Police failing to attend one in nine domestic violence incidents, figures show

Exclusive: Statistics paint ‘disturbing picture’ of growing crime levels and decreasing response

Harriet Agerholm
Sunday 10 December 2017 23:08
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The worst-performing forces are missing a quarter of call-outs
The worst-performing forces are missing a quarter of call-outs

The number of domestic violence incidents going unattended by police is soaring, with the worst performing forces now missing a quarter of call-outs, damning statistics obtained by The Independent reveal.

The proportion of incidents where officers failed to show up more than doubled between 2012 and 2016 – from 5 per cent of cases to 11 per cent – responses to Freedom of Information requests from police forces across England showed.

Last year, at least 39,686 incidents went unattended, while it took police more than 24 hours to get to the scenes of a further 32,007 reported crimes.

An ever-smaller proportion of reports are attended within 15 minutes, the figures demonstrate. Police showed up to 47 per cent of cases in this time frame in 2012, but only to 37 per cent last year.

Among the forces with the worst records of attending scenes was Devon and Cornwall. The service did not turn up to more than a quarter of reports, or 7,855 of 30,298.

Humberside Police, which covers part of east Yorkshire, did not arrive at the scene in 22 per cent of cases.

The Independent received responses from 19 of 38 forces across England, which all provided figures for 2016. Three of these forces were not able to provide data as far back as 2012.

The Metropolitan Police said it could not give accurate response figures because analysts would have to review three different computer systems, which would be too costly.

The revelations about response times follow a report by the police watchdog, which last month found some forces were downgrading the severity of calls to justify slower response times.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said it was “concerned that some forces may be suppressing demand because they have insufficient officer numbers”.

“There can be serious consequences for the victim if the response is delayed,” it added.

One domestic violence survivor told the police inspectors they waited two days to see the police after reporting their abuse.

“When I called, the police said that an officer would be with me by 10pm. No one came but they text me, and then arrived two days later,” they said.

The watchdog also found evidence of police potentially putting victims in danger by inappropriately conducting risk assessments over the telephone, rather than in person.

“An accurate assessment of risk is impossible without seeing the victim and other individuals within the household, including children, in person,” it said.

A recent explosion in the number of reported domestic abuse incidents has prompted concerns law enforcement is struggling to cope. The number of crimes recorded by police rocketed 60 per cent in the three years to June 2016, in line with rises in the number of sex crime victims coming forward.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, described the new figures as “shocking”.

“It takes a lot of strength and resolve for a woman to build up the courage to report domestic abuse to the police. It is therefore vital that she gets an effective response when she calls out for help,” she said.

“This means that police officers must be attending domestic abuse scenes to ensure that survivors are in no immediate danger and that perpetrators are held accountable for the abuse.

“Some forces are struggling to cope with the increase in reported crimes and are giving dangerous responses when survivors seek protection, such as assessing risk over the phone and downgrading the severity of cases to justify a slower response time.

“This is unacceptable. Such practices threaten to put more women and children’s lives at risk.”

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said the data presented “a very disturbing picture of the growth in domestic violence and the decline in police response”.

“The growing misery of tens of thousands of victims is a stain on our society,” she continued

“Independent assessment is that the lack of police resources is now a key factor in the declining quality of the response to domestic violence.

“This lack of resources is one of the terrible consequences of Tory austerity, the effects of which are falling hardest on women. It comes on top cuts for funding to legal aid, and to women’s refuges.

“Any decent government would be trying to improve this situation, and tackle domestic violence across the board. This Government is making things worse.”

It emerged at the end of October the Government is planning to stop housing benefits being used to pay for supported accommodation. The proposals led rights organisations to warn refuges would close, placing women and children fleeing violence at increased risk.

Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on domestic abuse, said forces aim to attend every incident of domestic abuse reported to them.

“At a time when the police service is having to do more with less, we are dealing with over one million incidents of domestic abuse each year and this number continues to rise,” she said.

“All police forces constantly review the way that they handle these cases to ensure we are putting the victim at the heart of investigations and strengthening our coordinated response across the criminal justice system”.

Detective Chief Inspector Danny Patrick, who leads on domestic abuse for Humberside Police, said domestic abuse was a “key priority” for the force and they “strive to respond to our victims according to their needs”.

“A response can be via one of a number of methods according to circumstances. Where there is any suggested threat to the victim, an immediate police patrol response is appropriate. However, if someone is reporting something retrospectively for example and their immediate safety is not in jeopardy, it may be more appropriate to arrange an appointment at a later date.

“We have improved the way that we understand and deal with cases of domestic abuse. What it is important to stress is that we understand the importance of getting our response right at the first point of contact. As more people are coming forward to report this complex and often hidden crime type, we are achieving higher levels of prosecutions and arrests overall.”

​DCI Craig McWhinnie, from Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “Incidents of domestic abuse are both complex and varied and there are often many reasons as to why officers would not attend immediately. This could be to safeguard the victim and protect them if they have called us in confidence.

“A large number of victims are offered appointments, providing that there is no immediate risk, where they can pick a convenient time to talk to police which doesn’t put them in danger.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Domestic violence is a life-shattering and abhorrent crime, and tackling it is a key priority for this Government.

“Independent assessments from HMICFRS have noted improvements in the overall police response to victims since 2014, but we recognise there is still more to do. This is why the Government will publish a landmark draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to protect and support victims, recognise the life-long impact these crimes have on children, and ensure agencies respond effectively to domestic abuse.

“Last year the Government committed funding of £80m to stop violence against women and girls and launched a new strategy to stop abuse with a focus early on intervention and prevention. A further £20m for domestic abuse services was announced in the spring budget, and we are committed to working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to continue to improve their response to these crimes.”

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