Shropshire Star

Look out for neighbours and friends urges top cop after 4,000+ domestic abuse incidents in 10 months

There are things we can all do as citizens to reduce the harm caused by domestic abuse, writes West Mercia Police Superintendent Stuart Bill.

Last updated
Superintendent Stuart Bill

Domestic abuse is a problem across the country. In homes up and down the nation, crimes are taking place. Often these happen in front of children and generational damage is caused. This is occurring in a setting where the victims should feel most safe. The abuse is not always physical, but also emotional and financial. It stems into coercive control and victims can often feel trapped, a problem that has been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis.

Sadly, Shropshire has these challenges. From April 2022 to the end of January 2023, we have had 4,161 domestic abuse incidents and/or crimes in our county alone. They often go unseen, in the smallest of parishes to our largest town centres. Recent headline convictions reported in the Shropshire Star highlight some of the challenges, however it is all too frequent and a societal problem that we cannot arrest our way out of.

When I attend community meetings across the county, I hear both positive and negative feedback on our policing (we don’t get everything right!). I also get to hear about local community concerns, which frequently relate to anti-social behaviour, drugs use and speeding on our roads. All of these are very real issues, but sometimes you need to stop and ask yourself "why is that 15-year-old child out dealing drugs on a Wednesday evening?” The root causes are often more complex, with perhaps vulnerabilities and exposure to domestic abuse in their homes as the starting point.

Now the good news is that there is absolutely a commitment, across policing and our partners, to step up to this challenge. Under my own command, I have a dedicated department who investigate many of these crimes. We are supported by the local authority, health, education and other statutory organisations to do so. In addition, wonderful charities and bodies exist in the voluntary sector (some of which are listed below) who are there to help and offer guidance, perhaps when victims are reluctant to contact the police. We work closely with schools to support children, who are now recognised as victims in their own right in the new Domestic Abuse Act. Under Operation Encompass, schools are notified of domestic incidents so they can support the children.

We do recognise that not all victims wish to proceed down the criminal justice route. To help them feel safe, we can and do pursue civil orders (such as Stalking Prevention Orders). These orders can restrict or prohibit behaviours, with a breach of them being a criminal offence. Such orders can help victims get the time space they need, whilst also affording perpetrators the opportunity to reflect and seek to address their own behaviour.

So why am I raising this in my blog? There are things we can all do to try to reduce the harm caused by this crime. In 1829, Sir Robert Peel (widely considered the founder of modern policing) constructed nine principles of policing. You can find them online quite easily, but I’d draw your attention to one in particular. Principle 7 states “the police are the public and the public are the police.” Lots of people know that quote, but not what it goes on to say.

It follows “the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare.” For me, Sir Robert Peel was telling us almost 200 years ago that the police cannot tackle crime alone. We need your support. Look out for your neighbours, your friends, ask yourself why that child is causing anti-social behaviour or hanging around on street corners? You’re very likely witnessing the symptom, not the problem. To be clear I’m not asking anyone to replace what we do, but to think how you might offer support or sometimes signpost people to it. Bringing it back to domestic abuse, recognise this might be going on closer to your home than you might like. I’m realistic, we will never stop it completely, but if we can raise awareness of the support that is there then we will help to address the harm it causes.