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HMIC reports examine force's response to domestic abuse and dealing with vulnerable victims

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Avon and Somerset Police has responded to two reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) released today as part of the PEEL effectiveness inspection programme.  

The ‘PEEL: Police effectiveness 2015’ inspection looks at vulnerability and a national thematic report ‘Increasingly everyone’s business’ examines the service provided by Forces to victims of domestic abuse. 

The PEEL report graded Avon and Somerset Police as one of 27 forces “requiring improvement” whilst acknowledging that the constabulary is prioritising resources to protect vulnerable people.  

Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “I am understandably disappointed by the findings of the HMIC’s report into protecting vulnerable people in Avon and Somerset. However I want to offer my reassurances that a lot of work is being done to protect those who are most vulnerable in our communities.

“I have made putting victims first a priority for the Constabulary and a Vulnerability Board has been developed to ensure oversight of the issues highlighted in the report.  Lighthouse, our integrated victim and witness care service, has also helped over 25,000 victims of crime and anti-social behaviour who are vulnerable, intimidated and persistently targeted. 

“I’m also committed to tackling child sexual exploitation and working in partnership, a new West of England service is already supporting over a hundred young victims across Avon and Somerset and Wiltshire. Despite this, it is clear there’s more work to be done and I’ve no doubt there will be key learnings we can take from the report’s findings.” 

The thematic Domestic Abuse report recognised the Force’s work in setting-up the Lighthouse Victim Care project, an integrated scheme designed to support vulnerable victims from the moment a crime is reported. The PEEL report also details the constabulary’s investment inconsistent and coordinated integrated victim care through the Lighthouse programme. 

Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe said: 

“We fully accept there are areas identified for improvement in both reports and we’re truly committed to making real changes to better protect those at risk, and to bring offenders to justice. 

“Since the last HMIC inspection 18 months ago we are in a better place, thanks in part to a fundamental change in our prioritisation of resources based on areas of greatest threat, risk and harm to keep the most vulnerable people safe. 

“We’ve recently launched new mechanisms to improve the quality of our crime recording and investigation management so all crimes are assessed now through the prism of the threat, harm and risk.  This helps us to identify the most vulnerable victims, and the most critical crimes are reviewed at a daily meeting chaired by a chief officer.  

“I’m delighted Lighthouse Victim Care has been recognised by HMIC – we believe it’s a pioneering joined up approach which supports those most at risk throughout the police investigation and right through the criminal justice process to court.” 

HMIC also identified other evidence of good practice within the constabulary contact centre, with staff concentrating on vulnerability when responding to calls from the public. 

Commenting specifically on the Domestic Abuse report, T/DCC Rolfe said: 

“Tackling domestic abuse will remain a Force priority at all levels of the organisation. 

“We recorded 25,642 domestic abuse incidents and crimes in the Avon and Somerset area in the 12 months leading up to August 2015 – an increase of 22.2 per cent on the previous year.  But we know crimes are still going unreported and we want to see the figure increase; we don’t want any victims to suffer in silence.

“More needs to be done to improve our arrest and conviction rates but this remains a very complex and unique crime type and we will always seek to achieve more where we can. We use all the tools and legislation at our disposal to protect victims, manage offenders and tackle this horrendous crime, including Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs). 

“The HMIC report recognises the guidance we’ve produced for our partner agencies on how to apply for them. We began using these notices and orders in July 2014 and they’ve been an invaluable tool in protecting victims at risk of abuse. Out of 282 DVPN applications we’ve put forward to the courts, 241 have progressed into full DVPOs.” 

The force has also made significant progress since the previous HMIC report last year in the following areas:  

  • A Domestic Abuse problem profile helps us to identify where improvement is needed – we will ensure we carry out quality investigations and improve the way we manage suspects. 
  • A new Safelives scrutiny panel met for the first time last month, made up of key partner agencies including CPS, Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) and probation. The panel will review our management of domestic violence perpetrators in recent cases and identify and action any learning. This panel will meet throughout next year 
  • A workshop has evaluated learning from recent Domestic Homicide Reviews so we use these reviews to make real changes wherever necessary 
  • All officers and staff have gone through vulnerability training to identify vulnerable victims at an early stage, particularly in the areas of domestic abuse, CSE and human trafficking. This is enhancing our ability to recognise vulnerability and improve the reporting of crimes with vulnerable victims 
  • Further training will be rolled out in the next few months to ensure officers and staff understand new legislation covering domestic abuse by coercion or control. 

Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “Tackling domestic and sexual abuse is a priority across Avon and Somerset and I want victims to know when they approach the police or any other agency that they will be believed, understood and taken seriously.  For me, a crucial step in tackling this terrible crime is giving victims the confidence to come forward and seek justice. 

“I am pleased that the report acknowledges the Constabulary’s work on Domestic Violence Protection Orders as well as on Lighthouse, our integrated victim and witness care team, who are focused on supporting victims of crime and anti-social behaviour.  Despite this work, I’m committed to ensuring the Constabulary continue to deliver in this area and are there for victims when they are needed most.

“I truly believe that we will not end abuse, violence and exploitation unless we make it everybody’s business.”

 

Posted on Tuesday 15th December 2015
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