Thursday, 25 June 2009

Violence is violence

A call to a case of Domestic Violence (DV) is something that can cover anything from a simple argument between partners that involves nothing more than raised voices, to the death of one of said partners and can include all crimes of violence, on a sliding scale of seriousness, in between. DV is also one of the few areas in the field of policing and crime pattern analysis where a future murder might be predicted with some degree of accuracy. It therefore follows that the attending officer will have an awful lot to weigh up in respect of evidence, or at least the officer used to.

The 21st Century police officer has been delivered of a policy from `experts` that has, in effect, minimised the need to weigh up evidence because the policy is one of positive arrest. Put another way, if the call ends up being a simple case of raised voices heard through an open window from, say, a passing member of the public or even a vindictive neighbour, PC Plod will have little option but to follow policy and make an arrest, because to choose otherwise would open up a small cabinet full of forms and computer time explaining why there was no arrest. Discretion, judgement and wise decisions from supervisors have been flushed away.

Despite working closely with DV forums and being guided and advised over many years by experienced women working in this field, including those managing refuges and their field workers, I was not convinced that a positive arrest policy would save a women a savage beating, any more than my discretion in not arresting the other party would place her at greater risk, based on what I surmised at the scene. The policy was introduced to `engineer out` any lack of good judgment or a male officers potential prejudice in favour of the male partner, when in reality it has actually just `engineered out` the chance of being blamed if the row flares up and someone is killed. But does an automatic arrest regardless of evidence or a partner’s unwillingness to press charges prevent this? An arrest for a noisy argument between husband and wife would not result in a remand in custody, even assuming that a charge was brought, which it wouldn’t be, yet the 21st Century police officer has to arrest regardless – or else you breach policy. You get bail for far worse than shouting at your spouse, but therein lies the rub because, to quote one of the many classics from “Catch 22”, it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who is dead.

I policed mostly during the last 3 decades of the 20th Century. I have always detested bullies. Violent partners are inevitably bullies; controlling and cunning destructive bullies. I do not know of a cure for this deep-rooted attitude although I’m sure there is a `cure` out there somewhere, for some of them. As far as I was concerned I wanted to nail bullies in the best way I could. Janis was a battered wife. Not `battered` as in fish and chips but battered as in she regularly got the shit beaten out of her by the fat thug she’d once thought she loved. Loved enough to marry and have children with. It wasn’t always physical violence. Bizarrely, the actual beating, when it finally came, as it always would, came as relief from the psychological beatings she’d be taking for weeks. This was the sadistic prelude to the punches, kicks and head-butts that she knew would come, eventually. The belittling, the humiliating, the name-calling, the insults,” You’re fat/thin/ugly/clumsy/stupid”, followed by a few banknotes thrown in her face and “Get down to the charity shop and buy yourself some clothes, you look like a tramp”. When the physical assaults started, as perverse as it sounds, she could relax a little.

The first time she reported it to the police was actually an accident. She’d had plenty of beatings before and never got the police involved, making the best of it, blaming herself, covering up the bruises as best she could with make up and plausible stories. But this time she went to her doctor because she was passing blood after a particularly well aimed kick in the lower abdomen. Too emotional to realise what she was saying, she agreed that her best friend would call the police. Officer `X` arrived a few days later and, stood in her kitchen drinking a mug of tea she’d made him. He tried, as quickly as he could, to get the background to the assault. He did it quickly because he knew it wasn’t going anywhere, because she always withdraw the allegation just as soon as the fat thug got arrested and cried down the telephone to her. She really, really believed that deep down inside he really loved her and that if she could just find the key to his problem, she could cure him and everything would be beautiful. She blamed herself. This call was about average for the likes of Janis. She’d been assaulted 30 or 40 times before starting to report them to the police and I think the call we took was about the 8th report that year.

It was Christmas Day late shift. I had minimum shift coverage because Christmas Day meant double time and the force budget didn’t like double time at the best, or should that be `worst` of times. As usual, officers who were single or had no children volunteered to work so that those with kids could have the time off. I had a wife and children but being a supervisor I had no option. I was working. The plan was to do a full sweep of our vulnerable points and properties and then keep our heads down and our fingers crossed we wouldn’t get too hammered by domestics. Usually, these are at their height over Christmas, usually fuelled by the extra drinking and the fact that couples suddenly find themselves in each other’s pockets for 2 weeks and realise they get on each others nerves after 3 days.

