THE Scots police watchdog has told the force to prioritise improvements to dealing with domestic abuse, including dealing with outdated attitudes, while warning that the number of incidents is expected to rise during the cost of living crisis.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) which reports to ministers in a critical new analysis of Police Scotland's response to domestic abuse said there was still a lack of knowledge and confidence among some officers in recognising and applying the domestic abuse legislation.

And the watchdog said "significant challenges" still exist in preventing and understanding the scale of domestic abuse.

It warned that while it is generally accepted that domestic abuse is under reported there are indications that issues arising from the cost of living crisis could result in an even higher prevalence of domestic abuse offending which the force had to respond too.

Police Scotland said it did not always get it right and was seeking to improve responses.

In 2021/22 there were 64,807 recorded incidents of domestic abuse - 1900 more than before than in 2019/20.

The enactment of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 (DASA) made it a criminal offence for a person to engage in a course of behaviour that is abusive of their partner or ex-partner.

The inspectorate says that this marked a significant step in modernising the understanding of domestic abuse and, recognising the many forms this can take, including the use of coercive controlling behaviour.

But the watchdog made 14 recommendations to improve the handling of domestic abuse cases, including the prioritisation of training which should include "trauma informed practices and an element of lived experience of victims to address problematic and outdated attitudes ".

The Herald: Three officers will work to tackle issues including violence, drugs and anti-social behaviour (Image: Police Scotland)

It needed to ensure there is an adequate cadre of suitably trained sexual offence liaison officers (SOLOs) and the prioritisation of a robust system for progressing domestic abuse inquiries which will improve the service to victims.

It found that there was no formal feedback process within Police Scotland to garner the views of domestic abuse victims on their experience of reporting, to inform organisational learning and improve service delivery. A formal feedback process has been in place for serious sexual offences since 2010.

Their study found that the victim experience is that the attitudes and behaviours of some officers "lack empathy and understanding" and some victims report that remarks made by officers "reflect outdated attitudes".

The inspectors found there was a lack of consistency in the way investigation of protracted enquiries, so called 'domestic packages' were managed and progressed within divisions.

They found instances in these protracted enquiries where there were delays in tracing suspects due to a "lack of ownership of the enquiry".

It also found that victims of domestic abuse are not consistently being referred to support services and that there was inconsistency in the standard of record keeping on incident records, including rationales for decision making.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, Craig Naylor, said "I note that some issues highlighted have previously been identified and acknowledged by Police Scotland and improvement measures are in progress, however I am clear that, while a great deal has been done to prioritise and tackle domestic abuse, this is still an area where further improvement is required."

Mr Naylor recognised that progress had been made over recent years within the criminal justice system, including policing and within the wider society in understanding the nature and extent of domestic abuse and the damaging effects it has on the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities.

But he warned that "significant challenges still exist in preventing this insidious form of criminal behaviour and protecting those who are vulnerable from its harmful effects".

Among a series of recommendations, the inspectors said Police Scotland must prioritise the introductions of a "robust system" for allocation and monitoring progression of domestic abuse investigation packages at local, regional and national level "to ensure there are clear channels of ownership and to improve service to victims".

The Herald:

It said the force should review the role of officers involved in risk assessment and safety planning for domestic abuse incidents to provide national consistency and ensure that they are given the appropriate training and support.

Police Scotland was also urged to develop and implement effective processes for communication with victims of domestic abuse that are focussed on them and include acceptable timeframes for providing updated information.

More progress was needed on the provision and promotion of third party reporting sites, the use of diary appointments, greater opportunities for the capture of digital evidence including the need to ensure and save victims from having to trawl through their own devices, enhanced response at the first point of contact and the requirement to offer the preferred gender of attending officer to victims are also reflected in the recommendations.

Mr Naylor said that he recognised the "difficult position" in which Police Scotland finds itself, with the budget settlement "remaining challenging".

He also acknowledged that the volume of domestic abuse reports do present a significant challenge for policing and that the cost of living crisis could result in a higher prevalence of the crimes.

"Notwithstanding these challenges, the risks associated in this area of policing, which is of significant public concern, determine that the improvements we identify as needed in the policing response to domestic abuse must be prioritised by Police Scotland," he said.

Assistant Chief Constable Bex Smith said: “This legislation was a significant step change in how Scotland’s criminal justice system deals with the full range of abusive behaviour.

“Every officer in our service has been trained, and new recruits are trained, to identify these behaviours and to apply DASA.

“Every instance of domestic abuse is unique and we seek to tailor our response to the needs of the victims, including children who often witness abuse.

“We know we don’t always get it right, but we are listening and we recognise how crucial hearing the experience of victims is in helping us improve our response and deliver a service that meets their needs.”