Domestic violence is a bigger problem than most who don’t suffer from it know. The way it’s dealt with is a disgrace, but this is nothing new. It’s very difficult for those of us who won’t use violence to understand at all. We should operate a zero tolerance policy in respect of DV – but we have little clue of what this would mean. We don’t even generally know what DV is, often limiting our view to that of a bloke knocking his wife about.
There are big questions as to whether police cold be doing a better job or whether we need to change the whole system. And it’s hard to know whether we make anything better or worse through intervention. Most of us like the idea of our homes and lives being private, so any intervention needs to be considered.
Hogday has posted recently on how dire getting involved in these matters as a cop was and no doubt remains. I can only add to this in extreme. A patient was lost on my watch. Back then, I’d arrested the culprit beforehand, only to discover I had no power of arrest under the relevant injunction (swift change to police assault) and he committed the murder whilst on police bail.
When I first arrived at a domestic’s door, I had no clue they took place. In my family they had been no more than raised voices and sulking. I had no relevant training, even in self-defence (other than from the rugby field). Initially, I thought I had brought about a ‘cure’, but I was back next shift. Advice given by more experienced officers was broadly not to get involved – she’d only retract any statement after being given a ‘good servicing’ or threats we could do nothing about – this was pretty accurate advice, fitting maybe 85% of cases. The victims were nearly all women, nearly all poor, thick and either drunk or victims of drunkenness. The worst cases were generally father an son (step-children as a rule).
One could lump neighbour disputes in with domestics – again 85% were just a waste of time. All one could do was try to restore the peace. I don’t remember any referrals to other agencies – these were either non-existent or hapless like social services. Occasionally, a decent social worker might be involved, and we might make a joint visit, but this was very rare.
As Gadget and contributors are prone to point out, there were many threats and death threats – so familiar you could more or less ignore them with impunity. One night, a Xmas Eve and snowing, I arrived at a domestic’s door. ‘What the fuck do you want short-arse’? was the response from a massive loon, body-sculptured from time in a marine gun crew. He wasn’t going to let me in. Too many kids to count and his wife could be seen inside the filthy place, all scared. Dreams of a meal with my own wife faded. It was already being kept warm as I was filling in after 2-10 for an absent night shifter, as were two more of my crew. The bloke tried to push me, so hard he fell into the snow when he missed. Inside, I found a complete mess and his wife in need of hospital. I called an ambulance and for assistance. Our shift was so thin the assistance cal went to Traffic and the panda control guy said he’d come out.
The story could make a book. I had to fight the ex-serviceman, to a point I could hardly hit him again because my knuckles were bleeding and bruised and I’d dislocated an ankle throwing him to the ground. A female member of the ambulance crew finally rendered him unconscious with the wrong end of an oxygen bottle. It turned out to be his brother’s house (real pleasure in nicking him for burglary the following week) and the wife and kids were thrown out into the snow. Social services refused to attend until threats to call the Daily Mail – the kids ended-up at my house eating my dinner at one point, plus getting whatever else was in stock and Xmas presents for my nieces.
One hopes things have moved on. I know all kinds of rules have been brought in, including special DV teams, taking photographs of injuries and so on. I also know that much has stayed the same from personal experience of hapless policing of an evil poor family moved in next door, that was never resolved, now continuing a mile away. We even have DV courts in some areas and I have organised and attended conferences on the same. The experts talk a good job, but I saw it all fail next door, until she tried to fire-bomb a house round the corner.
The Xmas Eve job wasn’t the one that ended with a death. He was charged with police assault, despite my injuries and those of his wife. You may not think this fair, but he never re-offended and was contrite, humble and deeply shocked at his own behaviour the following day. It was my decision and that of his wife. Social services found them a house, a dire shit-hole they made into a palace. I did a morning with a wheel-barrow there when I turned up to check they were doing more than playing happy families. Thank the lord I didn’t have to fight him sober! This guy looked much more of a threat than my former neighbours, yet they were far more dangerous despite looking much more petty.
The experts are fairly good at establishing what the problems are and some of the causes. I did attend cases where the victim was the husband, but am surprised that 30% of those needing casualty treatment are male – though I believe this and it fits. Some of the women ‘ask’ for what they get, though this hardly excuses the violence. What does is a vile sub-culture in which violence is lauded, and little is done to penetrate this culture and its ‘non-values’. There is no real excuse, though many of the victims and perpetrators are hooked in a system close to madness or mad.
Many of the people involved make threats they have no intention of carrying through, but what should be learned from this (and is) is not that such threats can be safely ignored. The real victims are often the poor sods living next to a family out of control. They see nothing happening after call after call to the cops and other agencies. The real problem is what can be acted on as evidence and lack of the means and often enthusiasm to get it. Times have changed, but most arrests during domestics in my time were for assault on police – because we could arrest and get convictions for that, rather than the sorry messes we ended up with trying as the law supposed was possible and wasn’t. I even remember getting a mad old woman to assault me to get matters to court.
