In the South Brisbane Police District this year alone there have been, on average, 29 domestic and family violence (DFV) incidents every day.
DFV Coordinator Sergeant Neil Gardner or one of the other two DFV Coordinators at the South Brisbane Domestic and Family Violence and Vulnerable Persons Unit (DFV&VPU) reads every one of these reports, every single day.
Have we missed anything? Has the risk been assessed properly? Can we support the victim or the perpetrator to prevent this from happening again?
While the DFV Coordinators who sit in the Brisbane Police Communications Centre support and review the police first response to DFV incidents, Sergeant Gardner and his counterparts all over the state take a longer view to focus on the victims.
“When police are responding to an incident, they make a risk assessment based on the information available at the time,” Sergeant Gardner said.
“In these situations, emotions are high and victims might not be in the right frame of mind to give an accurate picture of what is happening in the home.
“We have the luxury of time and we find the best time to follow up is within three days, when things have calmed down and people can talk to us without the elevated stress of a critical incident,” he said.
Along with the three DFV Coordinators, the South Brisbane DFV&VPU comprises two detectives and eight ‘trackers’, along with an administrative staff member. This model is replicated in varying formats in policing districts across the state.
Sergeant Gardner said the ‘trackers’ were the eyes and ears of the DFV Coordinators.
“They are constables and senior constables with experience in DFV, and we send them out to conduct follow-up visits to provide support in high-risk DFV cases,” he said.
“We could just ring victims and talk to them over the phone, but you wouldn’t know who could be listening in to the conversation. To establish some trust and get the real picture, we need to be there, face-to-face in their home environment.”
Sergeant Gardner said the purpose of the follow-up visits was to further assess the level of risk and support victims in making decisions about their future.
“Do they have a solid plan? Sleeping on the couch at a relative’s house with the kids in tow might not be sustainable in the long term, so they might need housing services. If they are staying together, could financial counselling, employment services or treatment for addiction help prevent future incidents?
“We ourselves are not experts in providing long term support for the victims and perpetrators of DFV. The biggest part of our role is to work out what they need, then offer them referrals to help them move forward with their lives,” he said.
Not all victims take up the offer of referrals to support services, but sometimes, simply reaching out is enough to spur people on to take action to help themselves.
Sergeant Gardner recalled such a case in his district.
“The case involved a woman with the financial resources to leave a violent relationship, but who was unable to face up to the reality of what was happening,” Sergeant Gardner said.
“Years of abuse and isolation from friends and family had left her emotionally and physically drained and effectively unable to think or function.”
The woman initially denied there was a problem, but the DFV&VPU recognised a risk and persisted, sending a female officer in an unmarked car for subsequent visits.
“Eventually she opened up and we supported her until she was confident and strong enough to make decisions about her future. She didn’t need our help after that. She reconnected with a friend, engaged a lawyer, and then she was off,” he said.
The DFV Coordinators at the South Brisbane District DFV&VPU have Graduate Certificates in Domestic and Family Violence, and Sergeant Gardner has recently begun studying for a Bachelor in Psychology.
Every year, he takes a short break from DFV to work in other areas of the QPS, and is currently seconded to the First Nations and Multicultural Affairs Unit to better understand how to connect with members of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic and family violence, you should report it to police.
Support and counselling is available from the following agencies:
More information is also available from the Queensland Government Domestic and Family Violence portal.