Response 1038286508

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Risks

1. Does the Policing 2026 strategy identify and acknowledge the main risks, challenges, opportunities and demands likely to impact on policing over the next 10 years?

Please select one item
Yes
No
Ticked Not sure
We would welcome any view you have.
Introduction Scottish Women's Aid (“SWA”) is the lead organisation in Scotland working to end domestic abuse. We play a vital role in campaigning and lobbying for effective responses to domestic abuse and provide advice, information, training and publications to our 36 member groups and to a wide variety of stakeholders. Our members are local Women’s Aid groups which provide specialist services, including safe refuge accommodation, information and support to women, children and young people. An important aspect of our work is ensuring that women and children with experience of domestic abuse get both the services they need and an appropriate response from the civil and criminal justice systems. Foreword As a valued strategic stakeholder and partner working closely with Police Scotland to develop appropriate and aware responses to domestic abuse, SWA welcomes the opportunity to comment on this consultation and we have set out our observations below. We note that the Forward to the consultation states that the “…demands and needs of Scottish society have changed and will continue to evolve in the future.” However, despite the undoubted need to be able to “…address threats and risks in a global and virtual world…”, Police Scotland must be able to address the everyday realities of communities and the immediate and ongoing threats which are part of their existing work load, specifically appropriate responses to women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse. This is a particularly relevant focus given that page two of the paper notes, under “Our Journey So Far” that “…Over the last decade… Although violence on the streets was reducing, levels of reporting of incidents within homes and private domains rose” underlining the importance of maintaining a direct response to domestic abuse. In relation to the “emerging areas of threat, harm and risk”, “threat, harm and risk” have always been, and will continue to be, an issue for both women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse and organisations supporting them such as SWA and our membership of Women’s Aid groups across Scotland. In this regard, our demands will not change but our expectations of Police Scotland will increase. The Collaborative Approach set out on page 58 refers to “... transforming your contact and resolution models and the creation of new ways of engagement.” Our local Women’s Aid groups and the women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse that they support need, and expect, an effective and aware response from an appropriately trained, informed and skilled police force and our demands will be that Police Scotland continue to respond locally and nationally as they currently do , or on an improved basis, with officers available to respond rapidly and effectively to domestic abuse, with no diminution of face-to-face contact with victims and organisations supporting them. The seismic improvement in the police understanding of, and response to, domestic abuse as a criminal offence, over the last 20 years has undoubtedly increased confidence in reporting domestic abuse and has influenced public attitudes towards this behaviour being seen more and more as an unacceptable and criminal offence. It is important that this trend continues and that women children and young people experiencing domestic abuse continue to have confidence in the police response. The internet and technology has, undoubtedly, contributed to perpetrators of domestic abuse, and violence against women generally, finding and utilizing more “innovative” and evidentially challenging ways to abuse women and children. However, this should not detract from the fact that patterns of coercive behaviour continue to deploy existing tactics of control, abuse, violence, threats and restrictions on liberty which must continue to be addressed by Police Scotland through their responses to domestic abuse, sexual offending, “honour-based “ violence, forced marriage and other areas of work relating to violence against women. This is particularly important given the introduction of the proposed new offence to tackle domestic abuse, which will specifically look at elements of controlling and coercive behaviour that are not effectively covered by existing criminal law, presenting a considerable challenge to, and change in, police response and how they perceive and investigate domestic abuse.

Focus

2. Do you agree the main areas of focus proposed within the Policing 2026 strategy are the right ones to deliver an enhanced policing service?

