New Garda domestic violence units not properly trained yet, conference told

Sergeant calls for immediate training of all members of Divisional Protective Services Units

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors annual conference in Killarney heard that  all Garda members should have a role in combating and investigating domestic violence. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors annual conference in Killarney heard that all Garda members should have a role in combating and investigating domestic violence. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

 

Gardaí were experiencing a large increase in the number of domestic violence call outs but new units launched to deal with vulnerable victims have not yet been training properly, Garda middle managers have said.

Sgt Michael Bracken called for training immediately for all members of the new Divisional Protective Services Units (DPSUs), which have been established to investigate sexual and domestic crimes.

He also told the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors annual conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, all Garda members, and not just the specialist units, should have a role in combating and investigating domestic violence.

Those dedicated units were already “under pressure” due to the increase in cases as people were more aware of domestic violence and coercive control and the help that was on offer for victims.

“The DPSUs particularly seem to be getting a lot of calls,” Sgt Bracken said of the large increase in domestic violence being reported to gardaí. “Their training hasn’t really rolled out yet despite what the Minister says.

“As usual, we tend to bring an initiative in and then bring the training in somewhere (later) rather than the other way around,” adding while some DPSU members had been trained, others had not.

“It’s something we have to get right because the victims, they are particularly vulnerable. In my own division in Cavan-Monaghan, they haven’t got training. And they’re working hard,” he said. During call outs gardaí were often being asked for domestic violence advice, including about what constituted coercive control.

“People are much more aware of coercive control and they’re coming in to us now and putting this to us. So it’s very important we are giving the right answers back to them,” he said.

Questionnaire

In the North West region a new questionnaire was being brought by gardaí to domestic violence call outs to help assess risk. When the set questions were being put to the victims it “allowed to the victim to think about what’s happened” and to reflect on their situations.

“It has actually helped us in bringing stronger cases against the offender, just by sitting down and engaging with the victim with this form. It’s helped us as well and it’s been a good start. Small things like that can make a big difference to the way we do our job, and that’s why training is important.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said attempts by violent abusers to strangle their partners were often a precursor to the victim being killed in a domestic attack. She was examining the possibility of creating a specific new criminal offence of attempted strangulation to ensure such crimes were treated more seriously.

Despite the seriousness of the crime, it is currently dealt with as a less serious assault under Section 2 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act. Because that section of the Act deals with so-called minor assaults, it does not empower gardaí to arrest a suspect on the spot.

Ms McEntee believed if a new offence of non-fatal strangulation could prove a valuable weapon in bringing offenders to just before their violence escalate as the crime could be treated with the seriousness it deserves.

Victims would also be encouraged to come forward as it would be very clear the Garda was determined to treat the crime very seriously and would “listen to them”.

“Often it doesn’t leave a physical mark but the actual mental impact that this has and the potential for it to go further and we have often seen this is a precursor to homicide,” Ms McEntee said of domestic attacks involving strangulation.