No-one can fail to have been shocked by media reports this week accusing two Birmingham police officers of inadvertently leaving an abusive voicemail recording on the phone of a domestic abuse sufferer.
I was devastated at hearing the recording, not least for the complainant who I’ve apologised to in person and reassured this will be vigorously investigated, but also for other victims who may, on the back of this, have reservations about reporting abuse to police.
Understandably, accusations like this risk undermining public confidence in the police – but I would seek to reassure members of the public this alleged conduct is quite exceptional and in no way reflects the attitudes of our officers or the force generally.
I’ve worked as a police officer for 18 years and this is one of the most disturbing allegations I have ever encountered.
The shocking words found on the lady’s phone are a slap in the face for the thousands of police officers who serve communities across the West Midlands with professionalism and respect. These are people who signed up to become police officers to protect the public and keep people safe…and they, like me, are appalled at the claims.
I have worked in police Public Protection – the unit that deals with abuse cases – for several years so I appreciate how difficult it can be for sufferers to take a stance and contact police. We need to repay their bravery by offering a caring service that not only offers support and help to break free from abusive relationships but which secures justice against offenders.
In the majority of cases we achieve that. In fact, only last December a domestic abuse victim agreed to take part in a video where she spoke about how a Birmingham North PC helped her and her young child escape a “life of fear” with an aggressive, manipulative partner.
Examples like this illustrate where West Midlands Police officers have helped victims turn their lives around. And they show that, overwhelmingly, domestic abuse victims can trust West Midlands Police to treat them with sensitivity and compassion.
Last year we launched Operation Sentinel, a high-profile campaign aimed at helping women who were suffering at the hands of abusive partners.
It saw a widespread marketing campaign urging victims to “report it to stop it”, promotion of a poem penned by an abuse sufferer, and collaboration with support agencies like Women’s Aid who took part in an online debate with our specially trained domestic abuse officers.
And in Birmingham North we’ve worked hard to significantly increase the number of victim referrals to support groups in order to make counselling and support available.
Our combined efforts are working because more victims now feel empowered to speak out against domestic abuse: we’ve seen a 21 per cent increase in the number of domestic abuse related crimes reported to police.
If victims didn’t have confidence in us to take their complaint seriously, to act with sensitivity and integrity, and to push for prosecutions against perpetrators then we would not be witnessing increased reporting numbers.
We’ve made huge strides over the course of the last few years to develop our working relationships with support groups to encourage victims of domestic abuse to come forward and not to suffer in silence.
I would be devastated if this shocking, isolated episode deters just one victim from reporting abuse to police.
Alongside domestic abuse support agencies we are here to help and I would urge anyone enduring a coercive relationship – be it physical, emotional, psychological or financial abuse – to call us on 101 and we can help them break away.
Rachel Jones – Birmingham North Police Commander