A CRACKDOWN on domestic abuse by a recently-formed police unit has been hailed as a success by force chiefs for taking a soaring number of offenders before Edinburgh’s courts.
The number of violent partners reported to the Crown Office has more than doubled since April after domestic abuse was made a “major priority” by Police Scotland, the country’s single force.
Police chiefs had been stung by criticism of their performance.
Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, the city’s police commander, said his new unit’s “far more robust and intrusive” tactics were helping tackle Edinburgh’s secret shame.
He said: “We have put in more resources and really focused the attention of frontline officers on domestic abuse far more than was the case under the Lothian and Borders Police. That change of focus has really driven the big jump in crime reports.”
In addition to setting up the new unit, the overhaul has seen:
• All 999 domestic abuse calls now given “top grade” status to ensure officers get there immediately;
• A multi-agency approach to target repeat offenders adopted;
• “Intrusive” tactics – where neighbours and family members of victims are questioned – put in place.
Campaigners today welcomed the fresh strategy for policing domestic abuse in the Capital and hoped that the changes would encourage more victims to step forward.
Chief Supt Williams said: “Domestic abuse was always treated very seriously, but under Police Scotland it has become one of the major priorities.
“We’re now taking a far more victim-centric approach to make sure people are protected and supported when faced with the trauma of domestic abuse.
“We aim to effect a far swifter and more decisive approach to conclude an inquiry quickly and put an accused person before the courts as soon as possible.”
New Edinburgh-wide figures released today show the change in tactic appears to be working.
Domestic incidents between April and the end of June fell by four per cent against the same period last year, dropping from 1345 to 1292.
However, the percentage of incidents which saw a report being submitted to the procurator fiscal climbed from 23.6 per cent to 57.7 per cent.
Reflecting on the encouraging figures, Chief Supt Williams said that is little wonder, given his team’s tactics.
He added: “I expect our officers to carry out a far more robust and intrusive level of inquiry.
“We will rigorously check for additional witnesses, carry out door-to-doors, seize CCTV, take separate statements from victim and perpetrator, and take more care to document and examine injuries.
“That change of focus and a desire to be more intrusive has led to us arresting more individuals and putting them into the justice system.
“When we respond to incidents of domestic abuse we do so without delay. Calls are graded in order of priority and severity depending on what’s happening at the time.”
Many domestic incidents were previously met with an immediate response, Chief Supt Williams explained, but now they all are graded that way.
“Getting there more quickly allows us to gather more evidence and pursue criminal inquiries. That makes a big difference.”
Since the realignment of the crime as a central policy plank, officers have been visiting victims to check that bail orders are being adhered to, often catching people in their homes, violating court rulings.
Chief Supt Williams said: “We gave ourselves the target of contacting 95 per cent of victims within 24 hours of bail being set and we’re achieving 96 per cent.
“That visit is to check on the victim’s welfare, make them aware of the bail conditions, and offer them support. Sometimes we have even found that the alleged abuser is actually in the house when we visit – in violation of bail.
“In time, we hope to reduce the number of domestic incidents, which is our main goal. Unfortunately, victims are often abused on dozens of occasions before they come forward to report it. We want victims to be confident that when they call the police they will receive a robust and professional response.”
Lots of resources have been pumped into the fight. The new unit includes a detective inspector, a detective sergeant and 16 detective constables.
They are working with social workers, the justice system and the NHS as part of two new multi-agency groups aimed at combating domestic abuse.
To support victims, a group called the multi-agency risk assessment conference is convened to discuss what can be done to make people feel safe.
Special meetings are also held to discuss how known offenders can be targeted.
Michele Corcoran, manager of Edinburgh Women’s Aid, said they “very much welcome the changes” which have been put in place.
She said: “For too long, perpetrators of domestic abuse have remained free to continue victimising their partner, or perhaps move on to another partner and doing the same thing again.
“Perpetrators need to be made accountable for breaking bail conditions. We’re responsible for the advocacy service at the domestic abuse court at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and we’ve noticed a big change. It gives the victims more confidence when we’re able to tell them that perpetrators are being arrested for breaking special bail conditions.
“If victims see that more perpetrators are being charged then it will hopefully give other victims confidence to contact the police. And the priority being given to domestic abuse may encourage friends, neighbours or members of the public who see it happening to make a report. The victim may desperately want the police contacted but they may be unable to do so.”
Councillor Cammy Day, the city’s community safety leader, is delighted officers are working hand in glove with social services to tackle the problem – and not simply referring people to centres for counselling.
“Domestic abuse is a priority for the council, and I’m glad that it’s the same for the police,” he said. “We need to have a shared understanding of how we tackle domestic abuse. That’s why the police and social workers are working closely together.”
In February last year, a pilot scheme saw a dedicated court set up at Edinburgh Sheriff Court to deal with all domestic abuse prosecutions from the south and east of the city.
It was deemed a success and the Crown Office has reiterated it still takes the hidden crime “extremely seriously”.
A spokesman said: “Anyone arrested for such an offence can expect to find themselves appearing before the domestic abuse court in Edinburgh, where specialist trained staff will deal robustly with these offences.”
On the back of the tough police stance, the Scottish Government has also said is “fully supportive” of the tactic change.
A spokeswoman hailed the steps Edinburgh’s police chiefs are taking “to tackle what is one of the most heinous of crimes”.
She added: “It is encouraging this proactive approach is resulting in an increase in the number of referrals to the procurator fiscal.”