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Police failed too many victims of abuse...we had to change: Police chief on tackling domestic abuse in Essex
I WALKED into a door. I was playing netball and a ball hit me in the face. She hit me first and I was just protecting myself. He didn’t mean to do it and he said he is sorry.
On a daily basis, police officers are confronted with excuses for the sort of violence in a home which would never be permitted on the streets.
But there is no CCTV in a home to record what actually happened.
Instead, there are incredibly complicated personal relationships, overflowing emotions and a lot of confusion.
Yet police officers are expected to get to the bottom of what happened, keep the victim safe, prosecute the criminal and get the balance right between what is a domestic row and what is domestic abuse.
Because if they get it wrong, people can die.
Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh, Essex’s most senior officer, describes working on domestic abuse as “homicide prevention”.
In the past, Essex Police have got it wrong. They stayed out of too many situations and women died.
In response, they overcompensated.
It seemed like every call to a domestic situation was marked as high risk and, at times, officers lost the ability to use their skills and judgment to differentiate.
In many ways, this was equally as dangerous, as the most at risk got lost in piles of paperwork.
Now things are much better and there are a lot of reasons why.
Officers have better training.
For example, there is a daily review of all domestic abuse incidents.
There is also much closer working relations with other agencies, such as the health service, social services, charities and voluntary organisations.
Specially-trained domestic abuse investigation teams have been formed.
There is a specialist domestic abuse crime unit in Southend and Basildon.
And Clare’s Law has been introduced, which allows people to find out if new partners have a history of domestic abuse.
But perhaps the biggest change is that body cameras are now worn by officers to record the scenes they are confronted with.
That has helped provide a solution to the age-old problem of one person’s word against another.
They allow magistrates, juries and judges to see the situations for themselves.
Most importantly of all, they help prosecute violent abusers when the victim is too scared to speak out themselves.
There are now 400 body worn cameras used in Essex after being introduced this year.
They have already helped the force launch 120 “victimless”
prosecutions, where the Crown Prosecution Service brings a case before the court without having the victim involved.
Mr Kavanagh said: “The body cameras give us more objective information to show to the courts.
“The direct results have been more guilty pleas and more convictions. When you show the courts the level of injuries and fear, they can see the situations for themselves.”
Another improvement has been considering each individual situation.
He said: “In the past, all domestic abuse situations were being treated the same.
“Not all victims want or need blue lights flashing to their door.
“This approach is not without risk but, if you have better information, you can make better decisions.”
Essex Police received praise for improving their handling of domestic violence in a report by Her Maje s t y ’ s Inspectorate of Constabulary. Mr Kavanagh is confident the improvements already made and the plans being put in place will help the force avoid some of the tragedies of the past.
In 2008, Maria Stubbings was murdered by partner Marc Chivers in Chelmsford.
In July 2011, Jeanette Goodwin was murdered in Southend and Christine Chambers and her twoyear- old daughter Shania were murdered in Braintree.
In all cases, warning signs were missed by Essex Police.
Mr Kavanagh said: “There has been a massive amount of work carried out in Essex, by both the police and our partner agencies, to improve.
“The HMIC has rightly recognised this is a priority area for Essex Police and this is reflected in the robust approach we take against offenders.”
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