In his monthly report, Chief Constable Simon Byrne told the Northern Ireland Policing Board that tackling and preventing violence against women and girls will continue to be a top policing priority for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
However, he recognised that significant work was required to reassure the public about our response following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer.
The Chief Constable updated the Policing Board on the process and timescales for developing the PSNI’s Violence and Intimidation Against Women and Girls Strategy which is due to be published alongside an associated delivery action plan by the end of 2021.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “Often in Northern Ireland, the debate around policing focuses on issues resulting from a society emerging from conflict. However, the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, and indeed other women across the UK, has brought into sharp focus an unacceptable reality that impacts women and girls from all communities in the here and now.
“Whilst the Police Service has a wide range of obligations, we know that women and girls are disproportionately the victims of violent crime and so preventing violence against women and girls across all communities in Northern Ireland is a key priority. I want to leave absolutely no doubt that it will be. We have an obligation to demonstrate leadership through our words and through our actions and I can give an unequivocal commitment that the Police Service stands ready to play our part.
“We recognise the enormous damage and hurt that has been caused to trust and confidence in policing as a result of the actions of a serving police officer. For me, and for anyone who has chosen a career which seeks to help and protect their local community, it goes against everything we stand for.
“I was pleased to be able update the Northern Ireland Policing Board today on the development of our forthcoming Violence and Intimidation Against Women and Girls Strategy and Action Plan and our early engagement with women and girls advocacy groups to shape and inform our approach.
“But this work also has to look inwards to our own organisation including a robust review of our internal processes to make sure we are doing everything we can to provide confidence and reassurance to women and girls across Northern Ireland. I have commissioned a piece of work, led by the Deputy Chief Constable and the Chief Operating Officer, to examine our own operational environment.
“It is important we take the time to get this right. We will undertake a significant programme of further engagement and consultation with advocacy groups and women and girls across Northern Ireland to hear their views directly and ensure they have confidence in how we move forward. But in the here and now, I want to make it absolutely clear that it is not normal operational procedure for any lone police officer to engage, let alone arrest, any member of the public, with the exception of the most extreme circumstances where there is an immediate risk of harm to that person or other people around them.”
The Chief Constable also updated Policing Board members on the police approach to tackling domestic abuse.
Over 4,000 officers and staff across the organisation have completed initial training modules relating to new offences under the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (NI) 2021 which will come into force in February 2022.
The Chief Constable said: “The Police Service fully supported the introduction of new domestic abuse legislation that will empower us to further prevent harm and support victims of these really traumatic offences. Effective and up-to-date training is fundamental to ensuring our frontline officers spot the signs of what is often a hidden crime and have the skills, knowledge and experience to support victims during very difficult moments in their lives. With nearly 4,000 officers having already undertaken the initial modules, I am confident this demonstrates how big a priority tackling domestic abuse is for officers right across the service.”
In addition, a new Northern Ireland wide advocacy service for victims of domestic and sexual abuse was launched in September 2021. ASSIST NI is a partnership between Men's Advisory Project, Women's Aid and Foyle Family Justice Centre, which is funded by the Department of Justice and the Police Service. It seeks to address gaps in current service provision and build on identified good practice, to increase community safety and prevent harm.
The Chief Constable added “ASSIST NI is an innovative and ground-breaking project and demonstrates the power of a multi-agency approach to tackling complex crime and other societal issues. Using data to identify potential repeat offending, threat and risk to support a seven days a week service, ASSIST NI has the potential to provide the whole system approach needed to provide the right support to victims of domestic abuse and prevent future harm.”