HMICFRS: Review of policing domestic abuse during the pandemic – 2021
Response from: Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Hampshire
We have all felt the challenges and constraints of the global Covid-19 pandemic, but for those living with their abuser, the imposed restrictions put domestic abuse victims at greater risk. Hampshire Constabulary quickly adapted to the changing environment, recognising the need to be innovative to supporting victims and tackling hidden abuse. It was great to see HMICFRS recognise good practice in place here in the force:
“Hampshire Constabulary works with other organisations to maintain a COVID-19 domestic abuse gold group. Attendees at this group include local specialist domestic abuse services, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, IDVAs and housing associations. The focus is on reviewing domestic abuse demand and risk, and ways to support vulnerable people.”
Through the Constabulary’s ‘Safe at Home initiative’ working in conjunction with Stop Domestic Abuse, we saw specially trained staff raising awareness of the support available through supermarkets, hairdressers and other public locations. This provided a level of provision for those in need as restrictions eased. We saw our partners going the extra mile such as taking on new staff, training existing staff to support victims, and investing in new technology. As PCC I am pleased to have funded these measures through government monies my office secured.
The report does raise concerns around a drop in charging rates and length of time for cases to be heard due to court backlogs. Whilst this is true at both a local and national level, in my role as Chair of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Local Criminal Justice Board, ensuring the speed at which HMCTS manage the court backlogs remains a constant focus across the force area.
As highlighted in the report we are seeing an increase in victims not supporting police investigations. I will be reviewing this with the forces domestic abuse lead to ensure that victims feel supported throughout the investigative process, and if needed, provide support from my office to explore the reasons why victims are not supporting police investigations. As joint APCC lead for Victims I will be working to ensure the voices of victims are heard, and that their needs are kept at the heart of the criminal justice system.
Police and Crime Commissioner
We recommend that if forces continue to adopt online contact methods in respect of victims of domestic abuse, they should immediately introduce an effective supervision and monitoring framework. The framework should assess the suitability of such contact methods, ensuring that victim needs are at the forefront of decisions around their use and appropriate onward action is taken in all cases.
Where contact for domestic abuse victims continues to be online, outside of lockdown restrictions, I will be challenging the force to ensure effective and robust measures are in place.
We recommend that forces immediately review their use of a telephone-based initial response to any domestic abuse incidents and crimes and ensure that it is in accordance with the strict parameters set out by the College of Policing.
As PCC I will reach out to the force for reassurances that any telephone-based initial responses to any domestic abuse incident and crime meets the College of Policing guidelines, where this falls short, I will work with the Chief Constable to ensure oversight.
We recommend that forces immediately review their capacity to provide ongoing support and safeguarding to victims of domestic abuse whose case is awaiting trial at court. This should:
- ensure there are sufficient resources available to maintain contact with victims to keep them up to date with the progress of their case; and
- enable the offer of access to specialist support services as well as opportunities to address concerns victims may have regarding continuing to support a prosecution through the delays
We hear time and time again from victims of crime that they are not sufficiently kept up to date and informed. It is for the Chief Constable to ensure resources are deployed in the most effective way. As a part of my ongoing scrutiny of the force I will be seeking regular updates on the progression of effective resource allocation for victims of crime. Here in Hampshire all victims of crime, whether they report to the police or not, can access support from the Victim Care Service which I fund.
We recommend that all forces immediately review their use of outcome 15, outcome 16 and evidence-led prosecutions. This is to ensure that:
- domestic abuse investigations guarantee all attempts to engage victims are explored, and that all possible lines of evidence are considered so that in all cases the best possible outcomes for victims are achieved;
- there is regular and effective supervision of investigations that supports the above point to be achieved; and
- the use of outcomes 15 and 16 is appropriate, and the reasons for using them, including auditable evidence of victim engagement, are clearly recorded.
This is an opportunity to ensure the best victim-led practice is being implemented and delivered consistently across the force area. I will ask Hampshire Constabulary to undertake an audit of their outcome 15, outcome 16 and evidence-led prosecutions to better understand these cases and identify what is missing to ensure a successful outcome.