University of Gloucestershire criminology lecturer, Dr Jane Monckton-Smith, developed the Domestic Abuse Reference Tool (DART) as a result of her extensive research carried out in this area working with victims of domestic violence and homicide and their families. The DART is a set of ring-bound, pocket-sized reference cards created to act as an aide memoire to new police training on domestic abuse and stalking.
Each card provides a number of check lists and prompts to assist officers in differentiating between what is and isn’t domestic abuse, help create a rapport with victims and gain their confidence, and, crucially, spot the warning signs to allow them to offer appropriate advice or take action in circumstances where there is potential for escalation into a dangerous situation.
As part of her role in Gloucestershire Constabulary’s Public Protection Service Delivery Board, Jane Monckton-Smith was asked to deliver a series of domestic abuse master classes to multi agency groups in the county. These master classes have proved so effective that Gloucestershire police officers are now piloting the use of the DART and the training guide when responding to incidents of domestic abuse and stalking across the county.
She said: "Findings from the Domestic Homicide Review show us that there are still 2 to 3 domestic abuse and stalking-related deaths each week in the UK. We know that coercion and control are indicators of danger, and more highly correlated with murder than violence alone."
"As part of my research into these issues I found there was a significant disconnect between what the professional agencies do and what victims need. In many cases, particularly where no arrestable offence may have been committed, police officers don’t have enough understanding of the high risk characteristics for domestic homicide. Many of them have welcomed guidance on spotting the warning signs in abusers’ behaviour, specific evidence gathering aids, and example validation statements when trying to gain a victim’s trust."
The launch of the DART follows research published in ‘Domestic Abuse, Homicide and Gender: strategies for policy and practice’ by Jane Monckton-Smith, Amanda Williams, Senior Paramedic and Safeguarding Tutor for the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS trust, and Frank Mullane, Director of the charity, Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse (AAFDA), a charity specialising in helping families after domestic homicide.
Frank’s sister Julia Pemberton and her teenage son were murdered by her estranged husband in 2003, is also a member of the national panel that quality assures all Domestic Homicide Reviews. He said: "I have been honoured to be asked to be part of the research leading to the DART tool. From working with many families and from my studies of a large number of Domestic Homicide Reviews, it is clear that victims of domestic abuse should, without question, be able to expect that when they ask for help from professionals, the response is informed and enhances their safety.
"The DART is an excellent tool that will help ensure this is the reality. How is any other response acceptable?"
Nick Gazzard, Director of The Hollie Gazzard Trust, whose daughter was murdered by her former partner in February this year, said: "I totally support the launch of DART as a tool that will help enhance the education of front line officers and other agencies responding to domestic abuse calls. It is crucial that victims are handled with the care and attention necessary to gain their trust and understand their fear.
"Thorough training of police and other agencies is of paramount importance, and this reference tool will assist in identifying the high risk characteristics of perpetrators and help them spot the warning signs before it is too late."
This news comes nine months after the HMIC report found the response of all 43 police forces in England and Wales in their approach to domestic violence and abuse was poor, and concluded that officers across the country needed more training.
The launch of this pilot with Gloucestershire Police is part of a ‘16 days of action’ campaign called Gloucestershire Take a Stand which aims to raise awareness of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and promote healthy relationships.
Gloucestershire Constabulary Detective Superintendent Simon Atkinson said: "Domestic abuse remains one of Gloucestershire Constabulary’s core priorities and although we have made great strides in this area we continue to adapt and improve our practices.
"Working with partner agencies including the University of Gloucestershire helps bring currency, awareness and solutions for our officers."
The University of Gloucestershire is in talks with a number of other police forces and other professional agencies in the hope of rolling this initiative out across the country.