Jacob: Complaints of police inaction on domestic abuse reports cut down

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob at conflict resolution training programme, Police Academy, St James in April. – PHOTO BY JEFF MAYERS

Acting Commissioner of Police Mc Donald Jacob says while there have always been complaints of police inaction to reports of domestic violence “it has cut down tremendously.”

Jacob said the response to those complaints led to the formation of the Special Victims Department (SVD) last year.

“We still don’t have it right when persons make reports, not just in domestic matters but in relation to even altercations, things that might be dealing with the law of tort, with easement, adverse possession which are not matters for the police to attend to but to give advice.”

He said officers “don’t necessarily give the right advice in relation to landlord and tenant and domestic violence matters.” To combat that, the police have established a conflict resolution centre in St Joseph and a justice clinic to help inform people in communities know how to resolve domestic violence, landlord/tenant matters and similar matters.

“We have designed a manual for police officers listing the dos and the don’ts when they respond to those reports,” Jacob said, and the 67 legal officers would begin a training mission to “bring officers up to scratch.”

“We recognise these are things in our system and we are doing things to strengthen it.” He said this would help officers in charge-rooms and first responders on how they advise people making such reports.

Jacob said the police valued the recommendations of the PCA which help guide the necessary training for officers and assured that once a matter was referred for disciplinary action against an officer it was followed through. He said in relation to the absence of updates to the PCA about the status of disciplinary matters against officers there may be instances of “a breakdown in communication” but said some matters take longer to be resolved before a tribunal.

The acting CoP said it was the policy to take away the weapons of licensed firearm users or ask the person to lodge the gun at a station until the completion of the matter, once a report of domestic violence is made and confirmed by the police.

Data obtained from the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), between 2012 and 2021, has revealed that there are several cases where police are accused of failing to investigate or charge their colleagues accused of domestic violence.

In some cases, the record of the complaint cannot be found. The PCA also found that in some cases of wounding and assault there was no investigation and where death threats are made, the officers simply warned the alleged offenders without investigating the matter.

In another instance, a report of an assault by the girlfriend of an officer was “not only incorrectly coded but referred to a classification that did not mandate a full investigation.”

In an interview, SVD head Snr Supt Claire Guy-Alleyne urged officers to treat every report with the level of seriousness it deserves and called on victims to report errant officers.

She said when complaints of domestic violence are made against police, soldiers, prison and fire officers, the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions is sought on whether to prosecute, stand down or advise the complainants to seek private action.

She said that when victims of domestic violence say they no longer want to pursue the complaints the matters are referred to the magistrate who sometimes criticises officers for wasting the court’s time.

“I want to let victims and survivors understand this, you cannot change someone. Because in most instances the offender re-offended and sometimes we have survivors and victims who are so ashamed, they sit there in the abuse and they take the abuse. I am saying just as the police are operating with a zero-tolerance to reports of domestic violence we need survivors to do the same thing as well.

“Run as fast as you can from these abusive relationships. These abusive relationships end in serious harm or even death. You cannot change people. We need to change the narrative in society where violence is never the answer to deal with conflict. We cannot use violence to deal with conflict and we need to start that from a very tender age. We need to show our children how to cohabitate, how relationships are supposed to look like, we need to have that narrative from a very, very tender age.”

Asked whether there are sufficient support mechanisms for victims of domestic violence, particularly where the abuser is the breadwinner, Guy-Alleyne said that is often a question posed by victims.

“We have government shelters, we have NGOs that run shelters as well but sometimes survivors don’t take the option to go to the shelter because they sometimes feel like a prisoner at the shelter but at the end of the day, a shelter is a safe place for you. Because the location of the shelters remains a secret, you don’t see shelters advertising their locations anywhere.”

In addition, she said the Victim and Witness Support Unit offers psychosocial support to victims which helps comfort those reluctant to co-operate with investigators. She said it was important for family, friends and religious bodies to support victims to get out rather than telling them to stay in relationships for the children’s sake.

“Once a gentleman or a female in a relationship starts speaking loudly to you, deal with that in the early part of the relationship, and let them understand that you are not going to accept that. Because the shouting will turn to slapping, then it turns to choking and then it turns to really serious harm and then death,” Guy-Alleyne said. She said over 200 officers were assigned to the SVD and spread through the ten police districts across the country to deal with reports of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual offences.