Changes to the way Kent Police officers respond to domestic abuse reports have seen a ‘significant’ rise in the number of arrests and charges brought but there is still more to do, says Chief Inspector Rhiannan Pepper.
Ch Insp Pepper spoke candidly about the rates of reported domestic abuse in Thanet and the work being done to help those suffering during a presentation to councillors tonight (April 20).
The isle has the highest rates of reported domestic violence in Kent – excluding Medway- with 4,369 recorded crimes in the 2020-2021 year (March-February). This was a rise of 11.8% rise over a three-year time period.
Of the 4369 recorded reports of domestic abuse in 2020-21, there were 1,836 arrests – a 30% rise across 2018-21.
But the number of charges brought was just 278 – although this was more than double the 130 charges brought in 2019-20,
Ch Insp Pepper said: “Last year the charge rate was 3.3% and that has jumped to 6.4%, a significant jump but it is still not as high as I would want but we are continuing to make progress. It is putting that focus on domestic abuse.”
The majority of cases – consistently between 72-76% – involve partners or ex partners.
Thanet has a disproportionate number of repeat victims, particularly for 6-10 reports – in 2020-21 involving 78 victims – and over 10 reports involving 17 victims.
Ch Insp Pepper said: “This is key for me, Thanet disproportionately has more 6-10 and over 10 reports. There are more repeat victims in Thanet and I want to know why.”
The Ch Insp said specialist teams and local officers and the community safety unit were making visits to people who were repeatedly subjected to domestic abuse to build trust and confidence.
She said: “That’s 17 people we are seeing constantly suffering. We need to be breaking this down and getting better at it.”
Dedicated specialist officers
Ch Insp Pepper said the focus on dealing with domestic abuse is something she is passionate about and, since taking over in her role last November, it is an issue that has received “a lot of scrutiny.”
She told councillors there are dedicated, specialist officers to work with victims and a number of new measures under an eight point plan have been bringing in results alongside a huge ‘culture’ shift that has been ‘drilled’ into all officers.
She said: “It is really important to get an arrest and get that separation that allows us time to speak to the victim without the offender present.”
Changes bringing results
Ch Insp Pepper said changes included officers saying they would be taking a statement rather than asking if the victim wanted to do this.
She said: “We will say ‘I am here to take a statement from you regarding what has happened.’ We are taking the ownership of what’s happened away from the victim, I am telling them ‘I am going to take this from you.’
“This is really important to get best evidence.
“The second big change is we now leave an officer with the victim. A lot of time we would arrest the offender, take them into custody and then it is probably 2-3 hours before we get back to the victim, by which point they have normalised the behaviour, the offender’s gone and they are in a safe place and do not want to engage with us.
“We have seen a real change by leaving the officer there, getting that evidential statement, making sure the body worn camera is on and recording all the damage. We are not allowing them to normalise it.”
Some 42% of reported incidents result in an arrest and Ch Insp Pepper said she monitors cases on a daily and weekly basis and will ask inspectors to go back through the camera evidence if she is not satisfied in cases where an arrest in not made.
Drugs and alcohol
Other methods being used to deal with offenders include using drug and alcohol testing.
Ch Insp Pepper said: “We are implementing drug testing on arrival – this is underutilised.
“Offenders we know have a drug problem, we need to test on arrival and put on them the positive obligation to go and get help.”
She said this either results in breaking the behaviour or, if they refuse to get help, that can be brought up in court to make a successful outcome more likely.
She revealed this method has just been brought in for alcohol as well, placing an obligation on offenders to deal with that addiction.
In response to questions Ch Insp Pepper said there had been a rise in cases involving coercive control although the majority of reports involved physical assaults and, although the main ratio of reports was male offenders and female victims – there were men who suffered domestic abuse.
She said: “Sometimes it is harder for them to make the call or have those conversations because of the way society looks at domestic abuse.”
She also said she would bring forward an idea of training for people in house maintenance services – those who visit homes for jobs such as plumbers – after Cllr Kerry Boyd raised it as a scheme that had been publicised.
Ch Insp Pepper added: “We are heading in the right direction. There’s a lot more we need to do but the last six months we have made great strides culturally and in arrest and charge rates to make a dent in this.”
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is run by Refuge and offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day to victims and those who are worried about friends and loved ones. Telephone: 0808 2000 247
The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them.
Call 0808 801 0327.