(The Caribbean Voice’s letter in the Trinidad & Tobago Newsday)The Minister of National Security has said the police are powerless to stop domestic violence tragedies. In the House of Representatives he lamented, “Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, these can’t be prevented by any crime-fighting initiative.”
Actually, that’s not accurate. In fact there are police practices in many countries that do help to save lives of abuse victims and there is no need to invent the wheel.
For example, the police must take reports following all allegations of domestic violence. As well, police must treat domestic violence calls as high priority or life-threatening situation.
A mandatory arrest policy should be in place so the police will have the responsibility of ensuring a victim is safe by arresting an alleged abuser on the scene or applying for a arrest warrant. And dedicated domestic violence investigators should always ensure follow-up in every case.
The police should also offer safety-planning advice and make referrals to services needed by the victims and children. They can also offer information on where/how to obtain a protection order and find ways of putting teeth in protection orders.
Decisions about prosecuting abusers should be made independently of the victim’s wishes because it is believed they should be relieved of the burden of making that decision. As well, victims can be threatened by abusers to not follow up and/or may refuse to do so because of economic dependence on the abuser or children or both. Family pressure can also be a factor and thus the police must be able to negate these factors.
All of this means the police should have a domestic violence unit with trained officers at every station who must be equipped with rapid-response capacity. And such officers must work in collaboration with other prevention entities such as safe houses, relevant government ministries that can offer different kinds of help, NGOs that can offer counselling and so on.
What then is the current reality? In 1991, when TT introduced legislation classifying particular offences as domestic violence, the then commissioner of police got actively involved in formulating directives to guide officers in their response to domestic violence reports.
Officers were instructed to respond promptly to all such reports. Casual dispersal of reports was firmly discouraged. All reports were to be investigated and appropriate action taken in the same manner as would be done in the investigation of any other crime.
These directives are followed more in the breach. Oftentimes police stations indicate they have no vehicles available. Attitudes towards domestic violence are far too often nonchalant as well as favouring the patriarchic normative structure, frequently resulting in femicide. Protection orders are ineffective.
A Domestic Violence Registry, launched in 2016, in not collaboratively integrated into police work. Thus there is hardly any surveillance system in place.
And this is only part of the full story. The fact is that it takes planning and sustained will to tackle domestic violence. Lamenting that the tragedies cannot be stopped is a display that goes in the opposite direction, indicating no political will, no desire to plan and act proactively and to invest in the needed training, resources and mechanisms, and certainly no consideration to institute stakeholders’ collaboration.