An inspection has found that there are some significant risks in the way that Devon and
Cornwall Police tackles domestic abuse and highlighted the scale of the problem in the counties.

The inspection found that for every 100 domestic abuse crimes recorded, there were 51 arrests in Devon and Cornwall. For most forces the number is between 45 and 90.  The low arrest compared to other forces "indicates that this is an issue the force may want to review".

The inspection also highlighted the scale of the problem in Devon and Cornwall, with domestic abuse accounting for three per ecnt of calls to the police for assistance. Of these calls, 46% were from repeat victims.

Domestic abuse accounts for 11 per cent of all recorded crime. Devon and Cornwall recorded 643 assaults with intent to cause serious harm, of these 160 were domestic abuse related. This is 25 per cent of all assaults with intent to cause serious harm recorded for the 12 months to end of August 2013.

The force also recorded 10,158 assaults with injury, of these 3,411 were domestic abuse related. This is 34 per cent of all assaults with injury recorded for the 12 months to end of August 2013.

The force recorded 1,201 harassment offences, of these 704 were domestic abuse related. This is 59% of all harassment offences recorded for the 12 months to end of August 2013.

The force also recorded 2,061 sexual offences, of these 269 were domestic abuse related. This is 13% of all sexual offences recorded for the 12 months to end of August 2013.

On 31 August 2013 Devon and Cornwall had 1,161 active domestic abuse cases; 25% were high risk, 37% were medium risk, and 38% were standard risk.

Devon and Cornwall recorded 9,212 domestic abuse related crimes for the 12 months to the end of August 2013. Of these crimes, 20% resulted in a charge, 13% resulted in a caution and, 2% had an out of court disposal, for example, a fixed penalty notice for disorderly conduct.

While the HMIC inspection says domestic abuse is a clear priority for the force and the police and crime commissioner (PCC), and there are strong relationships with partners across the two counties providing services to victims of domestic abuse, the force does not yet provide a consistent service in all cases of domestic abuse.

There is a need to clarify roles and responsibilities of all staff particularly in relation to safeguarding victims. Ongoing workforce reorganisation provides an opportunity to achieve this.
While there are pockets of good work taking place across the force, and those working with victims are committed to improving the service the victims receive, this report identifies areas for further development and improvement.

HMIC found that there are some weaknesses in training: call handlers lacked a clear understanding of the full definition of domestic abuse; there was a lack of clarity about what constituted a repeat victim and how to identify if a victim is vulnerable. This means that the force cannot be confident that it is consistently identifying victims of domestic abuse and providing an appropriate response in all cases.

The force has policies and procedures to support staff in dealing with domestic abuse although these are not consistently applied. HMIC found weaknesses and inconsistencies in the oversight and supervision of the risk assessment process during initial attendance and there has been limited training for officers in undertaking risk assessments.

Therefore the force "cannot be confident that it is consistently assessing risk effectively and taking appropriate action to minimise risk to victims in all cases.

High-risk cases of domestic abuse are generally dealt with well, but there is less consistency with medium and standard risk cases and the responsibility for the management of risk to these victims needs to be clearer.

Assistant Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, Andy Bickley said: “I know there is much good work taking place within Devon and Cornwall in the field of domestic abuse, however, the report has highlighted inconsistencies which we need to address. 

“It is essential that victims are at the forefront of everything we do and that any victim of domestic abuse feels they are able to seek support from the police and our partner agencies.
“We recognise there are too many inconsistencies in the service which the report identifies.  Some of these we had already identified and are addressing.

“Domestic abuse is a force priority, as it is for the Police and Crime Commissioner, and we are determined to drive up the quality of service given to victims, while we will seek to standardise good practices across the peninsula.”

Assistant Chief Constable Bickley added: “It is vital that victims of domestic abuse in Devon and Cornwall are reassured that this is one of our priority areas and that they should feel confident in our ability to support them and tackle this hidden and damaging crime. 

“We have experienced and specially trained officers who will support any victim and their circumstances will be dealt with professionally and with sensitivity.”