Making safety at home a priority

By Roger Moroney

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IT used to be tagged as "just another domestic" but to the frontline police on deck today a call to a domestic incident can mean arriving to defuse a potential powderkeg.
"New Zealand police used to be in that boat - that's how it was seen - it was family stuff," the region's family violence co-ordinator Detective Sergeant Darren Pritchard said.
He had been in that role for the past seven years and left it yesterday to return to CIB duties, with Detective Daryl Moore stepping into his place.
It was a unique deployment which Mr Pritchard described as "a very challenging, demanding but rewarding journey", and would remain part of the landscape in his role as a White Ribbon ambassador.
The "just another domestic" stance had long gone and the statistics confirmed why, with 50 per cent of homicides in this country sparked by incidents of family violence.
It was in 2007 that the Eastern Police Region's then District Commander, Superintendent Sam Hoyle, implemented a first for any region in the country. He declared there would be a senior officer specifically designated to oversee the incidence of family violence as its ripple effects across the community were too serious to take lightly.
"He wanted to upskill staff and run investigations into the cause of domestic violence. It hadn't been done before and I was able to put my stamp on it."
He identified three "golden rules" which he used to steer the course of the unique new "It's not OK" role.¦The safety of victims and children is absolutely paramount.
¦It is a crime and the offender must be accountable.
¦Everyone has the human right to live their lives without the threat of violence.
It soon became clear that domestic violence was not, as many perceived, confined to lower socio-economic groups.
"I look at something like 5500 files a year from across the Hawke's Bay area and they're all there ...

doctors, freezing workers, the unemployed, lawyers ... it's right across the community."
Mr Pritchard said if a list of the people that police and agencies like Women's Refuge and Dove had dealt with in relation to family violence was published, a "lot of people" would be shocked by what they saw.
"And it never made any difference to my team where they lived or what they did."
It was the underlying dynamic of the crime which he found difficult to initially grasp.
It was unlike random street thuggery. When it erupted in relationships, many of them long-term, it was being carried out by an offender who effectively loved the victim. And often the victim did not want to say anything as they still loved the person who had hurt them.
Mr Pritchard said, however, there was a growing awareness it was happening and that it was widespread.
The statistics are chilling. Across the county police respond to a reported domestic violence incident every six minutes. And tragically, in 50 per cent of the cases young children are present.
Mr Pritchard shook his head as he recalled one particularly violent incident where the offender demanded his partner do as she was told, and he grabbed their son and raised him level to his face and said he would punch the youngster if she did not comply.
He has seen the results of everything from the slaps to the face to punches and severe injuries where weapons were involved.
An equally, if not more damaging legacy from domestic violence, was the psychological toll, Mr Pritchard said.
Victims could recover from the physical injuries sustained.
The bruises would fade, the fractured eye sockets would heal and they could hide the tufts of hair missing from their heads.
"But it's the psychological damage that doesn't fade - the abuse and the constant verbal put-downs - they will try and isolate their victims."
While the number of incidents was cause for concern, police did not believe domestic violence was on the rise, despite statistics indicating that.
The statistical rise was the result of an increasing number of people Mr Pritchard said had taken the stance that "enough's enough - I am not going to put up with this any more".
And not just women victims.
"We have worked with male victims too - there are some very violent women out there," he said, adding that men generally were too embarrassed to step forward in fear of what their mates would say if they found out.
However, he said some people were reluctant to call police for help as they believed officers would turn up in a blaze of sirens and flashing lights and "guns blazing and grab him and drag him away". Or in some higher socio-neighbourhoods they did not want neighbours to see a police car outside.
The actual approach was more measured and aimed at reason and conciliation - although that depended on the situation. If it was clearly destructive, the offender would be removed.
Victims could also make initial contact for help through agencies like Dove, Women's Refuge, Women's Centre and even their GPs.
Mr Pritchard's team set up the introduction of a screening tools "Are you safe at home?" programme, which is run through GPs.
Alcohol often got the lion's share of the blame for sparking domestic violence, but Mr Pritchard was cautious about directing the bulk of the blame at it.
It was a clear and present factor but he said experience had shown that offenders possessed a violent streak within them whether they consumed alcohol or not.
Alcohol could bring it to the fore, but the violence was always simmering there, even in sobriety.
"Ninety-nine per cent of the men I have dealt with have the ability to control their anger," he said.
It was getting the "stand up, wake up, rise up" message through which was important.
There had been many successful resolutions, with some men stepping back and sorting themselves out simply after being challenged by police over a reported incident.
"That can be all it takes - they don't want people to know they are an abuser."
He said the initial approaches to victims and offenders were vital.
Unlike the old days when it was considered "just another domestic", the one thing officers do not tell a victim as an opening piece of advice is "you have to leave this guy".
Because - and he found it "challenging" - most victims would say "I love him but I just don't want the violence."
In terms of what could spark violence, Mr Pritchard rolled out a couple of surprises apart from the alcohol factor.
The All Blacks. Yep, the ABs spark a noticeable spike in calls to domestic incidents when they play.
The Rugby World Cup staged here back in 2011 proved a busy time for police.
"Whether the All Blacks are winning or not - when they play we get an increase in calls."
And late spring brings a hot spell in more ways than one when the warm, strong westerlies blow through.
"Yes, people do get irritated by the wind and that can set things off."
Christmas, generally perceived as a pleasant and peaceful time, was far from that in reality.
"There are the financial pressures and the one time families and distant relatives get together - and someone says something and it goes downhill from there."
Mr Pritchard said it was also a time for employers to take responsibility in how they staged their work functions, as they too had been the reported cause of an argument leading to physical assault upon the attendee's arrival home - late and drunk.
There had been times when patrols across Napier and Hastings had been called to as many as nine domestic-related incidents over an eight-hour period.
"Not uncommon."
One valuable addition to the police legal armoury was the introduction of the Police Safety Order in 2009, which empowers them to remove someone from a scene and detain them for up to two hours to calm things down.
"Like issuing a yellow card - a forced cool-off period."
Police can also issue an immediate order to ensure the offender must stay away for up to five days.
"It has been very effective and we can assure more safety."
Through the increased focus, police in the Bay have achieved an 81 per cent conviction rate and a 79 per cent success rate in solving breaches of protection orders.
There is a lot of work to be done, though, and Mr Pritchard would like to see a national focus on it in the way a national focus came into play over drink driving - which up until 20 years ago was not seen to be an issue.
Hard-hitting graphic media campaigns caused the populace to "wake up" and drink driving became totally unacceptable.
He said the same hard-hitting approach needed to be taken with domestic violence.
"But the wheels are turning ... we'll get there in the end."
In his 23 years of policing, and in his seven-year tenure in the domestic violence role, one small piece of paper is a very special part of what makes him feel good about what he and the team have achieved in that time.
It is a small handmade card from a woman they had helped through a bad time in her life.
It reads - "it is strange when you feel at your weakest that you find strength - thank you for helping me find mine."
Mr Pritchard smiled as he showed it.
"It's only a small piece of paper but it means a lot."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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