As the national police lead for tackling domestic abuse calls on forces to “get the basics right”, we look at the evolving approach in south Birmingham that’s encouraging more victims to take a stand.
PC Kelly McJannett and PC Ray Ahmed are on the evening shift, based on Bournville Lane police station. It’s 5pm in south Birmingham and a mother of two sits sobbing in her living room as a friend from next-door prepares sausage and chips for the children’s dinner in the next room.
Breaking down in tears, she turns to two police officers and asks desperately: “If I make that complaint now, what are you going to do for me and my kids…I can’t stay here.”
She called 999 when her ex-partner went round, damaged her window and smashed her mobile phone. He went off the rails that morning when she said she was leaving him.
The fear can be heard in her voice as she pleads with the two PCs for help.
“Please don’t get upset, we can sort out all the safeguarding issues for you. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we’re in plain clothes. We have the time to be with you and reassure you and make sure that you and your children are safe,” says PC McJanett. She and PC Ahmed have been despatched to the property in an unmarked Vauxhall Corsa – the area’s dedicated ‘domestic abuse car’.
They’re part of a response shift – the team that responds to emergency calls – but for today are dedicated to helping people who’re suffering at the hands of abusive partners. There are always two constables assigned to this role, all day, every day, as part of a special pilot that’s been running in south Birmingham since November last year.
It’s because domestic abuse is one of the biggest contributors to police demand in this part of the city. The local command team are responding by looking at innovative ways to get to the root cause of the issue.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s just good policing” said Sergeant Matt Crowley, the man developing the trial. “It’s about taking the time to really listen to people, rather than have officers worrying about the next job they’re going to be sent to.
“If we can invest that time and commitment at the really early stage of the investigation, as soon as the call comes in, we can make a real difference. Victims are telling us it works and so are our officers.
“Take the woman with the cats,” he says, “she’d call us all the time until one day an officer asked her, ’what would it take for you to leave him?’ She said, ’I just don’t want to lose the cats’.
“Well, we were straight on to the cattery. It worked. We got her moved out, she wasn’t a victim anymore and she kept her pets. We never heard from her again and all it took was for someone to dig a bit deeper and ask the right questions.”
Back at the flat, PC McJanett and PC Ahmed have turned their radios down; they know they aren’t going to be sent to any other calls while they’re with this vulnerable woman, who is now starting to open up.
They’re an hour into the visit and after making a statement about the criminal damage, the victim has also now revealed details of historical physical abuse, which is going into the officers’ report.
“I just want him to rot in hell,” she says. A far cry from her original hesitation about pressing charges before the two officers sat down and talked her slowly through the things that can be done to help and protect her.
Two hours later and after measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of the victim and her children, the officers return to the car.
“She actually turned around and said thank you for your help, you’ve made me feel a lot better,” said PC McJanett. “By spending a bit of time with her and speaking with her and taking an extra few minutes, she gave a statement to us, which is the result we wanted, for her.”
On returning to Bournville Lane police station, the two officers complete the paperwork and PC Ahmed instructs the late shift to try and find the suspect to arrest him.
Meanwhile, Sgt Crowley is putting the finishing touches to his review of the domestic abuse car pilot: “It’s nothing new; the domestic abuse car has always been around to add additional support, but it’s never been used to this extent before and what we’re trying to do now is evolve that approach.
“Over the last few years and during Operation Sentinel in 2013 we’ve learnt what works and grown to better meet the demands of the people who really need our help.
“By putting our officers in a position where they’re able to spend more time helping that victim to open up at the earliest opportunity, we’re able to signpost, safeguard and point the in the direction of real solutions – to stop the cycle of domestic abuse once and for all.”
(c) West Midlands Police