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Australia A night with police on the frontline of our domestic violence emergency

01:55  15 december  2019
01:55  15 december  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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Gangs and drugs get the headlines, but a different crime takes up far more police time than any other: family violence . We spend a Sunday night with Jackie and David, two cops on the frontline of this hidden emergency .

It is a city in the shadow of gun violence : a city where 345 people have been murdered so far this year – the majority of them, killed by guns. While police say co-operation is hard to come by. Paraic O’Brien is in Chicago where he’s been meeting those at the frontline of the violence .

a person in a red shirt: Sergeants Jackie Heath and David Choueiri have almost 30 years of experience between them. (ABC News: James Oaten)© Provided by ABC NEWS Sergeants Jackie Heath and David Choueiri have almost 30 years of experience between them. (ABC News: James Oaten)

Gangs and drugs get the headlines, but a different crime takes up far more police time than any other: family violence.

We spend a Sunday night with Jackie and David, two cops on the frontline of this hidden emergency.

The woman stands on the side of the road, smoking a cigarette to calm her nerves.

She's just run away from home after her partner slapped her and spat in her face in an alcohol-fuelled rage.

All she wanted was for him to pay her some attention.

He preferred to drink beer in front of the television.

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And when she went to leave the house, he got violent.

"It's so petty," she tells the officer, downplaying the incident at first.

But then the phone rings.

She takes the call on speaker.

It's him.

And he's still angry.

"This is your last chance to pull your head in before shit gets serious," he warns.

"You'll lose everything.

"Where are you?!"

This is what family violence looks like.

The assault.

The intimidation.

The denial.

The fear.

Here in Mill Park, in Melbourne's north, family violence accounts for almost two thirds of police workload.

That's not an anomaly.

It's a similar situation right across Australia.

It's also a problem that tends to get worse on Sunday evenings.

As we head out into the suburbs at the start of the shift, I ask Sergeant David Choueiri why this is the case.

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The battle against domestic violence is far from over. A month ago the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, announced an inquiry into why reports of domestic violence , child abuse and rape were falling. The focus is squarely on the police and whether they are doing enough to bring cases.

It is a city in the shadow of gun violence : a city where 345 people have been murdered so far this year – the majority of them, killed by guns. While police say co-operation is hard to come by. Paraic O’Brien is in Chicago where he’s been meeting those at the frontline of the violence .

But there's no simple explanation.

"It could be opportunity," he ponders.

"The loved ones might have more time together during the day, as well as night."

While some nights are busier than others, the violence never stops.

"It doesn't matter what day of the week it is, what time of the week it is.

"Family violence, it occurs whenever," he says, shaking his head.

The busiest shift he recalls at Mill Park was 16 family violence callouts.

It was Christmas Day.

The woman smoking the cigarette on the side of the road has been with her partner for five years.

During that time, there have been four intervention orders.

Tonight, after being slapped in the face and spat at, there will be a fifth.

A year and a half ago, her former partner, who is the father of her young children, took out an intervention order against her current boyfriend.

That left her with a choice: live with her children or with her abusive boyfriend.

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Domestic violence has been found to constitute the single largest category of police calls in some cities. When police officers respond More information about domestic violence training for officers and call takers is available on the National Sheriffs’ Association website or by visiting Wynn Consulting.

"I chose him," she tells Sergeant Jackie Heath, sobbing.

And now, she feels trapped.

Woman: "I fell so far behind in my rent, I can't do it on my own."

Jackie: "Do you work?"

Woman: "Yeah, but I don't work very much. He pays for everything at the moment. I don't know what to do. You heard him, he said I'm going to lose everything."

Jackie: "He needs to understand there are consequences to his actions."

The woman doesn't want to make an official statement.

But after explaining the latest round of abuse, it doesn't matter.

Police decide to detain the man under Victoria's family violence laws.

"I can't unhear, I can't unsee things," David tells me, as police surround the abuser's home.

"I've already seen the scratch to her nose, she's already told me she's been spat on and hit across the face.

"You can't tell me that there's been violence and expect me to have him stay there with you.

"It doesn't work that way."

The four officers let themselves into the couple's home after repeated knocks on the door go unanswered.

They're prepared for conflict, wearing protective gear and carrying pepper spray.

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Find domestic violence resources and get the help you need. Call Crisis Support Services of Acts of intimidation, abuse and domestic violence can leave us feeling powerless and alone. If you do not receive the support you need from police , find a local domestic violence shelter that can help you

If violence is unavoidable, make yourself a small target. Dive into a corner and curl up into a ball with your face protected and arms around each side of your head, fingers entwined. If possible, have a phone accessible at all times and know what numbers to call for help.

But this time, they find the man asleep on the couch.

He's taken back to the police station and will be issued with a temporary intervention order.

A magistrate will deal with the matter in a few days.

#blockpiecemeal

"He won't be able to come back to this address," Jackie explains, even though it's the abuser's name on the lease.

"He won't be able to be within 200 metres of this address.

"He won't be allowed to contact or communicate with the aggrieved party in any way."

On this Sunday, there are 22 family violence callouts in this police district alone.

These are just a few of the hundreds of households affected by family violence every day in Australia.

Here in Victoria, there are 220 family violence incidents recorded a day — that's one every six minutes.

On average, one woman is murdered every week in Australia by her current or former partner.

Jackie reaches for the police radio as a report of another serious assault comes through.

A man has gone to his former partner's house.

He's kicked in the front door, hit her with a chair and taken the kids in her car.

Neighbours heard the commotion and called triple zero.

When we arrive, the woman is distraught.

"I don't want to lose my kids," she tells police.

"I'm trying my hardest, but I'm about to give up."

Jackie tries to calm the woman while also extracting the details of what happened.

Jackie: "We're going to try and do the best we can. Do you guys have intervention orders in place?"

Woman: "No, but I want one."

Jackie: "You want one in place? Sounds like a really good idea."

A couple of hours later, the missing car is found a few blocks away at the children's grandparents' home.

The occupants initially refuse to allow police to search the home.

But when family violence is involved, officers can force entry without a warrant.

Inside, officers find the two children, both aged under four, but not their father.

The grandparents claim the children arrived a day earlier and say they have no idea where the man has gone.

It's a lie.

And Jackie is not in the mood to entertain it.

"Let's not talk garbage," she says.

The officers search the street for the man.

They don't find him.

"Tell your son we're looking for him," Jackie warns.

"It's in his best interests if he comes to the police station and hands himself in."

Why domestic violence rates intensify the further west you go in NSW .
Something all NSW areas with domestic violence rates more than two times the state average have in common is their distance from a major city.Mr Brinken said violent crimes made up the majority of his case load.

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