Please select one item
Strongly agree
Mostly agree
Not sure
Ticked Mostly disagree
Strongly disagree
Please tell us why you think these are the right or wrong areas of focus?
On page 13, the “Key Points” mention “…partner working to deliver better outcomes for communities and individuals and a focus on working collectively and collaboratively… a focus on prevention addressing enduring problems facing communities” and a commitment to a “rights based approach.” We note that out of the five areas of focus on pages 13 and 29, domestic abuse is explicitly referenced only under “Prevention” - “Prevention - Tackling crime, inequality and enduring problems facing communities- We will further develop prevention driven approaches with our partners to address enduring problems facing communities. We will maintain a key role in supporting vulnerable individuals and communities. Working with partners, we will intervene with them at an early stage to address high impact issues such as domestic abuse, substance misuse, sexual offending and mental health.” We have a number of concerns about how domestic abuse features here and would comment as follows:- Firstly domestic abuse must also be firmly situated in the first Policy Area of “Protection- Based on threat, risk and harm” , not simply “Prevention”. “Protection” is defined in the paper as “… detection of crime, protecting vulnerable people, responding to incidents, maintaining order and ensuring national security. A central part of the role of the police is to investigate crime, and report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). Policing operates as part of the wider public sector and as part of the Scottish justice system, working with partners such as COPFS to keep Scotland safe from crime and provide victims and witnesses with the support and service they deserve. Our strategy will ensure that we continue to deliver these services effectively and efficiently while adapting to meet new threats and demands.” The protective function is , therefore, is a crucial part of the Police Scotland response to domestic abuse, which should sit firmly underneath “Protection.” It is not clear what role Police Scotland see themselves having in terms of “prevention” and “early intervention” unless this refers to a robust, direct response to domestic abuse through appropriate responses in attending incidents, investigating abuse, reporting to the COPFS and evidence gathering; protection of victims and witnesses; policing of perpetrators on bail, early release and community sentencing and prevention of repeat victimization through a strong, consistent police approach. This concern is pertinent due to the discussion around the “demands” that Police Scotland face, as set out on page 23. Police Scotland is, essentially, the only agency with this important role, supported by their powers under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, and in times of diminishing resources, care is needed that Police Scotland’s core purpose is neither deflected nor diluted. The involvement of police in “diversion” is an issue. Page 29 states that Police Scotland “… will further develop prevention driven approaches to address enduring problems facing communities. We will focus on prevention, early intervention, early resolution and diversion to reduce inequalities and improve life chances. " Working with partners to achieve attitudinal change in society and communities through a strong police response is appropriate but care should be taken in terms of the police “role” in diversion; in relation to domestic abuse, diversion, mediation or restorative justice are not an appropriate response and police have no role in diversion from prosecution programmes. We are unsure why domestic abuse and sexual offending is seen as being in the same category as crimes resulting from substance misuse and mental health or is categorized as being a similar “high impact “ issue. Offending due to mental health and/or substance abuse is completely different from domestic abuse and perpetrators of domestic abuse do not offend for the same reason as those with mental health or substance abuse issues. Also, mental health and/or substance abuse are not themselves offending behaviours in the same way as domestic abuse –related offending and sexual offending. Categorizing domestic abuse in this way wholly ignores the fact that substance misuse/mental health is not a driver or cause of domestic abuse and wrongly situates domestic abuse as an “issue” experienced or perpetrated solely by those who suffer deprivation or illness. Domestic abuse is a deliberate misuse of power and control, purposely and specifically directed at a partner or ex-partner and perpetrated across all levels of society regardless of social class, status, income or opportunity. It is not a result of social deprivation nor is it perpetrated, or experienced solely by “the unfortunate or deprived” members of society. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that Police Scotland do not adopt the wholly inappropriate approach of viewing domestic abuse as a “condition” or illness that can somehow be cured, ended or treated in the same way as substance misuse or mental health and that this approach will be instrumental in ending domestic abuse. Conflating them in this way is counter –productive and risks unravelling the work done to firmly situate domestic abuse as a consequence of women’s inequality. While page 23 rightly refers to inequality and offending, we would caution against adopting the approach that the paper seems to be directing. The third area, “Communities” refers to “improving individual and collective resilience”. Page 33 notes that “We will work with communities and individuals to increase their resilience. We will provide insight, advice and guidance – and direct them towards tools e.g. social collaboration – that builds their resilience and reduces their vulnerability to crime. This directly builds on the intention of the Christie Commission to enable people and communities to achieve positive outcomes in their own lives. Promoting resilience within communities will enable us to prioritise our response resource on high threat and risk incidents, strengthening our relationships with communities across Scotland.” Again, we would refer to comments made earlier in that it is not clear that this is the role of Police Scotland; it is not obvious what “resilience” Police Scotland would promote or achieve for women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse and how this would improve their position as an alternative to the current police response to dealing with domestic abuse offending and perpetrators. “Self-help” in this way is not an appropriate expectation to be placed on women and children experiencing domestic abuse and it is not clear what “insight, advice and guidance” and “tools” Police Scotland intend to deliver to women, children and young people this in relation to domestic abuse. Women and children’s resilience develops through support from appropriate organisations such as SWA and our local Women’s Aid groups and may also be achieved through having an appropriate and competent response from housing providers, social work and the legal profession, none of which comes within the remit of Police Scotland. Police Scotland’s role in developing “resilience” lies within the response of the civil and criminal justice system and its various agencies’ ability to identify and prosecute perpetrators, prevent repeat abuse and to protect women and children before, during and after this process.

