It’s covers all of society’s dark issues: Child abuse, substance abuse, financial stress and physical violence.
And yet, day in, day out, these police officers at the Gold Coast’s Domestic and Family Violence Taskforce return to work, determined to prevent the next violent incident.
MEET THE TASKFORCE
Discretely hidden between two towering hotels sits the Ferny Avenue Surfers Paradise Police Station, home to the Domestic and Family Violence Taskforce.
In this building five detectives and five uniformed police officers work together to prevent family violence and child abuse, made up of serious violence detectives, auditing officers and district domestic violence liaison officers.
Detective Inspector Marc Hogan is head of the taskforce, supported by about 950 police officers around the district.
Some of the members of the Gold Coast’s Domestic and Family Violence Taskforce. Picture: Jerad WilliamsThe taskforce also works alongside a multitude of external and internal agencies, including the Department of Community Services, Child Safety, specialist domestic violence providers, the Department of Probation and Parole and of course, their internal Child Protection Investigative Unit.
“There are no barriers anymore in terms of our policing as to who does what,” Det Insp Hogan says.
Officer in Charge Detective Senior-Sergeant Troy Penrose, of the Child Protection Investigative Unit, says without effective communication and co-operation between departments, victims get “pulled from pillar to post” and “system bashed”.
The waiting room where children can relax at the Child Protection Unit. Picture: Jerad WilliamsWe start our behind the scenes tour on the Child Protection Unit floor.
A small but colourful children’s area sits to the left of reception. The room behind it is fairly open plan with clusters of desks.
They’re all out, Det Senior-Sgt Penrose says of his 40-something staff. Just a handful remain at their desks.
A whiteboard in the far corner is filled with important phone numbers for victim’s services. Another holds the extensive roster. Desks are piled with folders, paperwork neatly filed away. Walls are bare.
Det Senior-Sgt Penrose points out one computer tucked in a corner where officers collate and file child exploitation material. He says officers having to file the confronting material are closely monitored to ensure they are coping and have good access to psychologists.
We then move to the family violence floor.
It’s quite similar but one room is plastered in posters relating to stopping domestic violence. Another room shows a chilling compilation of the top 10 domestic violence offenders in Queensland.
One large room is rather bare except for a wall which has photos of an offender and his victim, buffered by lines of handwritten information. I realise the officers are not just concerned about the partner in this particular case.
A young child is also involved.
THE WAY IT WORKS
Det Insp Hogan reminds numerous times of the taskforce’s No. 1 goal: “We are at the top level in the business of preventing homicides”.
And to do that they need to look beyond what may appear to be a typical incident.
Officers use the “House of Harm” model, where other agencies can raise concerns about an issue. The taskforce follows up by checking out what else could be going on.
“It could be things like substance abuse, financial issues,” Det Insp Hogan says.
“It could be a whole range of issues, normally more than one, two, or three — normally there’s a lot. We will then try to ... engage with providers also external to our group, to get some welfare in place. On the high end of stuff, if it’s the case that criminal offences are being committed, that will be farmed out across the entire police district for plain clothes police to investigate ...”
It may also be appropriate that the matter is referred to the Child Protection Investigation Unit to look into it in more detail.
The team starts every morning by sifting through the overnight cases, determining how they should be referenced.
“We’re looking for matters of concern which would warrant further investigation,” Det Insp Hogan explains, adding the team have a layer of “nets” so each case ends up with the right officers.
Some of the members of the Gold Coast’s Domestic and Family Violence Taskforce. Picture: Jerad WilliamsHe says the second thing they do is work on ensuring the files are compiled properly and that everything is recorded.
Tabs are kept on people deemed to be at risk of offending.
The taskforce also actively ensures that prior offenders coming from overseas, interstate or those recently released, are closely monitored.
Some officers go to court each day to connect with victims. Others go to schools.
Domestic violence liaison officers throughout the district engage with victims and provide them with available services.
Det Senior-Sgt Penrose says the taskforce does a lot of connecting for the victims so they don’t feel overwhelmed by the system.
Plainclothes Sergeant Constable Adrian Bisa in the interview room. Picture: Jerad Williams“The whole idea around it is to try and identify harm that maybe we could project or foresee going to occur ... and prevent it. Throughout this process we can look at things ... to see indicators that we would previously overlook. And when you start narrowing down on these indicators, we can forward plan on their safety and that’s what we’re about.
“We can arrest, charge, investigate. That’s the easy part for us. The difficulty has always been the stopping (of domestic violence), and it’s something that normally takes a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of legwork.”
He says while many victims reach out to them, the taskforce finds buried incidents in unlikely places.
For instance, a school might be concerned about a child for a different reason, but after the officers speak with the child, they might uncover incidents of domestic violence.
