Police chief vows to tackle violence against women and restore trust
- Credit: Norfolk Constabulary
A hard core of Norfolk men behind an “epidemic of domestic abuse” are to be targeted as part of wider efforts to restore trust in policing in the wake of Sarah Everard's murder.
Norfolk chief constable Paul Sanford acknowledged the case, in which the young woman was raped and killed by Met police officer Wayne Couzens, had damaged public confidence in the police.
He said the force was determined to improve how it investigates violence against women and girls, including providing extra training for officers and shifting the focus towards perpetrators.
Domestic abuse is among the problems to be tackled in Norfolk, with 22pc of all reports to police related to the area. Mr Sanford said there was an "epidemic" of the crime.
“We need to improve our investigations into domestic abuse because the reality is that the overwhelming majority of violence against women and girls is perpetrated by partners, predominantly men - it’s men who need to change here, so we really need to tackle domestic abuse,” he said.
He said the force would be focusing on rape and serious sexual offences to improve conviction rates and provide better support to victims.
“There is a group of perpetrators in this county who go from relationship to relationship and cause turmoil wherever they go,” he added.
“We are launching a domestic abuse perpetrator scheme where we go after that core group of men and put any measure we can towards them to stop their offending.
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“That is both conviction in crown and magistrates' court but also civil powers we are increasingly using to control their offending.”
The chief constable said the force was also determined to drive up detection and conviction rates but admitted it was a “really complex area”.
“These cases are incredibly difficult to solve,” he said. “Often they rely on one person’s word against another and it was only a few years ago where the police service found themselves in some difficulties where failings in our investigations meant that innocent persons were on bail for long periods of time or were convicted for offences that they didn’t do.
“We have to keep that level of impartiality and make sure that we deliver justice.”
Trust in the police following the murder of Sarah Everard is an issue for all forces, including Norfolk, he said.
It comes after a former Norfolk police officer was jailed after admitting indecent images offences of children.
Another Norfolk officer is under investigation over messages shared on Wayne Couzens’ WhatsApp group.
Mr Sanford said the force was determined to root out offenders in its ranks and improve vetting of officers.
“There have been people who’ve crossed the line before and when that happens they leave the organisation,” he said.
“Just today there were two officers in court for serious offences. They are only in court because we rooted them out and we will continue to do that.
“We regularly vet and re-vet our staff. In the last two and half years we have refused over 130 people joining this organisation because they have failed vetting checks, so we set the bar high and it’s important we do so because you cannot allow people like Wayne Couzens or the officers in Norfolk who have crossed the line to remain in policing.”
Sarah Everard’s murder triggered an outpouring of concern over safety with women and girls sharing their experiences and fears.
Mr Sanford urged Norfolk residents to use the Street Safe online tool to report areas where they feel unsafe in the county.
It enables anyone to anonymously flag public places and mark on a map the areas where they feel unsafe while remaining anonymous, and while anyone can use it, women and girls are particularly being encouraged to do so.
He added: "To help us offer you that reassurance, from today on-duty officers, working on their own, will proactively offer to carry out a verification check for anyone they come across who appears, as a result of their interaction with police, to be concerned for their safety.
“A member of the public can also request that a verification check be carried out and we will respond immediately if we are asked to do that.”
Mr Sanford said a wider change in society’s attitude to women was needed, as well as improvements to policing.
“There are too many men in this county who do not know what a healthy relationship looks like,” he said.
“Where is that learnt? It’s in their own home, through parenting. It can be improved through better education on things like relationships and sexual relationships.”
Readers quiz chief constable Paul Sanford
Lauren Marie-Rivett: Why are conviction rates so low for offences like rape and domestic abuse? How can this be improved in Norfolk?
Quite often these cases are one person’s word against another which makes them difficult to solve but we are making investments in police officer training in domestic abuse and sexual offences so that we improve the quality of our investigations.
We have recently brought in 20 digital investigators so that we can get better in bringing together the evidence that might exist on phones or computers to help us bring convictions.
Lynsey Roberts: Can making a request under so-called Clare's Law, which gives women potential access to a partner's criminal history, be made easier?
It can. We have recently changed our force website so Clare’s Law requests can now be made online. It is ever so easy to do now.
Rachel Cross: How will you ensure the vetting process of your own officers guarantees women and girls are not at risk of abuse from your own force?
We do carry out robust vetting checks at the point of joining and we regularly review the vetting of all individuals across the force periodically throughout their career and whenever they move to a new post. Doing that has stopped some people joining who had no place with us.
Natasha Harpley: How many women do you have advising you on misogyny-related issues?
The constabulary has access to an independent advisory group which provides us with advice on a number of things, but that would also include misogyny-related issues. We are also seeing more female officers moving to senior positions which I think will help as a senior leadership team we have got a better understanding of these issues.