'Significant concern' over Gwent Police handling of domestic violence

South Wales Argus: Gwent Police's handling of domestic violence gives 'significant concern'. Pic posed by model. Gwent Police's handling of domestic violence gives 'significant concern'. Pic posed by model.

A POLICING watchdog says it has significant concerns over how the force has responded to victims of domestic violence in Gwent.

An inspection report published yesterday said although domestic abuse was a priority for Gwent Police the force didn’t have the processes and systems to translate its commitment.

The issues weren’t just in Gwent, however, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said the way police respond to domestic violence across England and Wales isn’t good enough.

Gwent Police is slimming down the size of its domestic abuse unit – but is to now provide domestic abuse training to all frontline officers and staff.

Inspector for the Wales and Western Region Dru Sharpling said: “HMIC found significant concerns regarding how the force responded to some victims of domestic abuse in Gwent.

“Risk assessments are not consistently applied, and an absence of supervisory input or oversight results in victims not being given the same level of service across the force.”

The current HMIC inspection took place last November.

According to the report there are no robust procedures in place to ensure that repeat victims can be consistently identified.

“The force cannot be confident that all victims of domestic abuse get the best available service at the earliest opportunity,” the report read.

High risk victims are provided with additional support from specialist officers, but high workloads mean not all cases are dealt by specialist investigators and victim support staff.

For every 100 domestic abuse crimes recorded there were 60 arrests in Gwent – the HMIC says the “low arrest rate compared to other forces indicates that this is an issue the force may want to review.”

Gwent recorded 3,828 domestic abuse related crimes for the 12 months to the end of August 2013 – of which 23 per cent resulted in a charge, seven per cent resulted in a caution and 33 per cent had an out of court disposal such as a fixed penalty notice.

Areas of good practice were highlighted, however – the HMIC said the domestic abuse conference call system, for example, helps police and other agencies to provide early responses to help safeguard victims.

The HMIC made ten recommendations to the force, including that Gwent should implement appropriate systems to identify repeat and vulnerable victims.

A Gwent Police spokeswoman said: "Having invested resources from local policing units into a dedicated domestic abuse investigation unit we found that having a specialist team to deal with all domestic abuse investigations did not consistently provide a better service for victims and was unsustainable.

"We have given careful consideration to the recommendations from HMIC and reviewed the evidence gathered during our own internal review and our plan now is to move forward by delivering better and more frequent training to all front line officers and staff.

"This change will mean local officers will deal with reports of domestic abuse which will provide better consistency in the risk assessment process and supervision of cases. "We will also retain a small specialist team within the public protection unit that will directly support victims in high risk cases. This way of working allows us to make better use of the limited resources available, and frees up officers to provide an increased visibility in our communities."

The changes referred to will take effect on March 31. From that date all front line officers will be trained to deal with domestic abuse cases and a 'core' team of 12 will deal with those cases deemed high risk.

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