And so it was for Janis and Alf. He’d come back from his club, boozed up having promised her otherwise. The expression of dismay from Janis set him off and she was taking another beating. She managed to get off a quick 999 call before he ripped the phone from the wall. Knowing how long we usually took, he let her have a few more kicks and punches before doing a runner. We arrived as 3 units, 2 single crewed section cars and a double-crewed Area Car. We could see the aftermath as we walked up the driveway. A smashed car windscreen (Janis’s), clumps of black hair on the hall floor (also Janis’s) a smashed coffee table, lots of broken glass, portions of Christmas dinner on the floor and the victim herself, fat lip, bloody nose and shaking like a leaf. Julie, the one female officer, took her into the kitchen while myself and the other officers checked the house and gardens for the attacker. By the time we re grouped in the lounge Julie gave us the story and finished by stating that Janis didn’t want to go to hospital. I explained that from what we could see and had just been told we could arrest him for making threats to kill her, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and criminal damage to the car, as that was in her name, not his.

Julie asked her gently if she would give us a statement. “What’s the point? As soon as you lot leave to try and find him he’ll come back and give me a bigger pasting for calling you. He’s over the road in the woods somewhere, watching the house, waiting for you to leave like he’s done before”. Being a great believer in subterfuge when dealing with thick people, I hatched an arrest plan based on the assumption that if thugman was watching us, he probably didn’t count us all in and therefore would not count us on our egress. I used all my powers of persuasion on Janis and promised her I would have him locked up for Christmas if she gave us a statement – a promise I intended to keep as I wanted to nail this p.o.s. once and for all. I delegated Julie to remain in the premises, with her radio as the sole means of communication. I told her that the rest of us would `leave`, but deploy nearby. As soon as fat bastard approaches the front gate to re-beat his spouse, all cocky thinking he’s knackered the telephone, Julie calls `bingo` and we nab the nasty scrote and lock his obnoxious arse up until the special court sitting the day after Boxing Day – Happy Christmas!

Away we went, all casual-like and secreted ourselves half a mile away and waited. 45 freezing minutes later and Julie’s quivering voice came over the radio, “He’s in the house NOW”! This was somewhat shorter notice than I’d actually wanted and after calling in my snatch team I floored it. By the time we arrived under a minute later, Julie was in between Janis and the thug and he was in full rant, now faced with not one, but two of his favourite prey – `women`. He’d really given them serious grief, with some blood curdling threats and a few attempts at throwing my officer out of the way, so Julie’s expression of relief as we appeared quietly behind him was a picture I can recall vividly. A tap on the shoulder and, `clunk-click`, it was all over and Janis got her quiet Christmas. Alf spent the two public holidays in the cells and I had him charged with making threats to kill, assault (actual bodily harm) and criminal damage. He went before a well-known lady Magistrate who just happened to be a leading light for the local Women’s Refuge. This really was a very good Christmas. Remanded in custody, he spent almost month inside before an application to a Judge in Chambers got him bailed.

After 9 months of too`ing and fro`ing back to court, we finally got him before the Crown Court. During this time he'd left her well alone and Janis had, at last, set a new course for her life, without Alf. .Just before the trial, the police barrister sidled up to me and Janis, as only barristers do, and tried to gently persuade us that as the defence had offered a guilty plea to an amended indictment of `Common Assault` and guilty to the criminal damage charge if we dropped the threats to kill, it would `save Janis the trouble and trauma of a 2 or 3 day trial`. I was expecting this standard ploy and was good to go for the full trial, but after 9 months of stress Janis was now beginning to roll over. I explained to her just what a piss-poor charge Common Assault was but that if we got lucky with the Judge he would see through the smoke and mirrors and might dish out something half reasonable. She decided she just wanted to go for the easy plea and go home.

