Reforms in Police treatment of Domestic violence in London

Statistics indicate that London has the worst domestic abuse conviction rate in the United Kingdom (Sharp-Jeffs and Kelly, 2016). A report by End Violence Against Women (EVAW) indicates that there has been systematic failings in response to domestic violence matters. Accordingly, the report highlights that domestic violence has morphed into domestic homicide in a systematic way. (Strang and Chalkey, 2017). The justice system highlights flaws in the Metropolitan Police that has led to inferior case investigations, which in turn cause low conviction rates in domestic violence cases. While South East and Merseyside/Cheshire have had conviction rates of 74 per cent and 80 per cent respectively, London lags behind at 64 per cent (HMCPSI, 2018). Further reports suggest that London’s conviction rate in domestic violence cases is 10 per cent lower than the national average (Sharp-Jeffs and Kelly, 2016). This paper will thus provide possible alternative approaches to managing police violence by the Metropolitan police and other concerned agencies.

Despite all the challenges accompanying policing of domestic violence cases, there is a lot of improvement in the criminal justice system. Historically, domestic violence was treated as a private affair that was to be resolved within the family (Strang and Chalkley, 2017). Over the years, there has been a tremendous change that has placed the police at the heart of the problem as first responders to domestic violence. Their contribution has and continues to revolve around detection, arrest, investigation and charging of offenders. To work effectively the police work in conjunction with Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the courts, statutory agencies, voluntary agency personnel and other partners. The current policing strategies applied by the Metropolitan Police and other police forces in England and Wales seems to be achieving very little effect in the fight against domestic violence.

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Both the US and the UK governments have adopted common risk factors for abuse and lethality of domestic violence thus helping the police determine the level of danger to a victim. In essence, the UK generally uses the Domestic Abuse, Stalking, and Honour Based Violence (DASH) as a tool for risk assessment in domestic violence situations. In 2014, however, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found that there were different risk factors being used by various police forces highlighting inconsistencies (HMIC, 2014). Further, the Inspectorate found that a number of police forces did not fully appreciate the use of DASH. This information identified at the Metropolitan Police shows that despite there being a tool and a legal framework to aid in dealing with domestic violence by identifying prescribed risk factors, it is possible that it could be misapplied. An earlier study on investigations processes by the Metropolitan police has revealed that there is inadequate training and supervision that leads to inconsistent application of policies like the one above (Poyser and Milne, 2011).

Police culture has had an immense effect on domestic violence in London. Myhill and Johnson (2016) suggests that some police officers are still unsure of how to manage cases of domestic violence and whether they should be handled within the normal or real police work. He argues that police officer’s understanding of their normal role will influence how they respond to a crime. A criminal justice model may determine the manner in which police respond to crime. In this regard, the due process model is concerned with justice, fairness and rules while the crime control model is all about repressing criminal behaviour without regard to the rules of innocence until proven guilty. The UK CJS has adopted the due process model and domestic violence perpetrators are considered innocent until proven guilty. The type of criminal justice model adopted can therefore affect police work.

There has been a persistent call by community service workers and leaders to be actively engaged in the CJS for an effective response to domestic violence. In as much as the police are mandated to fight crime, it cannot be done in a vacuum, the community must be involved for an effective change to take place. Furthermore, risk factors for domestic violence are basically social issues that can be adequately addressed with the right support from the Metropolitan police and other agencies. Apart from the above, delays in dispatching officers expose victims to risk and initial investigations are poorly done. In spite of the implementation of the use of the body cameras, a report Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Rescue Services indicates that there are still inconsistencies in the supervision of risk assessment (HMICFRS, 2019). Surprisingly, a third of domestic violence cases were terminated because of victims’ unwillingness to continue with the case and as a result there are cases, which should have continued even without victim support but were never take up.

The Metropolitan Police can implement various proposals to ensure that there is a change in the police response to domestic violence. In line with the national policy on prosecution, the decision to institute a charge against a perpetrator is informed by the evidentiary and public interest test. As matter of practice the CPS must weigh whether they have enough evidence to sustain a charge and whether it is in public interest that a person be prosecuted. However, there have been instances when the victims abandon the case and withdraw their support for the prosecution (HMCPSI, 2018). It is advisable that the CPS should adopt a strategy where such victimless prosecutions will continue as long as there is sufficient evidence to secure a conviction. It is very possible that a case can continue with an evidence-led prosecution as long as the police are able to carry out proper evidence gathering and investigation.

