On the 14th of June 2012 I observed the Police and Crime Scrutiny Committee at Cambridgeshire County Council consider the final report of Cllr Samantha Hoy’s Member Led Review on Domestic Violence.
The committee unanimously agreed to endorse Cllr Hoy’s report, and ordered a “pointed letter” be sent to Cambridgeshire Police drawing their attention to the concerns relating to policing which had been raised during the conduct of the review. The report is to be put before to the County Council’s Cabinet for approval; I’ve sought clarification on if a draft of the letter to the police will accompany the report when it goes before the Cabinet but this has not been forthcoming.
One of the interesting and important parts of the discussion of the report was about differences in attitudes and responses to domestic abuse by those from different backgrounds and living in different circumstances.
The County Council’s domestic abuse manager told the committee that Irish women were likely to say, if asked, that they did not suffer from domestic abuse even if they were hit every Friday night when their partners returned home drunk. The committee was told that Irish women would see that as normal.
The committee was also told that gypsy traveller women would face retributions from within their communities if they reported domestic abuse, and it was noted that reporting anything to the authorities or police within gypsy traveller communities might open individuals to reprisals.
These points were raised in two contexts, one being the quality of statistics available as variable reporting thresholds from different parts of the county’s population could impact the consistency of information recorded and the second being if there is a need for special treatment, or specialist services, for those from particular backgrounds.
Committee members pointed out that Cambridgeshire Police’s statistics, which carry a “White – Other” category, are not sufficient to differentiate in resultant statistics to the degree required to understand variation in how people from various backgrounds treat domestic abuse differently eg. they don’t separate the “White Irish” from the “White Polish”.
This raises important core questions about how we police Cambridgeshire. It is very easy for members of the disconnected liberal elite to make statements such as everyone should be treated equally under the law and the police should deal with everyone in the same way irrespective of race, ethnic background, or nationality. I don’t consider myself a member of the disconnected liberal elite but I say that and I think it is right to say that.
Personally I find it jarring when the police ask me for my colour, ethnic background etc. when being stopped or when reporting crime. When faced with officialdom asking if I would describe myself as white, I often show my opposition to the question being asked by saying: “no, I’m mostly pink”, or if asked about my ethnic background I might answer: “human”.
When listening to Police Authority members or councillors discuss various issues relating to policing, it does sometimes appear that it would be useful to have information broken down by ethnic group, race, or even skin colour. The key area of course is one written previously about – police stopping people. If someone, or a a certain group, alleges the police are stopping people disproportionately based on their apparent race or skin colour it is useful to have statistics which can be used to inform debate and the statistics can be interrogated to see if they support, or disprove the hypothesis police are acting in an inappropriately discriminatory manner.
My view is that the very action of recording ethnicity and appearance information makes people wonder if these things influence the police.
In relation to Cambridgeshire’s domestic abuse service treating people from different ethnic backgrounds or nationalities in different ways I think that while making assumptions and pre-judging how an individual ought be dealt with based on their nationalities might well practically help the police and authorities take a lazy short-cut it is not the right thing to do. I suspect there are people from all sorts of backgrounds in situations where reporting something to the police might not go down well in their communities or with their families, and I know that there is great variability within groups of people from the same ethnic background, nationality and appearance who have vastly differing personal thresholds as to what they consider to be crimes, and crimes which warrant reporting, in the domestic setting. We should to treat each case individually on its merits without relying on, or even being guided by, lazy prejudices.
Cllr Hoy’s report as presented to the committee did not contain substantive reference to theses issues; the committee asked her to go away and consider amending her report before it is taken to the Cabinet, so it considers how the council’s specialist officer for travellers could be used to increase reporting of domestic abuse by travellers and improve the service given to them, and also to consider the definitions used as a basis for the statistics and if and how they take into account variation in reporting thresholds of those from different backgrounds.
Other councillors’ contributions to the discussion were less material to the serious subject matter. Cllr Simon King (Conservative, Wisbech South) asked for more waffle up-front in Cllr Hoy’s report. I don’t think he had read the report prior to opening his mouth at the committee, he certainly didn’t appear to understand the way the initial section had been formatted, with the page split vertically with the report’s findings on one side and any recommendations corresponding to the particular findings on the other. He appeared to want waffle to start and recommendations at the end. Cllr Hoy firmly refused.
My Views on The Review
One comment I have on the review is that it doesn’t make clear if there is an implicit recommendation that the relevant bodies should aspire to see all cases of domestic abuse reported and recorded. My view is there is probably, as with other crimes, a threshold, different for different people, at which they consider reporting it is appropriate.
The key recommendations appear to me to be asking Cambridgeshire County Council to maintain or increase funding to resources devoted to domestic abuse, and that the scrutiny committee should regularly review aspects of the council’s performance in the area. The opportunity to “invest to save” in preventative work in the area is also mentioned; however the issue of investment by one public body (primarily the County Council) resulting in savings for others (such as the police, NHS and District Councils) and therefore being harder to quantify, monitor and incentivise is not addressed.
Despite having read the review, and sat through two meetings where it has been scrutinised, (as well as having listened to scrutiny of the County / Force Area’s domestic abuse arrangements at many committees, and more locally observed Cambridge Community Safety Partnership’s work in this area) one thing I still don’t understand is what County Council (or Peterborough City Council) officers would do if they worked within the “Multi-Agency Referral Unit” which the report describes as being “responsible for providing a seamless service to 999 callers and agencies reporting domestic abuse”. Would they do the job they do now, but located more closely with those from other organisations they need to collaborate with? Would they be new staff, doing a new job? Would they respond alongside the police going out to incidents? (The latter was the suggestion made to a recent Cambridge Community Safety Partnership meeting)
Education on domestic abuse is also recommended. Education is key route with the potential to address almost all of our society’s problems, but it is a route which takes a long time to come to fruition. The report notes 67% of primary schools currently cover domestic abuse in their lessons, but no data is available for secondary schools, it appears odd to me that the County Council doesn’t know what’s going on even in those schools it is responsible for, even if not all secondary schools.
