‘Rapid and sustained increase’ in children reporting domestic violence since Covid-19

Policing Authority report outlines child protection concerns about risk to children

There has been a “rapid and sustained increase” in the number of children reporting domestic violence to child protection services since the Covid-19 lock-down period began, the Policing Authority has said.

It added the child protection services had expressed concern that the level of risk to children, both in the home and online, was higher than normal during the lock-down period.

“More time spent online during this period brings an increased risk of child protection issues, both in terms of engagement with adults online and peer to peer online bullying,” the authority said, adding the Garda’s response was “overwhelmingly positive, without exception”.

While it has praised the Garda for the professionalism of its Covid-19 policing operation, including in the areas of domestic violence and community policing, the authority has also voiced concern about aspects of the Garda’s work since the lockdown began.

It said in some cases where spit-hoods had been used on suspects, to prevent them spitting at gardaí, the suspects had spat in Garda cars or on the ground rather than directly at gardaí. In some other cases where gardaí had been spat at in an “abhorrent” manner no use of hoods had been recorded.

And it noted some incidents in which pepper spray and batons were used on suspects who also had spit hoods placed over their heads which added “risk” and “discomfort” for suspects.

In a sample of 15 cases where spit hoods were used, 12 of the suspects who exhibited signs of intoxication while an unspecified small number of cases involved people who appeared to have “mental health issues”. The authority had also received its first report on a hood being used on a suspect under the age of 18-years.

However, there had been an overall decline in the use of hoods; from 17 cases in the week to May 9th to seven cases in the week to May 16th.

Operation Faoiseamh

Under Operation Faoiseamh, the Garda’s dedicated domestic violence operation during lock-down, as the crime had increased by more than 20 per cent, there had been “excellent interventions which have resulted in quicker access to safety and protection for victims”.

There were, however, exceptions to this including “failure to arrest when there is clear evidence of a serious assault and the breach of an order”, which can include barring and safety orders. In other cases there had been “a refusal (by gardaí) to remove the perpetrator until the victim had given a statement, despite a clear breach of an order”.

The Policing Authority welcomed the fact that new powers conferred on the Garda for the duration of the Covid-19 period, including the power of arrest, were not now being used as often; 38 times in the week to May 9th and 18 times in the week to May 16th.

However, authority chairman Bob Collins said the inability of the Garda to offer more detail about the circumstances in which the powers were used was “a source of considerable disappointment”. It would “encourage” Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to provide more information, such as on gender and ethnicity of suspects.

“The easement of the restrictions in recent days is greatly to be welcomed but there is a concern that it will pose difficulties for the Garda Síochána in its policing task,” Mr Collins noted.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times