The real problem is two-fold. First, police have inadequate powers to deal with breaches of the peace that keep repeating, and second that a whole flux of squalid false complaining, threats and other matters obscure the cases that lead to severe violence and murder. Other matters, including police incompetence, make this worse. Over-arching this is a fatal nexus in this country of denial and exploitation of the real issues by the relevant authorities, including politicians. Their performance management may as well be theatre, for it is not concerned with doing a better job on the problems, but in making personal capital out of them (from lawyers taking actual coin to politicians votes). Closure is often brought about by claims to be ‘learning lessons’, but we never get to know just how these have been learned, just of the ‘next Baby P’ or ‘death in Essex’.
A key technical problem in dealing with these matters is ‘stereotyping’ – a word we hear but rarely understand – not least in that we all do it and can’t be rid of it. This is one of the reasons for the dire ‘diversity management’ that makes most who have to suffer it suspect whoever organised it of racial bias against ‘ordinary white folk’. One could re-write Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin these days to discover the vile ‘nigger references’ in polite society merely transferred to other groups not considered quite human. What many politicians, judges, lawyers and senior people can’t get is that they stereotype as surely as those put up to demonstrate the puerility of racism by Harriet. Some of Gadget’s contributors may well think Harriet Harmon wrote the book (me stereotyping them if you get the drift).
You can’t stop people stereotyping – it’s a form of learning. Cops learn what works and what doesn’t in their own culture just as surely as lawyers learn what pays them, or evil poor what works in their culture. Academics stereotype themselves into postmodern essays as surely as Finn the Burglar slips your television under his arm. My domestic calls were well into the hundreds before someone died, I had never taken anyone to court other than for assault on me, and I’d heard a couple of dozen death threats.
I can arrange for you to hear death threats if you are prepared to do a few weeks of rough drinking with me. I won’t be able to hack the pace, but we’ll find what I mean. First we have to find some Hillbillies in some number and a bad mood. It’s advisable to ignore sex offers with jocularity. Enough drink inside (you may have trouble holding yours there) and they’ll get ‘talking family’ – don’t expect cute pictures. Soon one of them will be threatening to ‘do’ some boyfriend or shagger rival. It may even get real in front of us until the landlord does his work. It’s often one of these people who need protection.
In my old case, the victim was a ‘fragrant women’. She had moved well away from the ex-husband – which most Hillbillies can’t. There was an injunction (useless as he was just released when we nicked him). We did take it seriously, sadly because she was so middle class. She was killed on another shift. He gave himself up, armed with a shotgun, at my house. He’d threatened to ‘do’ me and at least found my address. Instead he was on my front lawn, with the barrel in his mouth. I was ex-NI by then and didn’t answer the door, I leaned out of a bedroom window.
What we need, rather than all the defensive stuff about how the hell we are supposed to sort the wheat from the chaff (which still needs to be said), is the ‘technology’ to do the job as right as it can be done. This would have to be a kind of public scrutiny we don’t have at all. First of all, we have to stop blaming the system as though we aren’t part of it and actually form a worthwhile public.
We need to realise that what investigations there are into our CJS are not bringing results in terms of real change. The underlying key is secrecy. What we need to know is how current serious problems are being dealt with and the problems found in doing this, not reviews around dead people. One can see problems in this, but I can see ways of doing it that maintain confidentiality as we need it. If, incidentally, cops and other agencies were really concerned to learn the real lessons, then we’d find them discussing cases in which they’d failed with victims who haven’t died. They don’t. This hasn’t happened with my partner and I or any of the other 50-odd cases of victims who have been in touch with me. Our case fortunately (for us) continues without us in it, a young boy and his two sisters ruined and a family fortunate not to have been burned to death. No one in the other cases has had resolution without having to move. These are just people peripheral to the actual DV, often associated with crime and anti-social behaviour of other kinds.
A mother-in-law joke shared with my local inspector (fortunately Gadget-like), that we’d have been better off if I’d killed my neighbours and done the time (ridiculously true) was taken as such. Such is the defensive hostility of many of the agencies who should do the job towards victims who complain they don’t, they are more likely to treat such matters seriously than spot what needs to be done. No one was at fault over the death 30 years ago, but I suspect the reasons in Essex will not be so different. Reasonable law would have prevented the deaths, we just don’t have any. I’m guessing on Essex, but other cases from 30 years ago, despite all the changes, would be indistinguishable from today’s. This hardly suggests ‘lessons learned’ other than in bureaucratic excuse rhetoric. We may as well hope, as I’m sure Hog doesn’t, for the arrival of Caribbean truncheons applied to all parties. I’d have taken this if it had stopped the vile parties next door.