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Domestic-violence deaths will soar if new police guidelines on identifying victims are rolled out across Britain, a leading abuse charity warned today.
In a bid to cut paperwork, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) is trialling a new approach in Hampshire that will allow officers to assess signs of domestic abuse at their own discretion.
National charity Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (Caada) said the current process, which involves completing a compulsory interview with the potential victim at each incident, helps combat deaths caused by domestic violence.
Caada chief executive Diana Barran said: "If we are to save lives and public money, it is important that risk identification of victims is implemented consistently and thoroughly by all agencies. Without this approach, homicides will increase alongside the cost to the public purse.''
Acpo currently advises forces to use the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Honour-based-violence (Dash) form, co-designed by Caada, on all call-outs.
The first phase of the pilot for new guidelines, launched last year in Hampshire and Gwent, enables officers to only assess risk when they are dealing with a repeat incident.
The second phase of the pilot gives complete discretion to officers to only use the Dash tool when they consider it necessary.
Caada warned that inconsistent use of risk assessment by police officers is frequently seen as a contributing factor in the death of a domestic violence victim.
It added that "no amount of training'' will enable a police officer to understand whether a victim is experiencing a dangerous relationship simply by "turning up at the door''.
Ms Barran said introducing discretion over when to assess potential domestic abuse victims was "a serious backwards step''.
She added: "We are gravely concerned that if implemented nationally, Acpo's proposals will have a serious impact on the safety of domestic abuse victims across England and Wales.
"While we are open to the concept of streamlining risk assessment, it is difficult to understand how officers will determine whether a victim is at severe risk from domestic abuse without using a robust risk identification tool.''
Caada, along with Women's Aid, Welsh Women's Aid, Rights of Women, AVA, Imkaan and other organisations, has written to Acpo voicing its concerns.
ACPO lead on reducing bureaucracy Chief Constable Chris Sims said:
"The police service is committed to protecting victims of domestic abuse and bringing offenders to justice so we are always looking for new ways to improve our response.
"This trial puts the emphasis on officers listening, understanding, assessing and making proportionate decisions rather than filling in forms. The police service responds to lots of domestic calls, we need to empower our frontline officers to use their skills and professional judgement to comprehensively investigate and decide how to respond."