There were so many nights when I, as a young boy, had to watch helplessly as my father verbally and physically abused my mother. I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother's eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways. I would not wish that experience on anyone, especially not a child.And so begins Bishop Desmond Tutu's article on forgiveness in last Saturday's Guardian. Anyone reading this will be reminded of just how many victims there are of domestic violence. A very good friend and skilled colleague of mine was murdered by her ex last year. I sat in Southwark Crown Court last week as her murderer was convicted and sentenced to (at least) 20 years imprisonment. The high incidence of domestic abuse is one of the reasons why I spend some of my time in schools helping 9/10/11 year olds understand more about abuse, including emotional & domestic abuse. (Citing the HMIC report: "In the UK, one in four of young people aged 10 to 24 reported that they experienced domestic violence and abuse during their childhood")
This matter is everyone's business.
And so I praise Theresa May for calling for the just published HMIC scrutiny "Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse". This is a worthy report that has already attracted much comment (such as here, here and here). I am sure that it is being read carefully in many places this morning, not least the police forces that have been highlighted as being particularly lacking in their response.
The report is long (157 pages) and contains some excellent and it would appear, developmental help to forces wishing to improve their response to domestic violence (which should include even the ones that are praised such as Thames Valley). I certainly have not read it all.
Some of the twitter comment about this report has been about how much the police cannot do this alone and how much other partners need to work in tandem to tackle this issue. This is a point not lost on the authors of the report who say in the second paragraph of the introduction
Other agencies and partners share the responsibility to tackle domestic abuse and keep victims safe; it does not rest solely with the police. However, the police have an essential role to play.So we know it is "complex" and it is about partnership working and it is not all the police's fault... the only question now is what next: just how should things improve in the police service and beyond? As the report states "Domestic abuse is a priority on paper but, in the majority of forces, not in practice" (my added emphasis)
This reminds me of my often used challenge: it is easy to write a 'strutegy' but a heck of lot more complicated to create a 'stractegy'. (The former exists only on the glossy page whereas the latter exists in action - see here for more about this analysis.) So I start with this concern: has the HMIC recommended actions that will result in strutegies or stractegies?
There is much to commend the conclusions and recommendations for action that the report advocates. But here are my concerns (from an organisational development perspective):
E-learning in this area is probably rightly criticised. However classroom learning in groups may be little better unless it is complimented by tackling organisational culture and leadership. The "Myth of the Hero Innovator" remains, in my opinion, one of the most important pieces about change ever written:
I recommend you to get hold of a copy ("The Myth of the Hero-Innovator and Alternative Strategies for Organisational Change" Georgiades & Phillimore. In "Behaviour Modification with the Severly Retarded" Edited by Kiernan & Woodford. 1975)
In essence what Georgiades & Phillimore advocate is a whole system approach to making change happen and not relying on a single measure (such as 'sheep dip' training that the police service embarked upon when tackling institutional racism) to effect sustainable development of practice.
But to turn specifically to the recommendations in the report:
R1: A national oversight and monitoring group should be established and convened immediately to monitor and report on the progress made in implementing these recommendations.
I think that is a good start. The key to its success will be whether membership of this group includes people prepared to stand up to some very powerful vested interests and say what needs to be said. It is unclear what authority this group will have other than hold up a mirror...
R2: By September 2014, every police force in England and Wales should establish and publish an action plan that specifies in detail what steps it will take to improve its approach to domestic abuse.
I could be churlish and say what happened to local accountability especially as "Police and crime commissioners should hold forces to account in this respect"..? (My added emphasis) But I really fear, as above, that these action plans could look good on paper, but will they be stractegies or strutegies? Consulting other organisations and victims, as the report recommends is no guarantee that these actions will be properly followed through, or even the right actions. (Email me if you want me to wax lyrical about why.)
R3: To inform the action plan specified in Recommendation 2, chief constables should review how they, and their senior officers, give full effect to their forces' stated priority on domestic abuse.
How they what? This sounds like political speak to me...
But it does go on to say that the action plan (and their leadership of it) should be based upon an assessment of culture, values, performance management, reward & recognition policies etc etc. In other words this is about Leadership and Organisation Development! Make no bones about it. Will we see this? I hope so!
R4: Data collected on domestic abuse needs to be consistent, comparable, accessible and accurate so that it can be used to monitor progress.
Cannot argue with that. But shouldn't all national data on all types of crime and police response be like this anyway? Has the Home Office been sleeping on the job too?
R5: The College of Policing is updating authorised professional practice for officers on domestic abuse alongside other areas such as investigation and public protection. This update should be informed by the conclusions of and recommendations in this report...
Again, makes sense to me. But I am sad that there is no explicit mention of evidence based practice in this recommendation: a golden opportunity missed in my opinion. There is some (though not much) good controlled research in this area. We need more. Perhaps the Home Office could have offered funding to support some more of such research that forces could have bid into?
R6: The College of Policing is reviewing the evidence base for risk assessment in cases of domestic abuse. The College should urgently consider the current approach to risk assessment with others..
This is vital and at least 'evidence base' is mentioned here. But a mention of resources here would not have gone amiss.
R7: The College of Policing should conduct a thorough and fundamental review of the sufficiency and effect of training and development on forces' response to domestic abuse... Police forces should ensure that their approach to domestic abuse training is evidence based
R8: The College of Policing, through the national policing lead for domestic abuse, should disseminate to forces examples of how forces are targeting serial and repeat domestic abuse perpetrators in order to prevent future offending.
Always a good idea. More talking heads type conferences or maybe something more interactive... and developmental?
R9: The Home Office should reconsider its approach to domestic homicide reviews.... Police and crime commissioners should track how and when recommendations from domestic homicide reviews are implemented.
Again, good stuff. No quibbles. Although how close is this sailing PCCs into operational waters?
R10: Police and crime commissioners should consider the findings and recommendations of this report when commissioning services for victims of domestic abuse.
Very good point and very timely given that we are now in the run up to this commissioning round. Here is a role for Police & Crime Panels to be monitoring...
R11: Tackling domestic abuse requires a number of organisations in both the statutory services including health, local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service and probation) and voluntary and community services to work together.
Has Ms May talked with Mr Grayling recently, I wonder, about his 'reforms' in the world of probation? Partnership is just about to get a whole lot more complicated! And I am curious that the 'National Offender Management Service' is not mentioned here: what about the prison service elements as well?
So in sum, these recommendations (and I have not read the full report) I think offer a route forward which has the potential to take a whole system approach. The proof will be in pudding.
Indeed the real proof will be in whether there are fewer victims of domestic violence in the years to come...