report the answer is yes.  There is an understandable effort on the part of the police, led by ACPO, to reduce bureaucracy and use of the domestic abuse risk checklist has been highlighted as an area where ‘streamlining’ could be brought in.  Streamlining is being piloted in a few force areas at the moment.  It involves use of the checklist only in case involving intimate partner violence – or ex-intimate partner, and only when a crime has been committed or where there is a repeat incident of domestic abuse.  We can see the logic of the first point but have major concerns about the second two elements.  You only need to read the IPCC report to see why.  In a case like Casey Brittle, there are numerous examples of the victim not disclosing the full extent of the situation to the attending officer, and thus no crime being recorded and even failing to log it as a domestic abuse incident.  This means that the ‘repeat’ safety net does not work either.  It feels like we might be about to take a giant step backwards if this is adopted nationally.

The second thought is that there is no record in the IPCC report of Casey Brittle being offered specialist support from an IDVA, or other trained DV practitioner until the very end when Victim Support are recorded as checking whether she had given consent to be contacted.  There should be no confusion about this – there is so much research stressing the need to offer victims independent support and that this can make all the difference in terms of their safety.  Especially, in high risk cases, the contact should be speedy and proactive.

Finally, the report comments on the gatekeeping that took place to contain the number of cases that went to MARAC at no more than 40 per month.  Those of you who have undertaken our MARAC Quality Assurance process will know what we feel about this!  It is essential that we find the resources to allow all high risk victims to have their cases heard at MARAC – although extraordinarily, Casey Brittle was never categorised as high risk despite her expressions of fear, her partner’s criminal record, use of weapons, separation, and threats to kill…

And that just brings me back to using the risk checklist systematically again.  It is just a series of prompts to check on the main risk factors for repeat victimisation and homicide.  No more – no less.  But very important.

October 26, 2011

Clare’s Law – consultation open – what do you think?

Following the tragic murder of Clare Wood, calls have come about for the right of victims to ask for information about the ‘history’ of their new partners in terms of whether they have been abusive in a previous relationship and for the police to proactively disclose information about their partner’s previous DV history.  The Home Office announced yesterday that there will be a consultation to pilot a new Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.  The options for consideration include:

  1. Continuing with the current arrangements – these allow any member of the public to ask the police for information about a third party’s violent history, and the police have the discretion to share this information if it is proportionate to prevent further crime.
  2. ‘Right to Ask’ – this could potentially create a statutory right for the public to ask for information about a partner’s previous history.  In these cases, the case would be referred to MARAC where a decision could be made about disclosure and the offer of support from an IDVA would be made.
  3. ‘Right to Know’ – in this option, the police would take information about an alleged perpetrator to MARAC, where a decision would be taken about disclosure to a new partner, or other vulnerable parties such as family members.  Again, support would be offered from the IDVA.

The proposed shape of the DV Disclosure rules has changed and we think for the better.  The focus is now on ensuring that disclosures are based on risk, that they cover the victim and other vulnerable people (children, other family members), that support is consistently offered to the victim when a disclosure is made and that consideration is given in a multi agency setting.  For those of you who loyally follow our MARAC guidance on information sharing, you will know that we have always included sharing information with new partners and other family members as an action to consider for MARACs.  (More on this on our website http://www.caada.org.uk/Practitioner_resources/Disclosure_of_Info_at_MARAC_FAQs.pdf ).

Our concerns about the initial proposal was that it was too focused on the criminal justice system – we know that victims of abuse will often not contact the CJS – and that there was a real risk of false ‘positives’, i.e. that victims would gain false reassurance if someone had no convictions.  Many of the most serious DV offenders do not have convictions for a DV related offence.  We will obviously be thinking more about this and will publish our response to the consultation on our website.

But your thoughts and reflections would be most welcome.  You can find out more at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/domestic-violence-disclosure/

July 4, 2011

Law and Lawyers: For how long can the Police hold me?

The ObiterJ blog has a clear and comprehensible summary of the recent decision by the High Court apparently to reverse 25 years of accepted practice in relation to calculating the amount of expired bail time.  The Guardian reports that an application has been made to the Supreme Court to stay this judgment by means of a private hearing today – 4th July.  It seems extraordinary that we could have worked with one interpretation for so long – and now a decision made by a District Judge, and upheld by the High Court reverses all of that.  It will obviously need to be resolved quickly.

Law and Lawyers: For how long can the Police hold me?.