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New Sussex scheme helping victims of domestic abuse in lockdown

A Sussex Police initiative to help domestic abuse victims during lockdown is proving invaluable.

The first anniversary of the introduction of the Local Resolution Team comes as a national report out today, 20 April, finds that police forces introduced new ways of working during the pandemic that could provide future benefits to policing, such as incorporating video conferencing technology in order to continue working with local safeguarding services.

The national report, 'Policing In The Pandemic', is published by her Majesty's Inspectorate of Police, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

Since the force's Local Resolution Team was set up just a year ago as the pandemic set in, more than half of people reporting domestic abuse cases that are not immediately urgent have opted for a special video appointment service that can be used when conversations can’t take place face to face for any reason.

The 40-strong Local Resolution Team of specially trained officers are dedicated to dealing with low risk reports of domestic abuse which are not immediately urgent. They discuss the incident with the caller, carry out an initial investigation and provide safeguarding advice, to leave the victim feeling safer than before and to explore available investigative opportunities to prosecute and prevent domestic abuse.

Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Rayland, Head of the force's Public Protection Command said: "Our preference is to see someone face to face in private, preferably at a police station. That still happens in some 30% of cases.

"However, in March we recognised that restrictions such as vulnerable categories, self-isolation, or travel, might make people less able to attend so the force introduced new video conferencing technology.

"The officers obtain a safe contact number and send a one time text message to the caller's smartphone. Activating this link puts the caller in to a virtual waiting room where one of our officers will be able to see and talk to them so that an investigation can take place."

Afterwards, the caller is told to delete the text, which is disguised in the first place to hide any links with the police.

Between March 2020 and the end of March 2021 approximately 5500 appointments took place. In the period since August last year 66% of such appointments have been carried out by video.

Part of the safeguarding advice includes referrals to independent local support agencies.

Steve Rayland added: "We have adapted to ensure we can support people at risk and find them a safe space.

"It’s really important people know that alongside this initiative we also continue to respond to domestic abuse as normal in emergency situations, arresting perpetrators and protecting vulnerable people.

"In fact, even when the first lockdown restrictions were relaxed during the summer, we found that the number of victims opting for the remote video meeting remained the same, equal to the numbers opting to visit a police station.

"No matter what is going on around us there is no excuse for domestic abuse it simply isn’t acceptable. The police priority hasn’t changed if you are victim of domestic abuse I would urge you to make contact with us so that we can help.

“We have also enhanced awareness raising during the lockdown period with social media signposting to support services and further information on our website, newspaper adverts and community engagement in essential locations to reach out to those not online."

In the first four weeks of March 2021 the force received 1715 incident calls relating to domestic abuse. In the corresponding period in 2020 we had received 1795 such calls.

This data is consistent with that recorded in the same category during most of 2020, including lockdown periods, ie a lower number of such reports, suggesting that victims may be finding it more difficult, or are more reluctant, to report at present while less able to move at ease in the community.

Steve Rayland adds: “Our message has remained the same throughout Covid restrictions and beyond – if you are experiencing domestic abuse, you are not alone. We can help break the cycle of abuse. We take all allegations of domestic abuse seriously and our staff and officers understand the complexities of domestic abuse. We want to help support victims to move forward with their lives. If you are ready to talk we are ready to listen”

Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner said; “Sussex Police swiftly put in place innovative measures to safeguard domestic abuse victims during lockdown when it became very difficult for them to reach out for help safely.

“I know that Chief Constable Shiner and her officers and staff will continue to go the extra mile to prevent victims suffering in silence during this pandemic and beyond. I sincerely congratulate them on the recognition they have received today. It is very well deserved.”

If you're a victim of domestic abuse, or know someone who is, and there's an emergency that's ongoing or life is in danger, call police on 999.

If you can’t talk because the perpetrator is nearby, you can then press the numbers ‘55’ into your mobile phone which will alert the operator to your situation.

The Sussex Safe Space website also provides a valuable directory of help and support from all agencies, available near you.

For further information and advice from Sussex Police see the force website.

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