19 Sep 2016

Police film domestic violence statements

6:03 am on 19 September 2016

Police officers have used phones to record the statements of women reporting domestic violence straight after an attack, in a trial that was the first of its kind in this country.

Filming the interviews meant the victims could focus on recounting what had happened, said Inspector Sarah Stewart.

Filming the interviews meant the victims could focus on recounting what had happened, said Inspector Sarah Stewart. Photo: 123RF

It was carried out in Palmerston North from November last year to July in a bid to save time and record the victim's account as soon as possible.

Over the seven-month period 89 women who called the police saying their partners were attacking them gave officers consent to film their statements at home.

Twenty-nine said no and in 118 cases the officers chose not to film for various reasons.

Inspector Sarah Stewart.

Inspector Sarah Stewart said the process saved both the women and officers a lot of time. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Manawatu area commander Inspector Sarah Stewart oversaw the trial, and said it meant victims could focus on recounting what had happened.

"In their own homes, in a place where they feel comfortable. They don't have to return to the police station to do that.

"And it's a place where they feel safe and often if they have children with them it makes it easier for them, they don't have to worry about organising childcare while they give their statement."

She said the majority of those they filmed supported the method.

Ms Stewart said the process saved both the women and the officers a lot of time.

"Most interviews were less than 10 minutes. Between six and 10 minutes was an average, where a written interview could take - by the time you've travelled to the police station and back - well over an hour, if not a greater time."

She said the 55 officers involved found it worked well and immediately wanted to adopt the interviewing technique.

Ms Stewart said she hoped that filming the interviews will mean fewer women decided to retract their statements.

Ang Jury

Ang Jury Photo: RNZ

Women's Refuge chief executive Ang Jury said there were clear rules around when the police would not film.

"If the victim was intoxicated, they wouldn't do it. If the victim was at all unwilling, they wouldn't do it. It's something that the victim had to be fully participating in, so it's so much safer.

"And it captures what she's thinking right then, right there, in the immediate aftermath of an incident."

Of the 89 videos two were successfully used in court as evidence, while a third failed to meet the threshold.

It was that district court decision that prompted the police to call on both the police and justice ministers to make it easier for videos to be used as the main court evidence, especially if the victims were too scared to testify.

The government agreed last week to do that as part of a major announcement on family violence.

Dr Jury said the videos being used in court could well mean more convictions.

"I think it's incredibly valuable for judges in particular to be able to see, rather than having a paper statement put in front of them.. to be able to actually see what the victim was thinking and feeling right then, right there.

"I mean I'm sure you can understand that a paper statement given, generally, at least a day or at least 12 hours after an incident, isn't going to have the same weight as somebody who is actually saying what happened in their own home."

Dr Jury said it would also reduce the workload on frontline officers, if a 10 minute video statement were to replace up to several hours spent taking a written statement at the station.

She said the trial's success could well make it easier for the police to introduce body cameras.

"If this sort of thing works, then it actually adds a little bit of weight and gives them a little bit of experience around how they might potentially handle on-body cameras.

"So I guess it'll be useful for them if they're exploring that into the future."

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said any innovation like this, that made life so much easier, particularly for victims, would be welcomed.

"And it should be, because it's about making things easier, getting evidence before court - the best evidence - with the least disruption to our victims."

A second trial in another bigger district is set to happen later this year or early 2017.

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