The New South Wales Police Force has a significant job ahead of it to manage increasing rates of domestic violence offences.
Two reports released in recent days show point to a number of specific failings that need to be addressed.
A report by the NSW Auditor-General shows that NSW Police hasn’t dedicated the same level of resources to deal with domestic and family violence that exists in other states.
Another report, by Domestic Violence NSW – the state’s peak body for specialist services – found that a majority of victims felt re-traumatised or humiliated after their interactions with police, rather than supported.
The explanation that police are “under-resourced, and lack training” has been bandied around time after time. Now it’s firmly in the spotlight.
Under resourced and inadequately supported
The report by the Auditor-General has found that there are six dedicated staff to support 280 domestic violence specialists and advise 12,000 officers.
Aside from being under-resourced, the report also found inconsistencies with the wayNSW Police deal with DV across the state.
Further, the report noted systems and processes used to record and manage DV incidents are “cumbersome” and “onerous”, and needs to be vastly improved to automatically connect events and individuals to improve outcomes.
The report also recommended significant changes to the way officers investigate claims of domestic violence made against former or serving members of the police force to “mitigate conflicts of interest”.
Victims feel ‘re-traumatised’ by interactions by police
A report by Domestic Violence NSW also released this week found that sixty-eight per cent of respondents to a review survey reported disagreeing with an assertion police were providing a trauma-informed service.
A majority of respondents stated that they don’t have confidence that police are adequately equipped to respond to domestic violence in Aboriginal communities.
Service workers who responded to the Domestic Violence NSW survey echoed the findings of the Auditor General’s report, saying the police response was patchy across the state, especially in regional areas.
Statements from the NSW Government and NSW Police in response to these reports include the standard rhetoric. NSW Police has said it accepts the recommendations made by the Auditor-General and it ‘remains committed to strengthening services across the state.”
Similarly, the NSW Minister for Domestic and Family Violence, Natalie Ward said the government is committed to “working across all levels of Government and the community to help stop this abhorrent behaviour, support victim-survivors and hold perpetrators to account.”
It’s time to do more than trot out the ’rhetoric’
More Federal funding was recently announced in Josh Frydenber’s latest budget – but it has to be allocated and spent appropriately – domestic violence continues to take too many lives each year.
The Coronial Inquest into the death of Hannah Clarke and her children who were set alight by her estranged partner also found failures within the law and the Family Court system which also need to be considered.
Last year, the Coronial Inquest into the deaths of Jack and Jennifer Edwards who were shot to death by their father found that ‘systemic failures by the NSW Police, the Family Court System and the Firearms Registry cost two the teenagers their lives.”
And just last month, 21-year old Mackenzie Anderson, a mother of one, was stabbed to death at her Newcastle home. Her ex-partner remains in custody.
And for every Hannah and Mackenzie, and Jack and Jennifer there are hundreds of other women and men and children who are living at risk, in fear, of violent partners – they don’t make the news headlines until they’re either seriously harmed, or dead.
Funding alone won’t solve domestic violence
Yes, domestic violence is complex – but it is not invisible. And it is becoming less and less acceptable to simply suggest that Police – as first responders – aren’t trained or equipped to deal with the issue.
When the new NSW Police Chief, Karen Webb was appointed at the start of February, she said the key focus of her tenure would be on victims of crime, in particular child abuse victims, victims of sexual assault and victims of domestic violence.
These two reports highlight key problems, some of which are old problems. It’s now time for Ms Webb to be accountable for her words and to begin to implement real change. It’s also time for the Government of NSW to consider amendments to laws where appropriate.