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Digital evidence and support referrals to be improved for DA cases

A HMICS Domestic Abuse Review published today has praised the force’s more proactive approach to tackling persistent offenders but there are significant areas where issues remain.

A number of recommendations have been issued to Police Scotland today including the improvement of investigative opportunities for digital evidence capture.

It comes as part of a Thematic Review of Domestic Abuse which has been published by HMICS.

The most recent figures show that there were 64,807 domestic abuse incidents recorded in Scotland last year – 32,776 reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

The policing response to reports of domestic abuse in Scotland has changed in recent years as it has become a priority. 

The force uses a three tiered approach to domestic abuse; Tier 1 – the operational/initial response, Tier 2 – specialist domestic abuse investigation officers within local policing divisions, Tier 3- national resources (Domestic Abuse Task Force, Domestic Abuse Co-ordination Unit).

Today’s report praised the proactive approach the force has for the most persistent offenders.

Also of note was the force’s investment in new technology - the Technical SOS mobile alarm system. It includes tracking capabilities. Callers still go through a BT emergency services operator, but the operator can identify to the police service advisor that they are a vulnerable user.

As of February 2021, Police Scotland had 300 such devices.

Victims described service advisors as “helpful and supportive”, “excellent” and “compassionate”.

That said, the inspectorate did come across remarks from officers which reflected outdated attitudes – examples included asking why a victim was still married to the perpetrator and inappropriate remarks about extra-marital relations.

The consequent recommendation was that Police Scotland should ensure domestic abuse training incorporates an element of lived experience.

While relationships with support partners were described by officers and staff as “sound and constructive”, interviews with victims showed that many of those who had engaged with support had done so without being referred or signposted by the force.

A further issue that was highlighted was around digital evidence collection. Victims reported they were asked to submit evidence of messages or online activity. In some cases it meant scrolling through years of potentially re-traumatising material.

The report said: “We also consider that it is dubious whether such evidence would be admissible in court proceedings without a full examination of any potential exculpatory evidence held on devices (to meet disclosure obligations). This is an area of interest for HMICS and we will look into it in greater detail in future phases of work on domestic abuse, which will incorporate wider criminal justice issues.”

HMICS concluded that Police Scotland and the SPA need to “ensure that investigative opportunities for digital evidence capture are improved and maximised for domestic abuse offences.”

Meanwhile, there is "significant disparity" in the way information is recorded on the iVPD system (interim vulnerable persons database). 

Recording of safety plans was also inconsistent. 

The inspectorate said: "These practices have the potential to cause confusion and where double keying is required across different systems there is potential for things to be missed." 

Police Scotland is committed to scoping an alternative to the iVPD- introduced as an interim measure. In the meantime they need to ensure a consistent approach is established to record safety plans. 

14 recommendations have been made in total.   

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Craig Naylor said: “A great deal has been done by Police Scotland and the organisation is committed to further improvements to the services it provides directly and those from partner organisations. The risks associated with this area of policing, which are of significant public concern, determine that the improvements we identify in this report must be prioritised.”

ACC Bex Smith, Police Scotland said: “Officers respond to a domestic abuse incident every nine minutes in Scotland, with a crime recorded in over 50 per cent of these calls. The victims of this horrendous offending are at the centre of our approach in every case.

“Preventing domestic abuse and bringing offenders to justice is a core duty of Police Scotland and, as His Majesty’s Inspector recognises, an area where our single national service has enabled high levels of operational competence.

 “While we do not always get everything right, we listen carefully to a range of voices, including victims groups, and take action. We are resolute in our commitment to continually improve our response to domestic abuse and we will consider how this report can support us in doing so.”

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