Many of you will be aware that, as well as being Deputy Chief Constable, I am the National Police (NPCC) lead for Domestic Abuse. This is an area of policing that touches, or has touched, most of our professional lives. It accounts for a significant percentage of our calls for service, our crime investigations, our safeguarding efforts, our partnership work and of course, the offenders who we pursue, arrest and take through the criminal justice system. It makes up more than 10 per cent of 999 calls and more than 50 per cent of reports of violent crime.
Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe
More victims are seeking our assistance than ever before. National data suggests reporting has risen by over 60 per cent since 2014 yet it is still under-reported and our recent crime data integrity inspection highlights that we have some improvements to make in how we record some offences.
While domestic abuse is complex and there are no quick fix criminal justice solutions, our responsibilities are clear; every victim should be safer after contacting the police and we should do all that we can to secure justice for them.
With such a vast range of offences and incidents fitting the definition of domestic abuse, perhaps the most fundamental thing that we do when we attend domestic abuse incidents is to assess and understand the risk. Understanding risk can help us in prioritising investigations but, most importantly, it can guide us in taking appropriate action to safeguard the victim and their family.
I’m really impressed by the huge efforts we have made collectively across teams and departments to bring domestic abuse offenders to justice and reduce outstanding suspects. I’ve seen a very positive culture of intervention and arrest across West Midlands Police but we do have a vulnerability in our approach to assessing risk.
In 2011 a decision was made to allow officers to use their discretion as to whether theyused the DASH risk assessment tool at certain domestic abuse incidents. This approach was radical at the time and challenged the bureaucracy that came with the paper-based risk assessment process. Discretion was intended for the lowest risk incidents. It was a bold decision but, since that time, the landscape has changed. Domestic homicides, staff, partner and victim feedback, inspections by HMIC and investigations by the IPCC, and indeed our own Professional Standards Department have all told us that this approach needed to be reviewed. Discretion has been applied at too many incidents with apparent risk.
We have recently taken part in a national pilot with the College of Policing exploring a new risk assessment tool, focusing our attention on coercive and controlling behaviour as well as violence. The College have led academic research that shows coercion and control is by far the most significant indicator of risk. The new tool has fewer questions, is designed to be much more intuitive and is less reliant on officers having specialist knowledge. It should guide you to ask the right questions, rather than taking every victim through a long checklist.
Keen to understand the demand impact on our Force Response officers in piloting the new tool, we also explored the potential for the risk assessment process to be completed using a mobile app. This had some teething problems but it did highlight that it was possible and that it was our preferred way of undertaking the risk assessment.
Our commitment to prioritising vulnerability, to continually learn and improve, and to use technology to improve the service we provide to those in need, has led the force Executive Team to make the decision that when we are able to deliver a mobile app that allows this to be done electronically we will undertake a risk assessment at all domestic abuse incidents. This is expected to be as early as the end of October.
A well-executed risk assessment for our victims of domestic abuse ensures that we tailor our service to their needs. It allows us to pass on relevant information to partners, refer victims and their families for support and focus our offender management efforts for greatest effect. Doing this through mobile technology allows the process to be integrated into the primary investigation process and allows for a swifter response. Let’s not kid ourselves, this will be a big ask for Force Response and the Public Protection Unit so we need to ensure we plan implementation to bring the most efficient approach that we can. The PPU, Force Response, Intelligence, IT&D and Business Transformation are all working on this and we will update shortly on the timeline for ‘go live’.