Methods

3. Do you agree the methods proposed within this strategy are the right ones to deliver an improved policing service?

Please select one item
Strongly agree
Mostly agree
Ticked Not sure
Mostly disagree
Strongly disagree
Please tell us why you think this is the right or wrong approach?
We are unsure as to whether the methods will achieve an improved policing service in relation to domestic abuse and violence against women. The Strategy sets out a list of Strategic Objectives namely “ Improving public contact, engagement and service; Strengthen effective partnerships; Empower, enable and develop our People; Invest in our use of information and technology; Enhance cyber and forensic capabilities and Transform corporate support services.” However, it is not clear how and where Police Scotland intends to situate their response to violence against women and domestic abuse and whether this will sit in a single Objective or be included across them all, since domestic abuse clearly sits within most of these Strategic Objectives. The Key Points on page 15 state that Police Scotland will “… transform the way that people can contact us and how we resolve their enquiries... with a continued commitment to localism. “ It is important to maintain both local policing experience and the response capability provided by local Domestic Abuse Units, which facilitates and ensures consistent contact with named officers who have the relevant understanding and experience and the contact, trust and “local knowledge” built up with our local Women’s Aid groups through sustained partnership relations. Similarly, the importance of these relationships and engagement with local Women’s Aid groups, through exchanges of practice and training between Women’s Aid and the police, underpins such local relationships. Page 21 makes reference to “communities influencing the decisions that affect them” and the need for “communities to trust the decisions that will be taken around the future direction of policing” noting further that Police Scotland is committed to “engaging, listening, learning and adapting” and to “empower our workforce to take the right action when they need to – we are committed to building a culture of effective decision making at the level closest to those affected, trusting and supporting our people to do the right thing.” While local decision making and enabling first-responders to provide the appropriate response is vital in relation to domestic abuse, it is equally vital that this is underpinned by a national approach and oversight to ensure local and national accountability, consistency and transparency. There is a need for a specialist Police Scotland policy to address domestic abuse in terms of decision –making, through effective support, training and guidance via the DACU, DATF, the Joint Protocol, Police Scotland SOPs and other procedural instruction. In terms of “communities influencing the decisions that affect them” there has been a systematic problem of securing communities’ understanding and appreciation of violence against women and domestic abuse as an issue impacting on “communities”. These are seen as “private” issues and community focus tends to be such matters as anti-social behaviour/youth offending, the more “public” and observable types of offending that have immediate and highly visible impacts. Since the “community” perception of priorities that have an impact and that need a police response often ignores domestic abuse in favour of more “high-visibility” responses, the importance of local police engagement with local Women’s Aid groups and Violence Against Women Partnerships across local authorities and the inclusion and consultation of these bodies within local Community Planning and Community Justice planning, decision –making fora and actions, is paramount.

Performance

4. The Policing 2026 Strategy states that public confidence will be a key measure of success and the effectiveness of Police performance. Do you agree with this approach?

