Cops confront spike in domestic violence

Saving lives: Constable Carol Williams, of the recidivist family violence unit, talks to Mavis. Picture: Gary Sissons


FAMILY assaults are regarded by police as extremely serious — so much so that Greater Dandenong police sergeant Ally Howard sees her job as homicide prevention.

Often, homicides have escalated from family violence: a father has killed his children to get back at his wife; a mother afflicted by Munchhausen syndrome makes her children sick and then kills them.

Almost half of all homicides (43 per cent) in the state were family-violence related, 2009-10 police statistics show.

In that light, Sergeant Howard says the increase in reported family violence in Greater Dandenong — up from 580 cases in 2010-11 to 718 in 2011-12 — is a good thing.

“The violence has always been out there but the number of women and children confident to report to police has increased.”

Sergeant Howard is a member of the Greater Dandenong recidivist family violence unit, which has been running as a pilot program since April.

Its role is to follow up each domestic violence incident within 48 hours after initial police contact. “We have found that re-attendance within 48 hours of an incident allows greater time with parties to achieve a better outcome and gather additional information.

“If a person was substance-affected at the time of the incident, they may no longer be, and hence be more open to intervention by referral, or other assistance by police.”

It also makes sense, as about 20 per cent of family violence perpetrators are recidivists. That means they’re involved in three or more family violence incidents in a year.

Sergeant Howard called family violence “a choice by the perpetrator”.

“You can blame it on alcohol, medication, mental illness or drugs. But there are plenty of people in those categories who don’t commit family violence.”

She said it often stemmed from money, other family members or sex — either from not getting enough of it because of a relationship breakdown or from one partner finding another partner.

By dealing with families, the officers were by definition often dealing with these more complex issues. “We’re not here to break up families but to stop the violence,” Sergeant Howard said.

The unit will get two more officers next month — to reflect its success and workload.

In August, Sergeant Howard and her colleagues had more than 100 call-outs. The unit was called out more than once to eight of those addresses.

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