Neighbourhood policing can play a major role in enhancing a proactive response to domestic violence. In fact, there are already existing neighbourhood policing teams and the only problem is that they are either not fully involved in policing or their roles have not been properly explained. Force inspections have led to the realization that there is no uniformity in the utilization of neighbourhood policing teams in safeguarding victims. In some neighbourhoods, these policing teams have decried lack of support and allocation of responsibility (Gasper and Davis, 20180. Therefore, the Metropolitan police forces should adopt positive attitude towards neighbourhood policing teams by involving and training them regularly on their roles as partners in the CJS. An effective neighbourhood policing group will be indispensable by providing vital updates to the police and victims, and safeguarding victims in conjunction with the police.

While the Metropolitan police have made strides in establishing the Basic Command Unit (BCU) consisting of different boroughs, more remains to be done. Specialist units are indeed important in tackling domestic violence which is a special crime considering the circumstances. However, the challenge is that the numbers of specially trained police officers in those units are few and cannot handle all cases of domestic violence. This leaves the other untrained police officers to deal with a specialised crime. Essentially, the Mayor of London should increase funding for recruitment and training of more specialised police officers designated specifically for domestic violence detection and investigations. Additionally, the council should invest more in the supervision of police officers actively engaged in prevention of domestic abuse cases to ensure there is compliance with the guidelines on risk assessment among other requirements (Chung, 2015). The essence of supervision is to provide support and motivation to officers dealing with high risk and complex domestic violence situations on a daily basis.

Australia’s approach to domestic violence is one that can replicated in London. In 2017 the Attorney General of Australia announced that an estimated $3.4 million will be issued over three years to fund six Community Legal Centres (CLCs). The CLS is charged with establishing and expanding specialist domestic violence units. In Australia they are the equivalent of the neighbourhood policing teams except that here, they are the lifeline of those teams and even troubled families. By establishing legal centres around the country, CLS offers community expert-based legal and expert help to families experiencing domestic violence (Giddings and Noone, 2004). CLS facilitates, for people experiencing domestic violence, obtaining of protection orders as well as safety planning. However, this programme has taken a long time to be replicated in all parts of Australia and its implementation in London will require monitoring for a few years before it can be fully implemented nationally.

Another country that has a desirable approach to domestic violence is the US. They have set up specialised units as to deal with domestic violence cases in Ohio. The plan was dubbed Domestic Violence Project and consisted of specially trained prosecutors, detectives and victim advocates. Their roles were purposely to investigate domestic violence cases where the adult female victim was living with the perpetrator. In addition to this, there were also two specialised Municipal Court judges who heard and determined cases from the Domestic Violence Project. A study found that cases that were handled by the specialised unit had a higher chance of proceeding in the CJS (Regoeczi and Hubbard, 2018). Nevertheless, this approach will require a considerable negotiations between London and the UK government to constitute, and more funding in order to run. It can thus be pioneered using the BCU units that are already operational.

All the recommended policies have worked in jurisdictions where they have been applied. In Australia, the success of Community Legal Centres have been documented and the program is slowly being extended to other areas of the country. It is a perfect example of a multiagency approach to domestic violence and proves that more proactive responses should be continuously implemented and evaluated. Ohio case study on handling domestic violence through the formation of specialised units, presents a great opportunity for London to adopt the same (Regoeczi, 2018). Studies have shown that establishment of specialised units in the US, especially in Ohio has led to the reduction of the severity of future victims (Friday et al., 2006). However, the same study has shown that it may not necessarily have a correlation with prevalence and incidence of domestic violence cases.

The success of community policing in Australia has been dependent on the contribution of different agencies. Domestic violence is a complex problem requiring coordinated responses from all agencies and not sporadic initiatives and funding commitments. Australia has adopted an approach that involves all levels of government in a bid to reduce incidences of domestic violence (Putt, 2011). A further study indicates that a domestic violence prevention program dubbed ‘Respectful Relationships’ conducted in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmnia between 2009 and 2014 was immensely successful (Crowl, 2017). It was a different approach used to aid in educating young people about domestic violence through various agencies including the police. This provides a good reference point for the city of London on the manner in which a multiagency approach can be used to prevent domestic violence before it occurs.

