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Police 'Safety Notices' protecting women

Police 'Safety Notices' protecting women

Rutherglen Police Station from Flickr by Rae Allen An evaluation of Family Violence Safety Notices shows they are improving women’s safety by speeding up responses to after-hours incidents - when the majority of police callouts occur. Safety Notices are a new option being trialled as part of the Victorian Family Violence Protection Act and were introduced two years ago. Police say they send a clear message to perpetrators that family violence is unacceptable behaviour.

What is a Family Violence Safety Notice?

A Safety Notice

  • is issued by a Police Officer of the rank of sergeant or above
  • gives immediate safety for victims and their children for up to a 72 hour period from the time the notice is issued
  • acts as an application to the Magistrates Court for a family violence intervention order, and
  • acts as a summons for a respondent to attend Court on the first mention date.

Penalties for breaching a safety notice are the same as those which apply to breach of an intervention order.

Why were they introduced?

The Safety Notices pilot has three aims:

  1. To improve the after hours response to family violence incidents
  2. To improve the safety of victims after hours, and
  3. To hold perpetrators accountable for their behaviour.

Where are they issued?

So far, 84% of Safety Notices have been issued in person at the police station, rather than at the scene of the incident. Police identify several advantages in removing the respondent and returning to the station to issue a Safety Notice. Prahan Magistrates Court from Flickr

Family Violence Roundtable of Victoria

An evaluation of the Family Violence Safety Notices was conducted by Thomson Goodall Associates.  A summary of the evaluation was presented at the Victorian Government's Family Violence Roundtable on 4 October 2010. The evaluation looked at the questions:

  • How effective was the two year pilot program of Safety Notices?
  • Were the objectives of the pilot program achieved?
  • Are any further actions needed?

The evaluation used statistics and information from a wide range of sources including Government Departments, Victoria Police, the Magistrates' Court, community sector agencies and people directly affected by family violence, between December 2008 - May 2010. The Executive Summary of the evaluation report  is available for download. The following is a 'plain English' version of  the Executive Summary

Do Safety Notices (FVSNs) improve the after hours response to family violence incidents?

Overall, yes. Police:

  • can take immediate action. They feel more empowered to respond to family violence after hours as a result of having FVSNs as an additional option.
  • now have four civil options  at their disposal. Safety Notices appear to complement the other three options.
  • save time, compared to an Affadavit and Warrant. On average it takes police 165 minutes to issue a Safety Notice, 30 minutes less than issuing an Affadavit and Warrant.

Limitations on the consistent use of Safety Notices:

  • The 72 hour time frame of Safety Notices means they cannot be used in some rural areas due to courts not being available.
  • Police culture and practices.
  • Adequacy and coverage of training.

Do Safety Notices improve victims' safety after hours?

Yes, to some extent, but improvements are needed. Safety Notices improve victims safety because they:

  • result in a similar number of Intervention Orders (67%) as Affadavit and Warrants (71%) in court.  Courts thus affirm police judgements to issue to Safety Notice to ensure the safety of the family member.
  • contribute to police taking the initiative in applying for an Intervention Order.
  • send a significant message that family violence is unacceptable behaviour, according to Police.
  • contribute to improved victim's safety until the court hearing.

Suggested improvements for police are around:

  • adequate and consistent police risk assessment and management strategies (for Safety Notices and other options)
  • police data entry practices
  • referral practices
  • responses to people from CALD backgrounds and Indigenous people
  • responses to people with disabilities, and thinking about whether Safety Notices are appropriate for people with disabilities.

Major impact on Magistrates' Court

  • The 72 hour limitation means that court lists need to be arranged to make sure that Safety Notices are given priority to be heard
  • Some days (like Monday) have a high volume to Safety Notices to be heard, that were issued on the weekend.
  • These issues are problematic in courts lacking in enough support services and/or the facilities for adequate separation and safety for the affected family member.
  • From December 2008 - May 2009, the Magistrates' Court granted final Family Violence Intervention Orders in 67% of Safety Notice applications.
  • An Intervention Order is issued to protect the affect family member. It includes a number of restrictions which prevent violent behaviour.

Other impacts and improvements are described in detail in the summary.

Do Safety Orders hold perpetrators accountable for their behaviour?

Yes, overall.

  • Timing: the immediate issuing of a Safety Notice close to the time of the incident gives a clear and strong message, delivered by police, that family violence is unacceptable and against the law.
  • Penalty: Because the penalty for contravening a Safety Notice  is the same as an Invention Order, they are a strong deterrent and provide greater protection for affected family members. The recorded contraventions of Safety Notices are very low.

Related links

  • Download the Evaluation Executive Summary

Image credits

Rutherglen Police Station photo on Flickr by Rae Allen and Prahran Magistrates Court old signwriting on Flickr by Andrew J. Cosgriff