Domestic Abuse: Police 'Must Do More To Overcome Canteen Culture Attitude And Negative Attitudes To Victims'

Police leaders must do more to overcome the "canteen culture" that has bred negative attitudes to women and hindered its ability to investigate domestic abuse, a campaigner has said.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of domestic violence charity Refuge, was speaking as Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary found police investigations were suffering in "many specialist units" because of the size of the domestic abuse workload and polices forces had to do more to grasp the scale of the problem.

Ms Horley said two women were killed each week by a current or former partner, adding it was vital police prioritised this "life and death" matter.

She said senior officers had to show leadership to "create the needed change in police attitudes and address the ‘canteen culture’ which has led to negative attitudes towards women and domestic violence victims".

HMIC's findings come 18 months after its previous "wake up call" report, which identified "startling" weaknesses in how police dealt with domestic abuse.

Its latest report, published on Monday evening, said police had improved since then, particularly in identifying the risks faced by victims and the supervision given to officers at the scene when making an initial judgement about a case.

But HMIC's Zoë Billingham said the police being overwhelmed by the work was "concerning", while she acknowledged the "determined effort" police had made to to overcome their "startling lack of awareness" of issue.

She said: “We know that the scale of change needed on domestic abuse will take time to bring about in full, and that there is still much more to be done.

"We’re particularly concerned that the workload in many specialist investigation units is becoming overwhelming, which is slowing and hindering some investigations."

Ms Horley said: “We know there is still a long way to go until every woman, no matter where she lives, gets the police response she needs and deserves. Too often the support a woman receives from the police is a ‘postcode lottery’.

“Refuge recognises that change of this scale can take time. In order to translate the current commitment into practice, it is imperative that there is high quality, face-to-face training for police.

"Training is key to ensuring that police understand the complex nature of domestic violence and enable them to properly assess risk and the right course of action for a victim."

She called for a mandatory arrest and charge policy "to ensure that domestic violence is treated as seriously as any other violent crime".

She added: “Domestic violence is a matter of life and death... It is vital that the government maintains its scrutiny of police force response to domestic violence into the future and that the forces themselves continue to prioritise this issue – only then can women and children keep safe and lives be saved.”

The College of Policing's lead for crime and criminal justice, David Tucker, said it had issued guidance on tackling domestic abuse and was carrying out research into effective risk assessment and had reviewed perpetrator programmes.

“We know the first contact a victim has with the police is crucial to both the investigation and the ability of that victim to support prosecution," he said.

"This forms the basis of much of our material and we have a training programme under evaluation to address the attitudes and behaviour of officers and staff.”