Police have been told to improve their response to domestic abuse in Northamptonshire after a new report showed it had the lowest arrest rate in the country.
A critical report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary showed that Northamptonshire Police arrested just 43 people for every 100 domestic abuse crimes recorded.
For most forces, the number is between 45 and 90.
The news came just weeks after it was revealed that changes to Northamptonshire County Council funding could result in the closure of all the county’s women’s refuges.
The HMIC report also showed that there were 3,685 domestic abuse related crimes for the 12 months to the end of August 2013 - more than 10 per day. Of these crimes, just 12 per cent resulted in a charge; five per cent in a caution and one per cent were dealt with via ‘out of court disposal’.
The summary of the report said: “Although Northamptonshire Police’s response to tackling domestic abuse is effective in some respects, and there are pockets of good practice, there are some important areas where improvement is needed in order to reduce the risk to victims.
“The force has the lowest arrest rate for domestic abuse related crimes in the country, which is a concern.
“High risk (of serious harm or murder) victims are well-served by the police and their partners.
“Domestic abuse forums now provide an opportunity for early intervention in medium risk cases, to put in place measures, with partners, to prevent escalation in risk.
“However, leadership and supervision needs to improve for the force to be completely confident that they are providing a good service to all victims.”
There were many areas in which the force response to domestic abuse was criticised. Bosses were told that high risk offenders were treated well, but there was an inconsistent approach to the way in which medium and low-risk victims were treated.
The report said: “The lack of supervision of the risk assessment and safety planning process in medium and standard risk cases is a weakness in Northamptonshire and the force cannot be sure that all victims are adequately safeguarded.
“There are also weaknesses in the supervision of the overall investigation and evidence gathering process which may mean that offenders cannot ultimately be brought to justice and victims are not consistently well-served.”
In response, Assistant Chief Constable Russ Foster released a long statement said: “We welcome the HMIC report which highlights a number of areas where the force has been found to be effective in dealing with domestic abuse, while highlighting some areas for improvement.
“Tackling domestic abuse is a priority for the force and we are committed to continually improving the way we deal with cases of abuse and providing a high quality service to victims.
“We have implemented a number of improved policies and practices, including better training for all our officers and frontline staff, with regular updates on policy and procedure change, and we work closely with other agencies to ensure victims are properly supported according to their individual needs.
“We have a specialist domestic abuse unit which consists of highly trained officers and staff who focus entirely on cases of domestic abuse, and we have also worked with colleagues in the Crown Prosecution Service and Court Service to introduce a specialist domestic abuse court that sits weekly at Northampton Magistrates’ Court, with the aim of fast-tracking domestic abuse cases through the court system.
“We recognise the importance of identifying vulnerable people.
“We recognise there are areas for improvement and we are working hard to ensure we provide the best possible service to victims of domestic abuse.
“The HMIC report has highlighted that the force has one of the lowest arrest rates for domestic abuse related crimes in the country. We work hard to bring offenders to justice and will arrest offenders where this is the most appropriate course of action. Arrest is not always the best outcome and our primary aim is to protect victims and make them safe, taking into account their individual needs.
“We urge victims to report abuse so we can put in place early interventions to prevent further incidents and escalation of abuse. We have a real focus on dealing with repeat victims of domestic abuse and will crack down on repeat offenders.”
Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds criticised the report. He said: “HMIC has published a report which tells me that Northamptonshire Police works hard to protect and defend individuals and families caught in domestic abuse. My own consultation with victims of crime – Victims’ Voice – clearly set out the good, the bad and the ugly.
“I know much more needs to be done but I am disappointed that, yet again, HMIC has failed to properly highlight successes and direction of travel. Northamptonshire will, by October, be leading the way in supporting victims and witnesses; HMIC make no reference to the work we are doing, actually ahead of most forces.”
Northamptonshire Police force response to domestic violence
What it’s good at:
Identifying domestic abuse victims when they ring the force control room.
Referring children involved in domestic abuse to the correct authorities.
Setting up an effective domestic abuse forums to improve partnership working.
Ensuring the safety of victims classed as ‘low risk’, where incidents are repeated but escalating incidents of abuse.
What it’s not good at:
The supervision of investigation and evidence gathering which may mean offenders are not brought to justice. Described as ‘ad hoc’ and inconsistent.
Fully-completing its domestic abuse, stalking and harassment risk assessments.
Weak handover in the quality of handover from the initial response team to the investigating officers.
Some high-risk victims may be denied the response that would enhance their safety simply because a multi-agency meeting does not have time to hear their case.
Providing programmes for abusers. Two pilots are due to end this month due to lack of funding.
Alerting victims when their attackers are released on bail.
The report’s recommendations:
1. The force should review its processes at first point of contact to ensure
that call handlers are all appropriately trained to identify domestic abuse
victims. In particular, to clarify and apply definitions of ‘repeat victim’ and
‘vulnerable victim’ to ensure that they can better identify those most at
risk and provide a consistently appropriate service.
2. The force should review the supervision by front-line managers of all
domestic abuse incidents, to ensure: that there is appropriate oversight
and quality control of the risk assessment and safety planning at the
initial attendance; and that the quality of initial evidence gathering and
handover can be assured.
3. The force should improve its understanding of, and engagement with,
black and minority ethnic communities and any other hard-to-reach
communities where there is under-reporting of abuse, so that services
can be designed and developed to ensure that they are appropriate to
victims in these communities.
4. The force should review the current criteria for the referral of cases to a
MARAC to ensure that it is compatible with nationally acknowledged
good practice, and that it is not excluding some high risk victims from
access to the full range of services to safeguard and support them.
5. The force should review the current level of resourcing for investigating
high risk domestic abuse cases and supporting victims to ensure that all
victims receive an appropriate level of service.
6. The force should work closely with the PCC to provide clarity over the
future of the IDVA service and ensure that victims can be provided with a
7. The force should ensure that all performance monitoring information is
provided to managers and partners in a way that can be clearly
understood and used to drive improvements in outcomes.
8. The force should review the terminology being used to describe standard
risk cases. ‘Low’ can minimise the level of risk being experienced.