A further shocking statistic from the report is the average cost to the police per recorded offence with a domestic abuse marker of £15,566, though there are no details of how that figure has been calculated. The main cost of policing is typically man-hours and that figure represents a huge amount of time for a single offence.
The review group did not meet magistrates, the judiciary, or the prison or probation services. There is no discussion of sentencing, justice and the impact of actions taken by these parts of the crime and justice establishment on stopping recurring abuse. There is a note that a previous aim to roll out specialist domestic violence courts in the county have not been effective.
I have commented previously on a number of domestic violence related cases I have observed being dealt with in Cambridge Magistrates Court; (some of my reports and comments can be viewed via this link).
The cabinet endorsed report is expected to come out in September 2012, as the Police Commissioner election period gets fully under-way and the document will I would expect be one of those waiting on the desk of the new commissioner when they take up office (if the people of Cambridgeshire don’t elect someone already up to speed). One of the most important findings is rather hidden in the report in my view, and not effectively drawn out in the overall recommendations. At the start of the review Cambridgeshire County Council’s Independent Domestic Violence Advocate Service was only able to help 15% of those who reported domestic abuse to the police, I understand, though its not in the report, the advocate service focuses its efforts on those taking their cases through the courts. This appears to be where Cllr Hoy and her review panel are primarily recommending placing more resources; and indeed the latest report notes the Cabinet have already acted and have increased the operational number of advocates over three-fold since the review began; but assuming a linear relationship that still leaves around half of those reporting domestic abuse without assistance from the advocate service. The advocates do not just assist in relation to court action, but provide help with things such as relocation and housing.
A claim is made that each council officer employed as a domestic violence advocate saves the taxpayer £2.7m per year. This is an astonishing figure. If true and if those setting public sector budgets were rewarded for the amount they saved then investing to save in these officers would clearly be an obvious choice. I think to convince a Police Commissioner to invest in the area a breakdown showing how the £2.7m figure was calculated would be needed, including showing how the savings were shared between various arms of the state. A commissioner could then perhaps bring together the various police and crime related bodies and make a case to them for all investing in proportion with their expected savings.
Paragraph 5.27 of the report reveals that 92 adult social care services staff in the county council have been trained as “adult safeguarding leads” and they work with the domestic violence “Multi-Agency Referral Unit”. This reveals the existence within the council of a much larger body of staff than the handful of reportedly highly effective advocates. I question why there can’t be flexibility and why these staff can’t perform some of the impactfull roles carried out by the advocates; is it a case of public sector staff being inflexible (or being deployed in an inflexible manner)?
- Domestic Abuse Member Led Review – This report provides the provisional findings from a strategic review of Cambridgeshire’s Domestic Abuse Services.
- Meeting papers – Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee – 14 June 2012
I describe the Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee as the council’s Police and Crime Scrutiny Committee, in relation to its business on police and crime related matters, because that’s what it is.
Other Items From the Meeting
- I have written a separate article on my use of the public speaking slot at the meeting asking the council to chase Cambridgeshire Police for phone answering data which they have repeatedly promised the committee but failed to provide.
- An agenda item on Skills and Training was discussed. Cllr Pellew (Liberal Democrat, Kings Hedges) obtained a public admission that the county council’s adult learning service only considered the needs of public and charitable sector employers when assessing what skills employers desired from prospective employees. Cllr Brooks-Gordon tried to contribute to the debate as a professional academic rather than as a councillor and the committee officer had to advise her this was not appropriate.
- Cllr Tariq Sadiq (Labour, Coleridge) reported he was continuing work on his member led review into road safety, he’s holding lots of secret and interesting sounding evidence sessions and fact finding missions. Hopefully he’ll make something public soon.
The committee debated if it ought start thinking about Police and Crime Commissioners, and what its role would be after the elections. (This was something I suggested the committee make a start on doing last year). The committee decided to put it on its agenda for its September meeting (obviously far too late). Cllr Brooks-Gordon (Liberal Democrat, Castle) spoke of Police and Crime Commissioners as less than a certainty, talking still of “if” they come in. She suggested that failing to prepare for them, in the manner the committee had, might be a way to prevent them coming into existence.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Wilkins said he thought the committee would be disbanded following the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners. The chairman, and officers appeared not to know if this was the case or not. Cabinet member Cllr Tierney responded to my live tweeting saying:
@RTaylorUK I don’t believe there is any plan to abolish Safer & Stronger O&S Committee when police commissioners are elected.
My view it would be useful for a commissioner to have a committee such as the Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee, though perhaps with a better plain English name, helping them scrutinise the police, and particularly to help review areas of police and crime related matters, as we’re seeing with the domestic abuse and road safety reviews, across all the relevant agencies, as well as to review performance data. In other words to continue what the committee do now, and maybe improve things, and take on some of what the Police Authority is already dropping. Ideally I think there should be as much overlap as possible between committees such as the scrutiny committee, and those who are members of the Police and Crime Panel so members of the Police and Crime Panel have the detailed expertise and knowledge they will need to fulfill their roles effectively.
Despite Cllr Brooks-Gordon’s view, Police and Crime Commissioners are on their way in; if the county council and other bodies are not prepared for them, that might well give the incoming commissioners greater influence to ensure scrutiny bodies are set up and operate in a way which assists them. The commissioners will hopefully, unless it all goes horribly wrong, big beasts with substantial electoral mandates and influence.