Unit to tackle domestic crime by changing behaviour of abusers

DCI Barry Byford Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

DCI Barry Byford Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Police are hoping a new approach to tackling domestic violence can help alter the behaviour of abusers, protect victims and reduce increasing demand.

Tim Passmore and Det Ch Supt Eamonn Bridger (centre) with (left to right) Det Ch Insp Nicola Wallace, behaviour change...

Tim Passmore and Det Ch Supt Eamonn Bridger (centre) with (left to right) Det Ch Insp Nicola Wallace, behaviour change caseworker Briony Moore, Pc Joanne Naunton, behaviour change caseworker David Wattley, Detective Sergeant Sarah-Jane Primmer and Det Ch Insp Barry Byford Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY - Credit: Suffolk Constabulary

Latest figures showed recorded incidents of domestic abuse went up almost a quarter (24.1%) in the last 12 months – compared the average total for the previous three years.

For the year ending March, Suffolk police recorded 9,017 domestic abuse-related crimes – or 16% of all recorded crime.

It led to 760 prosecutions – 80% resulting in conviction – while almost half of investigations (49%) ending early due to victims not supporting any action.

In three months of lockdown, between the beginning of April and the end of June, police made 688 arrests for domestic abuse related crime.

Assistant Chief Constable Rob Jones and Temporary Chief Superintendent Marina Ericson supporting the White Ribbon campaign...

Assistant Chief Constable Rob Jones and Temporary Chief Superintendent Marina Ericson supporting the White Ribbon campaign Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY - Credit: Suffolk Constabulary

The force said its active encouragement of victims to report crimes, and the implications of social restrictions, were expected to have affected the volume of recorded crime.

As the nation observes the annual White Ribbon campaign to stop violence against women, the constabulary marked the launch of a Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Unit – made up of one police constable and two staff – to work one-to-one with offenders on changing their behaviour.

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Funded largely by last year’s increase in the policing precept of council tax, the unit will take a detailed look at each perpetrator’s life, including housing, addiction and any mental health diagnoses, and work according to their needs to make a positive change.

The launch comes a week after the Home Office handed out £7.17 million to police and crime commissioners (PCCs) for projects working with perpetrators of domestic abuse.

Suffolk PCC Tim Passmore used his £238,307 share of funding to enable the Venta programme – a behavioural course for domestic abuse perpetrators, which was developed by Ipswich based charity Iceni and has worked with 34 men since 2018 – to expand to at least five areas by September 2021, including Lowestoft by next March.

Detective chief inspector Barry Byford said the new unit would complement the work of the Venta programme but differ in its management of offenders.

“This scheme is very much focused on individuals,” he added.

“We’ll be working with a number of individuals, but only one at any one time. It will be a quite challenging look at why they offend and what they will do to change.”

Det Ch Insp Byford said the cohort of participants would be headed up by those of highest risk and demand, based on a scoring system, adding: “We’re looking to build a number of between 20 and 40, with people rotating on and off.

“Any further offending will, of course, not be tolerated and will result in going back before a court, but if they have come forward it’s because they want to address their behaviour.

“We’d be prepared to take and assess referrals from our partner agencies, but I think the reality is that those scoring highest in the matrix will have already come in through the criminal justice system.

“I’m fairly confident nowhere else in the country is doing it this way. The concept is exciting and I’m really hopeful this intervention will pay dividends.

“We’ll still have in place all the support for victims that Suffolk Constabulary provides. What we weren’t doing before was tackling the problem from both ends.

“My long-experienced and pragmatic view is that positive action around domestic abuse is vital, but if we’re not doing things to prevent people attacked in the first place, we’re not fully tackling the problem.

“This is a proof of concept project and we’ll have a review after the six, 12 and 18-month point.

“We’re being innovative and going into new territory. We’ve tried to pick the best of programmes and adapt to our needs.”

Mr Passmore said: “This will make a real difference by helping perpetrators of this terrible crime recognise the awful effect it has on others and change their ways for the better.

“From what I have seen when visiting perpetrator programmes, I know this unit make a real contribution in reducing the levels of domestic abuse.”

At last week’s monthly meeting of the PCC’s accountability and performance panel, Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Kearton said that while the force was dealing with increased incidents, the total remained low in comparison to other areas with a similar population and geographical makeup.