27 May 2018

Insight: Policing Domestic Violence - A New Direction

From Insight, 8:10 am on 27 May 2018

Police responded to an average of one domestic violence call out every four minutes last year - up by 3000 from the year before. Studies estimate up to three-quarters of abuse is never reported, prompting police to make radical changes in how they respond to family violence. A police-led pilot programme that encapsulates this new ethos is being trialled in three regions with some of the worst family violence rates in the country.

domestic violence, abuse

Photo: eakmoto/123RF

Just weeks before their wedding, Huia Crawford's future husband gave her "one of the biggest hidings" she'd ever had.

"I was really reluctant to get married....and I know it sounds silly but I just didn't want to let anyone down," she said.

Sitting in the kitchen of her Tolaga Bay home she reflected on why she went back.

"I did love him, and thought perhaps it wasn't going to happen again."

But it did happen again. 

Family violence survivor, Huia Crawford

Family violence survivor, Huia Crawford Photo: RNZ/Anusha Bradley

As the years flew by the abuse got so bad she contemplated suicide.

Then after a particularly vicious physical and sexual attack last year, her family helped her end the relationship.

"He was good at hiding it...and I hadn't realised it was a big deal," Ms Crawford said.

"But my mum was there and so were my children and while I'm sad they had to go through that, I'm also grateful."

Her story was all too familiar for senior sergeant Greg Brown, the leader of the police-led Whāngaia Ngā Pā Harakeke (nurturing the family) programme.

Senior Sergeant Greg Brown says the policing of family violence has to be done differently

Senior Sergeant Greg Brown says the policing of family violence has to be done differently Photo: RNZ/Anusha Bradley

There were two cases from his two-decade career in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne that stuck in his mind, he said. 

"One, where the victim's fear ended up in the male [perpetrator] not being convicted and sentenced. Within three weeks he'd stabbed a police officer in Gisborne and paralysed him for life.

"I saw the fear in his eyes and I wondered what we could have done differently."

The other case involved him trying, but failing, to persuade a mother with five small children to leave an abusive relationship with a gang member.

"Twelve years later I get called to a job in Hastings where a young fella is playing up in a takeaway bar....I end up taking him home to his mum."

It was the same mother from all those years earlier. Six weeks later the same 15-year-old attacked a tourist in the middle of town. 

"So that young boy nearly killed an adult, for no reason other than what he grew up with - and he's still doing that today."

Gisborne police station.

Gisborne police station. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

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Greg Brown said there was a lot of undiagnosed trauma in children.

"Yes, they've made some bad choices but actually their formation wasn't strong, or enabling, and that's the reality of what we're dealing with.

"So we actually do have to do it differently."

The new programme is being trialled in Gisborne, Northland and South Auckland.

Mr Brown's team of 25 officers follow up every family violence report with a personal home visit, with the aim of getting to know the family and understanding what's really going on.

It's a new kind of policing, one that aims to look at the bigger picture, not just investigate whether any crimes are committed.

Mr Brown said it was getting results.

"One of our Kaiawhina (iwi assistants) engaged with a young girl who was pretty resistant.

"Three weeks later the young girl came in with her father and said they needed help, as he [the girl's partner] had tried to strangle her that day - and he'd tried to strangle her three times before.

"Fear, mistrust...all of those things are just the reality of living in that coercive relationship.

"For her to then walk in, is huge."

Constable Eve Tremain acts as a "personal police officer" to victims and their families

Constable Eve Tremain acts as a "personal police officer" to victims and their families Photo: RNZ/Anusha Bradley

The Whāngaia pilot looks after about 400 families at any one time, dealing with about 12 family violence cases each day.

Whāngaia officer constable Eve Tremain said Mondays were the worst.

"Because it's covering Friday evenings, Saturday and Sunday."

She acts as a "personal police officer" for the victim and their families, helping coordinate social services that might improve their situation.

Mr Brown believed the new approach was the only way to break the inter-generational cycle of violence in some families.

"The hardest thing for me to hear is when teachers tell me, 'I've got five that will be yours in about 10 years time'.

"That's just the sad acceptance that goes on in our community."

The challenge was to spread the message that it was not okay.

"We need to act earlier. When your gut tells you something is not right...you might be just the person who has seen an opportunity to ask, 'Are they okay'?"

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Where to get help:



NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis  0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): 04 801 6655 - 0


Family Violence

Women's Refuge 0800 733 843

It's Not OK 0800 456 450

Shine  0508 744 633

Victim Support 0800 650 654

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): 04 801 6655 - 0