In the Community Safety Partnership’s Strategic Assessment presented to the Full Council meeting at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) last Wednesday (April 27), it was shown crime in general fell during 2021 by around 2 per cent compared to the previous year, with 7,830 reported incidents, down from 7,679.
Incidents of burglary fell from 293 to 281 (4.3 per cent reduction), while other notable falls seen in anti-social behaviour (4.3 per cent) and shoplifting (21.2 per cent).
The pandemic lockdown early in 2021 had skewed the results, but the Covid crisis also parked a surge in reported cases of domestic abuse, which increased from 2,391 reports in 2020 to 2,504 last year.
A similar rise was seen during the lockdowns of 2020.
Terry Hughes, community safety manager, said: “Domestic abuse reports increased by 4.7 per cent in 2021 and 4.1 per cent in 2020. By comparison, incidents increased by around nine per cent in 2019.
“The impact of the pandemic on the difficult choices people have had to make over the past two years cannot be underestimated.
“While domestic abuse reports to Kent Police remained steady over the past two years, with occasion increases when conditions were relaxed, DAVSS [Domestic Abuse Volunteer Support Services], we know, received record levels of referrals, helpline calls and high need cases over the past 18-24 months resulting in a significant increase in emergency interventions and complex safety planning.”
The rise in domestic abuse offences led to it being identified as the number one priority area for the Community Safety Partnership Plan 2022-23.
Members of the Community Safety Partnership include the borough and county councils, Kent Police and the National Probation Service, among others.
Other priorities identified include substance misuse and supply, and alcohol abuse – which includes violence-related issues and knife crime in second place, then anti-social and high-risk behaviour – including violence-related issues, and finally road safety.
Crimes which saw a sharp rise in the period were sexual offences – up 19.9 per cent to 326 incidents from 272 – and hate crimes – up 18.3 per cent to 226 from 191. Even though Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) offences are not recorded separately, the category was identified as a priority for 2022-23.
VAWG first became a ‘significant concern’ in Q3 of 2021-22 after ‘high-profile tragedies caught the national interest’, said Mr Hughes.
Prioritising VAWG ‘also (allowed) us to capture the work already being done in the borough to address anti-social and violent issues in our public spaces and NTE [night-time economy] venues,’ he added.
The report and its priorities were adopted by the Council by a clear majority.
…But police are letting down victims of abuse
Some victims of domestic abuse have received an ‘unacceptable level of service and have continued to remain at risk’ after lodging reports with Kent Police, according to a watchdog report.
The regulator, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMIC), which inspects police, fire and rescue services, said the county’s police force ‘requires improvement’ for investigating crime, responding to the public and managing offenders.
Its rating for adequate protecting vulnerable people was ‘adequate’.
However, it earned a rating of ‘outstanding’ for recording data about crime and ‘good’ for presenting crime, treatment of the public, developing a positive workplace and good use of resources.
But it was urged to improve how it investigates crime, responds to the public and manages offenders.
Outlining the changes needed when investigating crime, the watchdog pointed to domestic abuse cases, saying vulnerability investigation teams ‘lack capacity and capability’.
“This is leading to ineffective and delayed investigations and at times a failure to properly manage the risk to victims,” the report said.
“The force has begun to address this by putting more trained detectives into the team and through the timely accreditation to detective level of some existing team members.
“It has also appointed a dedicated chief superintendent for domestic abuse to oversee and deliver improvements.”
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Roy Wilsher said: “Opportunities to achieve positive results for victims are being missed because some investigations are poor, or because officers haven’t maximised evidential opportunities. This lets victims down.
“Kent Police’s response to domestic abuse is of particular concern. The force is rightly proud of some of its work protecting vulnerable people. However, domestic abuse investigation teams have not been properly resourced with suitably qualified staff.
“As a result, some victims have received an unacceptable level of service and have continued to remain at risk.”
Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott said that the regulator had failed to ‘sufficiently recognise’ some areas of the report such as ‘the focus on cutting county lines and dealing with burglars’.
But he admitted the findings on domestic abuse were ‘disappointing’.
He said: “Members of the public will want assurance that these findings are being given the serious attention that they deserve.
“Some actions have already been taken to deal with the points raised, but I await the Force’s improvement plan with interest, which I will scrutinise and hold the Chief Constable to account for.”