Northamptonshire Police has used new power to protect stalking victims just once amid a surge in offences
Force insists it takes issue extremely seriously and officers are briefed on the latest guidance
Northamptonshire Police insists it takes stalking extremely seriously despite barely using new powers to protect victims amid a surge in offences.
Only one Stalking Protection Order (SPO) has been issued by the force since they were introduced in January last year, according to a Freedom of Information request by the BBC's Shared Data Unit, which this newspaper is part of.
Yet 1,327 stalking incidents were reported in the county from March to December 2020 - the most recent date available - an increase of 183 per cent from 2019/20.
A Northamptonshire Police spokesperson said: "When investigating an offence we make best use of all relevant legislation and we consider SPO as one of many tools available to us, in order to protect victims and bring offenders to justice."
SPOs are a new civil power available to police which impose restrictions on suspected stalkers, designed to make it easier to curb their behaviour with a lower burden of proof required than a criminal conviction.
But data shows their use varies widely from force to force, with four failing to apply for a single order in the past 15 months.
In England, just 294 orders have been granted since January 2020, despite more than 55,000 stalking incidents being recorded by police in the nine months to December 2020 alone.
Meanwhile national crime outcomes data shows the number of stalking incidents recorded by police has surged since 2019.
The latest figures show 59,950 incidents were recorded across England and Wales in the nine months between April and December 2020 - almost double the annual number of incidents for the year ending March 2020.
Lisa King, from domestic violence charity Refuge, described the policing response to stalking as 'an absolute postcode lottery'.
"The stalking orders haven't been in play for that long. The police should have had training during that time to understand how to use those stalking protection orders that are so needed by women, to protect them," she said.
"The legislation is there, it's no good passing the legislation and then letting it become a dusty piece of paper. It needs to become meaningful."
The Northamptonshire Police spokesperson said it works closely with other forces in the region to ensure best practice is being followed.
All officers and staff are briefed about the latest guidance from the College Of Policing, from taking the initial report, responding to and investigating offences, they added.
The force spokesperson said the increase in the number of crimes recorded does not necessarily mean more stalking offences have taken place as there has been a concerted effort to improve crime recording standards, meaning more crimes are classified and logged.
Furthermore, many stalking offences are domestic-related and the force has doubled the size of its specialist team that investigates high-risk domestic abuse cases.
"Northamptonshire Police takes all forms of stalking and harassment extremely seriously," they continued.
"We are fully committed to safeguarding victims while doing all we can to bring offenders to justice.
"We know stalking and harassment offences can have a significant, life-changing impact on victims and without appropriate early intervention, the risk of harm can quickly escalate which is why we respond quickly to all reports of this kind."