News – Greater Manchester Police – Officers caught on camera encouraging victims of domestic abuse not to pursue their complaints

Police officers have been captured on their own body-worn cameras encouraging victims of domestic abuse not to pursue their complaints, the M.E.N, understands, and failing to carry out basic enquiries.

After a series of devastating inspectorate reports criticised Greater Manchester Police for its record on domestic violence, including the high numbers of victims who had supposedly withdrawn their support for prosecution, body-worn footage was audited.

Deputy mayor Beverley Hughes has now described the attitude and behaviour revealed by the exercise as ‘really very concerning’, while one well-placed police source said it showed officers acting without empathy, discouraging victims from pressing charges and failing to investigate.

The news follows a high-profile gender-based violence campaign launched by the mayor’s office in December, branded ‘#IsThisOk’, which aims to challenge the behaviour of men and boys.

At a meeting of Manchester council’s communities and equalities committee last week, however, councillor Sarah Judge said there remained an issue with the way rank-and-file officers approached domestic abuse.

“My experience of dealing with the police, even in recent times, is still that there is an attitude of ‘that’s just a domestic’,” she said.

“And we have to be really, really careful that if we’re putting adverts out and campaigns out – and talking at that really high level to try and and instil that trust within the public – that when they do make that contact with the police, that they are treated in a better way than they currently are.

“How do we actually make sure we do hold that level of policing to account?”

Baroness Hughes, appearing before the committee to answer questions on crime and policing, stressed this was also a concern for her – calling the attitude of officers at the point they meet the public ‘absolutely crucial’.

“We did a review about six months ago and I went in to see a review of the body worn video… the footage of that video when officers had attended reports like that, of sexual abuse or domestic abuse,” she said.

“It was very concerning. It really was very concerning, because of the attitude and the behaviour of some of the officers – and this was of course when they knew that their video was working and recording them. And yet still it did not seem to improve the behaviour.”

One police insider said there had in fact been two audits of body worn footage specifically in relation to domestic abuse, taking sample footage from each of the force’s districts.

The first had proved ‘shocking’, they said, with the second not much better.

It showed ‘officers recorded on video speaking to victims of domestic abuse and encouraging them not to complain’, they said, ‘not arresting the offender, showing poor empathy towards the victim, not doing basic enquiries’.

In response, the force has now introduced a training scheme called Domestic Abuse Matters, which is being rolled out to every response officer.

“They need to understand how to behave properly with people in order to support them better but also to start the investigation,” said Baroness Hughes, adding that the training had been used successfully in other forces.

“So this is a really important priority and I take absolutely what you’re saying. It’s something that I repeat often. It isn’t just the high level stuff, it’s this level of interaction between individual officers and individual members of the public which is so important.”

Failures around domestic abuse have been a repeated feature of watchdog reports about GMP over recent years.

In 2017 it was told by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate to gather feedback from victims, a recommendation it had still not carried out by the time inspectors next reported in 2019.

At that point they found GMP was also downgrading many domestic abuse incidents, making them a lower priority for response than they should have been.

In early 2020, domestic abuse victims in particular were affected by failures in the new police computer system, which created huge backlogs of safeguarding incidents, while at the end of 2020 the force was placed in special measures after failing to record one in four violent crimes, many of them domestic abuse cases.

Domestic violence incidents were also still being downgraded, while seven out of ten cases were being closed because the victim did not want to pursue the complaint, mostly without evidence that that was the case.

In September 2021, a further ‘cause for concern’ letter warned GMP was now putting public safety at risk, failing to prioritise the most vulnerable victims as backlogs of 2,700 crimes built up. Some vulnerable victims, including those of domestic abuse, were waiting days or weeks for a response that should have taken place within an hour, while others received none at all.

The full version of the 2021 inspection is due out in the next few weeks.

Since then, the backlogs have been reduced and GMP has introduced its new domestic abuse training programme for frontline officers, while the mayor’s office has launched its new ten-year gender-based violence strategy.

Baroness Hughes said that strategy was now moving into the delivery phase, with priority outcomes for this year currently being set.

GMP’s Adult Safeguarding Lead, Detective Superintendent Gwyn Dodd said: “In response to a recommendation made by HMICFRS, Greater Manchester Police completed a review to understand why a high proportion of domestic abuse victims do not support or withdraw support for prosecutions.

“Body worn video footage was critically analysed and, subsequently, leanings were identified. To transform the response to domestic abuse, GMP has now commissioned further training for officers which will ensure the voice of the victim is placed at the centre of investigations and controlling/coercive behaviour is better understood.

“To support this, the force is also working with partner agencies to complete research and engage with communities as well as victims to obtain feedback and answer any questions they may have.”

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