Transforming the response to domestic abuse

Closes 31 May 2018

Improving the police response

Preventing domestic abuse in the first instance is the most effective way to end domestic abuse. This needs to be the priority of the government, civil society and the wider public.

However, when prevention fails we must ensure our justice system is able to effectively prosecute perpetrators, while protecting victims [1] from further distress.

The data we have on domestic abuse is fragmented, with different measures being collected by different organisations, on different timescales and using different collection methods.

However, data shows that in the year ending March 2015, four in five domestic abuse victims did not report their abuse to the police.[2] For the year ending March 2016, of the domestic abuse related incidents and crimes reported to the police, 41% were recorded as crimes.[3]

While over the last 10 years there has been a 61% rise in the volume of convictions to 70,853 [4], we know there is more we must do to ensure that perpetrators do not go unchallenged.

In September 2013, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) was commissioned by the then Home Secretary to review the response to domestic abuse victims in all 43 police forces in England and Wales.[5]

The report highlighted failings in culture, attitude and core skills. In response the Home Secretary established a national oversight group to ensure action against the recommendations and drive new and innovative approaches in the way that the police respond to domestic abuse.

The group has overseen a domestic abuse improvement plan [6] being published by every police force, new guidance published by the College of Policing, new training piloted, and police collecting data against a national standard on all domestic abuse recorded crimes.

We want to continue to tackle the challenges faced by victims in reporting crimes and to promote the importance of the good initial contact and a timely first response by the police to victims.

The College of Policing is in the process of defining how it will implement a ‘Licence to Practise’ system.[7] This will be a major step in raising standards for specialist investigators.

It aims to ensure staff and officers engaged in high harm areas, such as domestic abuse, always have access to the right development, skills and knowledge required to undertake their roles.

In parallel, the government has implemented, and is trialling a number of different measures to improve the police response to domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment and Honour Based Violence (DASH) model [8] is used by the majority of police forces in England and Wales to assess risk in domestic abuse and stalking cases.

In 2014 a College of Policing review found the risk tool was not being applied consistently by front-line police officers and did not effectively promote recognition of non-violent abuse such as coercive control.

As a result, three forces took part in a College of Policing pilot which aims to assist frontline officers to identify patterns of abusive behaviour and, in particular, improve officers' understanding of the risks around coercive control.

The College of Policing expects to publish the results of this pilot early in 2018. In the meantime HMICFRS and the National Police Chiefs Council have been clear that forces should continue to improve their use of the current tool, DASH.

We also understand that victims may not always want to pursue a criminal justice response and are looking to strengthen our ability to obtain relevant evidence in addition to the victims’ which can be used in prosecutions where appropriate.

Video cameras worn by police, known as body-worn video, can strengthen a prosecution case when used to capture images following reports of domestic abuse.

The recording can provide an immediate and exact record of the disturbance at the scene and the emotional effect on the victim and their family or other immediate witnesses.

A 2014 investigation by the College Policing into the impact of body-worn video on the criminal justice outcomes of domestic abuse incidents found that issuing officers with body-worn video could be effective in increasing the number of charges made, thereby reducing attrition of domestic abuse cases through the criminal justice system.[9]

We have already provided £1.4 million through the Police Innovation Fund for body-worn video cameras to help officers gather evidence at the scene.

In addition to these measures we have funded six police forces in the North East to pilot a ‘whole system approach’ to tackle domestic abuse.

Case stufy: Police Transformation Fund (PTF)

The PTF is funding six police forces in the North East to pilot a ‘whole system approach’ to tackle domestic abuse. The project has already proved successful in Northumbria in bringing together a range of methods and partners to help tackle domestic abuse, and this new funding will enable it to grow and develop over the next three years. 

There are three central strands to the project which focus on:

  • close partnership working with the criminal justice system
  • civil and family courts
  • multi-agency victim support and offender management

It is planned that West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, Humberside, Cleveland, and Durham forces, with Northumbria will together develop a six-force domestic abuse strategy, enabling strong mutual learning and close collaboration both in policing and across partner agencies.

37. How can we continue to encourage and support improvements in the policing response to domestic abuse across all forces and improve outcomes for victims?