Please select one item
Ticked Strongly agree
Mostly agree
Not sure
Mostly disagree
Strongly disagree
We would welcome any views you have
Page 23 of the Strategy explicitly notes the levels of offending relating to domestic abuse and sexual offending and it is hoped that by placing these issues on the face of the document that this is a public-facing demonstration and statement as to Police Scotland’s commitment to maintain a high-profile, visible, accessible and robust response to this offending. Public confidence, and that of women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse, will be undermined if they are not confident that full-time, experienced police officers will respond to domestic abuse, an issue raised by the statement on page 35 to the effect that “We will work in partnership across the Scottish public sector to ensure effective emergency responses to incidents and events are provided by the most appropriate organisation. This provides the best opportunity to improve long-term outcomes for individuals and communities.” The “scenario” outlined on page 40, which contrasts the “projected” approach and response by Police Scotland in 2026 with current procedure refers to Community Wardens sharing police duties. We are aware that police time is regularly taken up in dealing with inappropriate matters that are not police business and should be better handled by social work and health professionals. This does not detract from the fact, however, that domestic abuse offending should be solely dealt with by professional police officers, who are the only appropriate personnel within Police Scotland to investigate, collect evidence, assess and act on risk, arrest perpetrators and protect women and children experiencing domestic abuse. Page 41 refers to the use of information technology and SWA would obviously support appropriate efficiencies and deployment of skills in the investigation of domestic abuse and evidence gathering, particularly in relation to the “course of conduct” and social media offences. However, using “crowd sourcing” to support missing person investigations will clearly be unsafe and inappropriate in relation to women and children experiencing domestic abuse and honour-based violence/forced marriage and may actually seriously impact on their safety when they are fleeing abuse and attempting to remain anonymous. Similarly, “self-help guidance” is not an appropriate response to violence against women or domestic abuse. Giving women information on the criminal justice response, sentencing and protective orders is quite different and positive but “self-help” for domestic abuse is not. The scenario on page 45 also proposes police having direct access to digital medical notes, which raises considerable issues around data protection, victim consent and confidentiality which would not be acceptable; similarly “direct access” to CCTV presents similar legal questions. While, of course, this is simply an example, it raises concerns around what is clearly intended as an appropriate “future vision” of the police response. The assessment of risk and harm in the scenario on page 45 also raises a question on the focus of future responses from the police to domestic abuse. While recognizing Police Scotland’s responsibilities, it would be concerning if police concentrated their efforts on identifying “needs” of perpetrators of domestic abuse, as opposed to the “needs” of victims of this abuse. There is a suggestion that the police response would be dictated by whether or not there is a risk of “immediate harm” to the victim(s) and thus police attendance at the incident/locus being delayed or even postponed according to the call-taker’s assessment of “immediacy” and “harm.” There are established processes and indicators of risk associated with domestic abuse used by Police Scotland, which continue to evolve as understanding develops and which ,will, of course, require to be further refined when the specific offence eventually comes into effect. We would not wish to see years of experience and learning gained by Police Scotland diluted by the assessments proposed in the Strategy, which would only focus the response back onto the degree of physical harm, thus undermining the operation of the “coercive control” offence , along with public and police education and understanding on the wide spectrum of behaviours that comprise domestic abuse. Confidence in the police response also depends on having an appropriately trained police force and we address this in our response to Question 5 below

Workforce

5. The Policing 2026 strategy highlights that we will need to re-shape our organisation with a workforce focussed on having the right skills and capacity to meet future challenges. Do you agree with this approach?

Please select one item
Strongly agree
Ticked Mostly agree
Not sure
Mostly disagree
Strongly disagree
We would welcome any views you have.
A continued Police Scotland commitment to consistent, appropriate and informed training for officers and staff on domestic abuse, delivered by third sector partners in Scotland who have an extensive and lengthy proven track record of long-term engagement with the police and partner bodies, is vital. Police officers must be fully appraised of, and understand changes to, procedure and law, particularly the “coercive control” offence and capable of fully responding to domestic-abuse related offending to the full extent of their statutory and common law powers and duties. The dramatic, clear, and continued, positive improvements to police response, understanding of domestic abuse and attitude towards this behaviour as criminal over the last 20 years has undoubtedly increased confidence in reporting domestic abuse. Any relaxation and change in the response to domestic abuse will impact on women and children’s confidence in reporting to, and interacting with, the police, and thus, how services such as Women’s Aid encourage and support engagement with the police. If the response is inadequate or poor, women may be reluctant to disclose the abuse, undoing years of progress. In terms of future challenges, page 27 attempts to address this through posing certain assumptions and predictions as to how Scottish society would look in 2026. While the inevitable increase in the number of elderly people, which can be calculated from population census, is fairly certain, it is difficult to agree the accuracy and certainty of other predictions, such as “… “Inequality in the workplace will have reduced, and women will have continued to make improvements in their social and economic positions, largely due to better access to childcare provision, education and employment...”

Other views

7. We would welcome any additional views you have on our strategy and how it will affect you, or any other person.

We would welcome any views you have.
As we have mentioned above, the nature and quality of the police response to domestic abuse will impact on women and children’s confidence in reporting to, and interacting with, the police. If the response is inadequate or poor, women may be reluctant to disclose the abuse. Similarly, if Police Scotland is unable to sustain existing levels and channels of contact and engagement with local Women’s Aid groups supporting women and children , then their confidence in the police response to domestic abuse will be likewise impacted on.

About you

8. What is your name?

Name
Scottish Women's Aid

10. Are you responding as an individual or an organisation?

Please select one item
(Required)
I am answering as an individual
Ticked I am answering on behalf of an organisation
Organisation Name
Scottish Women's Aid