AN extensive investigation into how police forces respond to domestic abuse found the public in Merseyside “can have confidence that generally, the police provide a good service to victims of domestic abuse and help keep them safe.”
A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that tackling violence in the home is a priority for the Merseyside force.
But while the local force is praised, many across England and Wales are highly criticised by HMIC, which operates independently of Government and the police.
Thousands of domestic violence victims are being failed by police due to "alarming and unacceptable weaknesses" in the way cases are investigated, inspectors found.
Their probe said only eight out of the 43 forces responded well to domestic abuse and the most vulnerable victims faced a "lottery" in the way complaints were handled.
Poor attitudes, ineffective training and inadequate evidence-gathering were all heavily criticised by the watchdog, which has called for an urgent shake-up of the response to domestic abuse - from frontline officers up to police chiefs.
However the review said Merseyside staff demonstrated a high level of commitment and awareness of domestic violence.
They exercised appropriate discretion and worked well with partners such as social services and housing associations.
For every 100 domestic abuse crimes recorded there were 86 arrests in Merseyside. For most forces, the number is between 45 and 90.
Merseyside recorded 4,817 domestic abuse-related crimes for the 12 months to the end of August 2013. Of these 47% resulted in a charge, 8% in a caution and just 1% in a fixed penalty notice.
High-risk domestic abuse victims are also provided with the support of specially trained independent advisors whose role is to support victims, help them rebuild their lives and assist them through any court proceedings.
The report makes several recommendations for areas of improvement.
Merseyside should review the ability of call-takers and dispatchers to access appropriate systems to inform attending officers of key information relevant to the incident.
Training currently provided should be examined to ensure all staff understand coercive control, stalking, harassment and so-called honour-based violence.
And frontline officers should be educated on access to support available to victims, and what their responsibilities are in relation to ongoing victim care.
Merseyside Detective Superintendent Tim Keelan said: "We welcome the HMIC report today, as anything that can improve the service we provide to victims of domestic abuse in Merseyside can only be valued.
”The HMIC inspection found the force provides a good service and victims of domestic abuse can be reassured that the force will continue to strive to enhance the processes we have in place.
"The report recognises domestic abuse is a priority for the force and any victim can be confident that they are not alone and we will do everything we can to help them.
”Since the last HMIC inspection ten years ago, the force has invested in specially training domestic abuse officers and we have trained 1,500 frontline officers who are most likely to deal with reports of domestic abuse."
Detective Supt Keelan added: ”Today’s report also commends the significant increase in the number of successful prosecutions for domestic abuse.
"This is testament to the close working relationships we have with our partner agencies and further plans are in place to forge even closer links with partners.
”We recognise there are areas for improvement and we will thoroughly review all of the points raised in the report in order to provide a better service for victims of domestic abuse.
"I would encourage anyone who suffers domestic abuse to come forward and our officers will do everything possible to help and support them.”
Home Secretary Theresa May announced she will chair a new national monitoring group, in response to one of the key recommendations made by the inspectors, to ensure every police force overhauls its approach to domestic violence.
There were 269,700 domestic abuse-related crimes in England and Wales between 2012 and 2013, the report said, with 77 women killed by their partners or ex-partners in the same period.
Inspectors singled out Greater Manchester, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Gloucestershire Police forces as being of particularly serious concern, while hailing Lancashire Police as having the best response to domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse in Merseyside - The facts *
Calls for assistance
- In Merseyside, domestic abuse accounts for 5% of calls to the police for assistance. The force was unable to provide the number of these calls that were from repeat victims.
- Domestic abuse accounts for 5% of all recorded crime.
Assault with intent
- Merseyside recorded 611 assaults with intent to cause serious harm, of these 119 were domestic abuse related. This is 19% of all assaults with intent to cause serious harm recorded for the 12 months to end of August 2013.
Assault with injury
- The force also recorded 6,002 assaults with injury, of these 1,772 were domestic abuse related. This is 30% of all assaults with injury recorded for the 12 months to end of August 2013.
- The force recorded 598 harassment offences, of these 341 were domestic abuse related. This is 57% of all harassment offences recorded for the 12 months to end of August 2013.
- The force also recorded 1,356 sexual offences, of these 136 were domestic abuse related. This is 10% of all sexual offences recorded for the 12 months to end of August 2013.
- On 31 August 2013 Merseyside had 2,002 active Domestic Abuse cases, 49% were high risk, 29% were medium risk, and 22% were standard risk.
- For every 100 domestic abuse crimes recorded there were 86 arrests in Merseyside. For most forces the number is between 45 and 90.
- Merseyside recorded 4, 817 domestic abuse related crimes for the 12 months to the end of August 2013. Of these crimes 47% resulted in a charge, 8% resulted in a caution and, 1% had an out of court disposal, for example a fixed penalty notice for disorderly conduct.
* Artwork courtesy of HMIC