“What we’ve developed is a very succinct information network across our footprint, linked into agencies, education places (and) health facilities,” Det Insp Hogan explains.
Every time police investigate a case, they are searching for indicators or triggers.
These red flags help to determine whether or not family violence could be happening — and even how serious the problem could potentially be.
Strangulation comes up as a telling sign.
“If the word strangulation is used, detectives investigate,” Det Insp Hogan says, adding they receive special training relating to this through the Red Rose Foundation.
“We’ve really taken that on in terms of prosecutions ... It is one of the big indicators that if a man strangles a woman, he is something like 800 times more likely to commit homicide against that woman.”
It’s dealt with as a priority, Det Senior-Sgt Penrose says.
Other indicators officers look out for include: stalking, threats of suicide, previous physical violence, previous sexual violence, threats to kill and threats to do harm to animals.
Det Insp Hogan says offenders can “over-invest”, where offenders move from an area or leave their job to follow their victim. Or they force participation in family mediation to prolong matters.
Offenders even use their children to influence control over their victim. Others could have a history of liking weapons and even links to outlaw motorcycle gangs.
Detective Inspector Marc Hogan. Picture: Jerad WilliamsTHEN AND NOWThe Domestic and Family Violence Unit was established in early 2016 effectively on the back of the Not Now, Not Ever report by Quentin Bryce in 2015 and the tragic Gold Coast deaths of Tara Brown and Karina Lock.
And since then a lot has changed for the better: “We have increased our skills, our awareness and our abilities around policing this social harm,” Det Insp Hogan says.
“And in my view, the Not Now, Not Ever Report is probably one of the most significant documents to impact policing that I’ve seen and not only policing, but the services that people expect from government agencies.”
They explain that domestic violence was not always viewed as this complex issue leading to further social implications.
“Historically, police would focus on a very small set of facts as in, why are we here, what happened to you and that’s it,” Det Senior-Sgt Penrose says, adding while that process was never wrong, the community now expected police to take on a more prominent role.
Investigating domestic violence has come a long way. Picture: Jerad Williams“It hasn’t been good enough, the response, we’re trying to break a cycle ... of that comes: what else is happening? Are there children being harmed? What are we doing about that? Has she been harmed more than this occasion?
“Essentially what we’re doing is exploring the whole circumstance, rather than the incident. We’ve increased our systems of capturing information and acting on it. The taskforce has engaged with processes we’ve never seen before.”
Det Insp Hogan says by paying extra attention to domestic violence and child abuse, police uncover even more offences the perpetrator may be engaged in.
Det Senior-Sgt Penrose says policing domestic violence takes a lot of legwork but it means a better response for the victims as well as the general community.
POLICE ARE PEOPLE TOO
Trying to get some of the taskforce officers in a photo is like trying to herd rebellious teenagers for their annual school photo.
One officer slinks off, but returns wearing a white ribbon in support of ending domestic violence. They all don the white ribbons proudly.
Det Senior-Sgt Penrose says officers are provided with a wide range of resources to ensure they are in shape mentally to deal with domestic violence.
“We have lots of processes and practices in place that ensure (officers’) skills are up to date and (that) they’re dealing with it, because you deal with a lot of violence,” he says.
“The flip side is it’s actually rewarding. When people that bash women get locked up, there is an inherent feeling of satisfaction in doing it and a lot of people are driven to make sure they’re doing that. Because we want to sleep well at night knowing we’ve done everything we can; it’s not an easy thing to hold that you could have done more about something.”
A COMMUNITY LIKE ANYWHERE ELSE
Domestic violence breaches have risen on the Gold Coast, even with the Taskforce’s inception.
But it’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to police, who say that it could reflect a shift towards victims reporting more frequently.
Det Insp Hogan says there was a reduction of about 800 domestic violence-related applications and actions “while proceedings for breaches against persons increased by about 500 or more”.
“This type of problem exists everywhere,” Det Insp Hogan says.
“I haven’t seen any statistical data that would say it’s worse (on the Gold Coast) than anywhere else. We report everything and look at everything. One of our big aims was to make it easy or take away the barriers for women or anyone to report domestic violence or child abuse. The environment now is very pro-reporting and accountability for behaviours is a top priority.”
It is difficult to know just how much domestic violence occurs thanks to the “dark figure of crime”, where incidents remain unreported.
It’s even more difficult to know how many instances of domestic violence have been stopped thanks to the taskforce’s efforts.
“We’re safety planning before something happens,” Det Snr-Sgt Penrose says.
“It’s very difficult to know how much damage we’ve prevented because it hasn’t happened.”
Det Insp Hogan says a police taskforce is always created to target an issue with the possibility it could one day be stood down.
Is it possible that one day the domestic and family violence taskforce will no longer be necessary?
But there’s still work to be done.
This article was written by Amanda Robbemond and has been copied from here.