by Dr Donna Marie Brown (Durham University) and Paul Biddle, Professor Pam Davies and Professor Mike Rowe (Northumbria University)
This feature articles explores the findings from a recent Small Grants funded project which aimed to identify areas in which innovation has been successful in tackling domestic abuse, understand the factors explaining success, and explore the potential to replicate the innovative approaches identified.
In England and Wales there is increasing demand for the police to respond to domestic abuse. The police recorded 1.1 million domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes in the year ending March 2017, with domestic abuse accounting for 11 per cent of total recorded crime (HMICFRS, 2017). Despite being a central concern for the police, HMIC inspections into the policing of domestic abuse revealed that there was a need for the police to respond more efficiently and effectively (HMIC, 2014, 2015). This has led to increased innovation in service delivery (HMICFRS, 2017), including: creating specialist posts; delivering new training packages; piloting Domestic Violence Protection Orders; use of Domestic Violence Disclosures; and the introduction of multi-agency teams, school liaison officers, and victims advocates.
Our project, funded through the N8 Policing Research Partnership small grant scheme, aimed to identify areas in which innovation has been successful, to tackle domestic abuse, understand the factors explaining success, and explore the potential to replicate the innovative approaches identified.
The research team worked with three force areas (Northumbria, North Yorkshire, and West Yorkshire). In phase 1 the research team worked alongside police staff to identify elements of practice that have made particular improvements in the police response to domestic abuse. The parameters for selection were that the schemes were developed from an evidence base (defined broadly to include professional expertise, scientific research and guidance from authoritative bodies); were subject to evaluation; and had a demonstrable positive impact (possible examples included better victim protection and satisfaction, decreased repeat victimisation, improved case management and improved offender behaviour).
Based on these criteria the schemes selected were:
- Operation Kyleford in West Yorkshire (a dedicated domestic violence response car in which the police work with Independent Domestic Violence Advocates to provide safeguarding interventions, information and advice for victims).
- The ‘Early Interventions Project’ in North Yorkshire (designed to improve referral pathways for victims and their families to specialist support to tackle any underlying factors contributing to domestic abuse).
- The ‘Multi Agency Tasking and Co-Ordination Project’ in Northumbria (a force-wide partnership with six local authorities that aims to identify and intervene with the most serious perpetrators based upon a ‘risk, frequency and gravity model’ developed under the scheme).
Phase 2 comprised in-depth interviews to explore the enabling factors that stakeholders felt contributed to the success of each scheme. The research team interviewed police colleagues and partner agency staff involved in each initiative.
Two key themes emerged over the course of the project. First, the opportunity and need to reflect upon the nature and application of ‘knowledge’ and ‘evidence’ in policing practice and research. This is fundamental to good policing provision at a time when ‘evidence-based policing’ is widely advocated against a background of decreasing resources. It is particularly pertinent to areas such as domestic abuse where, as outlined above, demand is relentless and increasing. The second theme, and the one we would like to discuss more fully in this feature, is the identification of emerging perspectives on those factors that enabled the success of the three projects. This is important if other services and agencies want to emulate strategies identified as effective in relation to an aspect of police work that has been established as a central priority.
We asked our participants to reflect upon the factors that they believed had made the various projects succeed, and how these were distinct from other experiences that might have been less productive. The majority of the findings echoed broader existing research in outlining the need to address the key challenges that multi-agency working presents (information sharing and clarity of role in the scheme for example). Notably, not all respondents agreed that the schemes were ‘successful’ and some identified limitations. Nonetheless, participants tended to attribute successful innovation to projects having a range of features, many of which over-lapped. These are outlined below under the five thematic areas identified:
1) The project had a clear focus, purpose and intent: This embedded itself in a number of ways, including: the creation of narrow, task-orientated partnerships and focused objectives for the scheme from the outset, which were reviewed regularly.
2) The scheme developed a complementary skill set, knowledge and expertise, through a considered partnership approach, with created added value. This could be illustrated with reference to the generation of information and expertise from a range of professionals that added value and credibility to the project, more appropriate responses and more timely interventions. That the initiatives benefited the police (e.g. reducing workload, providing additional support, information and advice) was crucial for police buy-in and success. Partner staff reported that they gained from the police’s ability to deal with confrontational situations.
3) Improved access to the range and quality of data: Whilst data sharing was problematic in one project, the availability of police data provided an authoritative basis for multi-agency working. The ability to draw on partner agency data often provided a clearer picture of the context for the police when they were making operational and safeguarding decisions.
4) Committed leadership, dedicated management and clear organisation: It was essential for there to be commitment to the scheme from senior police staff as this would encourage appropriate buy-in and resourcing. The success of the schemes depended on clear lines of responsibility and overarching co-ordination so that tasks could be carefully monitored and managed.
5) Established evidence and on-going evaluation: Officers, staff and partner agencies reported that these were both important in ensuring the credibility of the projects, and helped secure buy-in from multi-agency partners and from individual staff. It is worth noting, however, that the perception of this might differ from reality: ‘evidence’ and ‘evaluation’ were difficult to establish in practice, and often did not appear robust in traditional scientific terms.
Evidence indicates that the projects discussed have had a positive impact. Together, they have supported safeguarding, delivered timely, and assisted the Police (and other agencies) to deliver appropriate interventions to victims of domestic abuse. Furthermore, we have presented the findings of this research at a number of academic conferences and policing workshops. As we move towards writing up the research for publication, we will be working further with police colleagues to consider how the findings can be embedded within police practice.
A more extensive discussion of the research findings can be found in our final project report