Luckily for us, the Judge was one who I knew to be totally in touch with real life, as well as being a former Coroner and an excellent solicitor. Alf stepped smugly into the box, looking just like the slippery second hand car salesman that he was. The preliminaries were delivered and the facts of the case outlined. After the mitigating pleas from his barrister were listened to, the Judge gently delivered his decision. 3 months for Common Assault (the maximum) and 6 months for the criminal damage. Alf waited for the bit he was expecting to hear, that this would be suspended for 12 or 18 months and he would be down the pub by midday. To be honest, that’s exactly what I was expecting to hear, too. That’s when the Judge delivered the coup de grace. “The sentences to be consecutive – take him down”. I had a job not to laugh out loud. Janis asked me what that meant and I explained that he was being sent back to jail for 9 months, less the time he’d already been remanded, making 8 months in stir. She was one happy bunny.

All this happened before there was such a thing as Victim Support Services and Janis had to endure this pretty much on her own, apart from me trying to keep her updated and reassured. It was hard work, as she was just one of many. She wrote to me and told me that I had changed her life. I went to see her and told her that it was in fact she who had changed her life. I was just determined to nail the bully that was ruining her life, only this time she had provided me with the means. I also told her we were lucky with the Judge. I never had a domestic violence case as successful as this one, but it became my benchmark and I continued to keep trying. Looking back over the rest of my service, it never happened that way again. Janis sent me a Christmas card for the following 5 years.


Blue Eyes said...

I don't think there is any simple way of protecting people who are being bullied - violently or otherwise - by family members. I think the only thing that we as a society can do is to provide support for people who want to get out of their situations.

Domestic violence is just one part of it. The recent debate about the burkha is another. You can't legislate for situations like this, and I am not sure that a positive arrest policy benefits anyone (what happens when the arrestee gets home from the nick?).

Society needs to help bullied people of all situations the find the strength to break themselves free from their shackles.

Sage said...

Bullies don't always use violence to get their own way, sometimes it is psychological and you end up feeling less and less able to stand up to their demands... my end came when he pushed me too far and I told him to leave... it took me 15 years to trust anyone again in case they also turned out to be like them.. and even today it can still affect me if someone makes a comment about my appearance in a simarly vein to the way he did...

Glad Janis finally got the help she needed...

Hogday said...

Blue; I agree. I hate bullies, especially elected ones. The comon feature is that when their bluff is called, they always take the view that `you cannot be serious. I'm the best thing that ever happened to you`. Vanity writ large!

Sage; The sad, but often useful, fact is that the pattern is familiar. You were not alone.

Area Trace No Search said...

Good on you HD, a great tale.

When it occasionally does come good, when a real victim gets real help it's a good feeling.
The kind of arrest you really want to make, and go out of your way to achieve - as you did.

powdergirl said...

It makes me quite ill to read about those domestic violence incidents. I meet those women when I volunteer with the addiction centre, I just can't understand the mind-set that says "I can change him"
Guess I'm lucky never to have my self-esteem kicked down to dust.

Nice work on your part HD. She's lucky to have had you on the job.

Hogday said...

ASNT. Nice to see you ;) Yes, you remember the good collars.

PG; Get fishing, woman lol

Evil Twin's Wife said...

Good work! I wish there were more officers like you. So many women are terrified, they're bullied into believing that if they leave, their attacker will hunt them down and kill them, kill the children, etc. It's a vicious cycle.

Hogday said...

Hi ETW. Usually the toughest calls you take. If we had US gun laws over here, domestics would be a very different ball game - and they're risky enough jobs as it is. Glad I'm out of all that.

Henry North London said...

I once called the police to say that I had been bullied at work

I was told it was a civil matter

It didnt end well

I dont think bullying in any form is a civil matter. Most uncivil I would think

Hogday said...

Henry, sorry to hear of your experience. Bullying is highly unpleasant and in some cases can be criminal rather than just civil. Section 5 of the Public Order Act comes pretty close but the behaviour needs to be in a public place. If it were pursued through the civil avenue, there's a much better chance of a result as suddenly employer policies come into play. Assaults, however, are assaults wherever they take place. I've said elsewhere, I never really rated the criminal law as capable of giving people `justice`.