The above recommended policies are appropriate for the domestic violence situation in London. Domestic violence is a common vice in both jurisdictions that have been referred to in this paper. Therefore, it will be easier to implement recommendations from countries that are already dealing with high levels of domestic violence. For instance, domestic violence had been high in Australia but their government has implemented policies to bring that down. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), prevalence of domestic violence has reduced from 8.3 per cent in 2005 to 5.4 per cent in 2016 (McPhedran, Gover and Mazerolle, 2017). It shows that these methods are working when they are properly implemented and well-funded. Similarly, the US has gone at length to implement the no-drop policy of prosecution, and putting into place specialised units for expediency and justice. Because these policies require funding, the office of the mayor is in a position to set aside substantial sums of money for the implementation of the above policies for alleviation of domestic violence.

For all the above proposals, an evaluation of strategy must be done before and after its implementation. The creation of specialised units will require a multiagency approach including funding and support from the mayor’s office. It will take considerable time to be put into place and training conducted for the selected officers. Particularly, the training part of the implementation may take time to be completed and it will require the action and approval by the Commissioner of the Police of Metropolis. The no-drop policy can be implemented within a short time and is within the power of the Commissioner of Police to recommend for approval by the CPS, and will require minimal funding. Lastly, the neighbourhood centres will need to be reorganized with by the office of the mayor in conjunction with community leaders, social workers and other private agencies.

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References

Augusta-Scott, T., Scott, K., & Tutty, L. M. (Eds.). (2017). Innovations in Interventions to Address Intimate Partner Violence: Research and Practice. Taylor & Francis.

Chung, D. (2015). Domestic Violence: UK and Australian Developments. In Policy and Social Work Practice (pp. 101-112). Sage Publications Limited.

Crime Survey for England and Wales 2017

Crowl, J. N. (2017). The effect of community policing on fear and crime reduction, police legitimacy and job satisfaction: an empirical review of the evidence. Police Practice and Research, 18(5), 449-462.

Evans, M. A., & Feder, G. S. (2016). Help‐seeking amongst women survivors of domestic violence: A qualitative study of pathways towards formal and informal support. Health Expectations, 19(1), 62-73.

Friday, P. C., Lord, V. B., Exum, M. L., & Hartman, J. L. (2006). Evaluating the impact of a specialized domestic violence police unit, final report. Washington DC: National Institute of Justice.

Gasper, R., & Davies, A. (2018). Revisiting the potential of community empowerment within UK neighbourhood policing meetings. Policing and Society, 28(2), 223-241.

Giddings, J., & Noone, M. A. (2004). Australian community legal centres move into the twenty-first century. International Journal of the Legal Profession, 11(3), 257-282.

Groves, N. and Thomas, T. (2014) Domestic violence and criminal justice. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

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HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (2019) Annual Report for the period April 2018 to March 2019

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Keeling J., van Wormer, K. and Taylor, P. (2015) Women’s Narratives on their Interactions with the First Response Police Officer Following an Incidence of Domestic Violence in the UK. Sociology and Criminology

McPhedran, S., Gover, A. R., & Mazerolle, P. (2017). A cross-national comparison of police attitudes about domestic violence: a focus on gender. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 40(2), 214-227.

Mickelson, D. (2018). When the Problem Is the Solution: Evaluating the Intersection between the U Visa Helpfulness Requirement and No-Drop Prosecution Policies. U. Rich. L. Rev., 53, 1455.

Myhill, A., & Johnson, K. (2016). Police use of discretion in response to domestic violence. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 16(1), 3-20.

Poyser, S., & Milne, B. (2011). Miscarriages of justice: a call for continued research focussing on reforming the investigative process. The British Journal of Forensic Practice, 13(2), 61-71.

Putt J 2011. Community Policing in Australia. Research and public policy series no. 111. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology

Regoeczi, W. C., & Hubbard, D. J. (2018). The impact of specialized domestic violence units on case processing. American journal of criminal justice, 43(3), 570-590.

Robinson, A. L., Pinchevsky, G. M., & Guthrie, J. A. (2018). A small constellation: risk factors informing police perceptions of domestic abuse. Policing and society, 28(2), 189-204.

Sharp-Jeffs, N. and Kelly, L. (2016) Domestic Homicide Review: Case Analysis. Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, London.

Strang, H., & Chalkley, R. (2017). Predicting Domestic Homicides and Serious Violence in Dorset: A Replication of Thornton's Thames Valley Analysis.

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