The Queensland police service says it is examining proposals to bring social workers or other specialists to domestic violence incidents, after releasing a documentary where officers speak candidly about their “helplessness” and “frustration” at the escalating problem.
Police responses to domestic and family violence have come under intense scrutiny in the past month, since the death of Gold Coast mother Kelly Wilkinson and admissions of systemic failures.
There is mounting pressure on police to address evidence of problematic responses to some domestic violence situations.
In the documentary, the police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, acknowledged the need for reform and said police were “looking at” models that might include specialists working alongside responding police.
“I really believe in the not-too-distant future you’ll see some of this come to fruition,” Carroll said.
“Domestic and family violence is the most scrutinised role that we do, not just internally, but externally.
“If there are issues with the system and the process, we need to do something about it. We need to look at each of the incidents separately and if we need to improve in those, yes we need to improve.”
The assistant commissioner Brian Codd, who has been tasked with reforming police responses domestic and family violence, said the documentary was deliberately “not spin” but sought to acknowledge challenges and present the realities of domestic violence policing.
They include frontline officers whose entire shifts were taken up by the response to domestic violence.
Codd said police were already trialling “co-responder” models where specialists or social workers attended incidents alongside frontline police. They were also considering proposals where police might be embedded with non-government organisations in a “more suitable and welcoming” environment than a police station.
“We’ve got to try lots of things,” Codd said.
“We’ve got a long way to go. There are long-term things to consider. The challenge for us [is] we have put in place some things to try to effect change.
“Domestic violence incidents are taking up as much as 40% of our time.”
Codd also said he hoped the documentary would change broader community perceptions about the extent to which policing was law enforcement – and that in the process this might help to diversify the sorts of recruits who applied to join.
Recruitment has been particularly problematic for police, whose 50/50 gender strategy was criticised recently by the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission.
“Lots of people in this country are raised on being fed American TV shows and develop views about … what police are. Sometimes that narrative does not reflect what contemporary policing is, and how it’s evolving,” Codd said.
“Sometimes it’s overlooked and forgotten by our own people.
“We think they should be problem solvers. If you give police discretion, sometimes they’re going to get it wrong, but to me, that’s a healthier place to be than a straight-up offence-arrest-prosecute approach.”
Concerns remain that police promises to reform have been heard before, and that the scale of the problem – about 107,000 cases a year and about 40% of frontline police duties – requires more than policy or process shifts.