The Guardian: Queensland police blocked research into domestic violence cases and attitudes of officers

The Queensland police service blocked academic research seeking to scrutinise its response to domestic violence cases and the attitudes of officers – sending rejection letters that denied there was a need for studies.

That’s despite increasing case numbers and mounting evidence of cultural problems within the ranks.

In one instance in 2019, highly regarded Queensland University of Technology criminologist Kerry Carrington was refused permission to survey police officers to assess how victim-centric police stations for women and families could work in the state.

As the police reckon with the fallout of revelations about the deaths of Doreen Langham and Kelly Wilkinson – who were killed after repeatedly seeking police help – senior officers now say they want to explore Carrington’s ideas.

Guardian Australia has spoken to three separate researchers who say their attempts to undertake academic studies related to the policing of domestic violence were refused in a manner that implied police practices were already adequate and that research was not needed.

Police and the Queensland government have also resisted calls by the Women’s Legal Service Queensland for a comprehensive audit of underlying officer attitudes.AdvertisementTop Articles

While police concede there have been systemic failures to protect women, they say publicly that problematic officers and their poor responses are outliers. It’s said that suggesting police have a cultural problem is “offensive”.

The only recent study on domestic violence to be allowed access to Queensland police officers was instigated by a “death review” committee chaired by the state coroner.

The research last year by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety – which included focus groups of police officers – found inconsistencies in police approach to domestic incidents.

Officers told the focus groups they acted on “gut feeling” or made decisions based on body language, something the authors found was “concerning when considered alongside the gendered and racialised attitudes that may inform some police decision-making”.

About-face on police stations for women and families

Carrington has studied the success of victim-centric police stations in Argentina – where in Buenos Aries province alone there are 2,300 specialist police – and believes the model could be adopted successfully in Australia.

A central concept is that a victim should not have to walk through the same door as a perpetrator to seek safety or justice. The stations in Argentina provide access to police officers, lawyers, psychologists, social workers and provide childcare.

Last week police assistant commissioner Brian Codd told Guardian Australia police would be keen to look at those sorts of integrated policing models, including Carrington’s idea of police stations for women and children, in the wake of the killings Wilkinson and Langham.

“I’m quite open to that idea and looking for opportunities to how we do it,” Codd said. “I do think it’s the future.”

The willingness to look at new approaches represents a significant about-face by police, which has previously rejected out-of-hand the idea of women’s police stations.

Guardian Australia has seen correspondence from 2019 after Carrington applied for permission from the police research committee to survey officers to “assess the viability” of women’s police stations in Australia.

In a response, police Ch Supt Matthew Vanderbyl knocked back the application on the basis that “much of what is proposed is already in place”.

Citing reasons why the survey was rejected, Vanderbyl said Queensland police already received training in understanding the cycle of violence and that domestic violence is a gendered concept. The Anrows research raised serious concerns about police approaches to domestic violence incidents, including the frequent misidentification of victims as perpetrators.

He cited “high-risk teams” as an example of why police already had integrated responses in place and did not need Carrington’s research. The Guardian revealed last week those teams involve only 20 specialist police across the state, were severely underfunded and led largely by non-government organisations.

“The QPS research committee found the topic to be of interest but identified that the application focused on policing as a lead and did not acknowledge an integrated approach,” the rejection letter said.

“The committee were concerned with the emphasis placed on police to be solely responsible for domestic violence.”

Less than two months ago, the police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, said she was unconvinced by the Argentina example due to the “different demographics, different context and a different country”.

Codd said he thought there had been “a misunderstanding of Professor Carrington’s ideas” and that he was keen to meet with her.

The chief executive of the Women’s Legal Service Queensland, Angela Lynch, has been calling for a cultural review of police for several years.

“On two occasions this year there have been serious questions around police responses to domestic violence,” Lynch said. “These issues have deadly consequences.”

In a statement, police said it received 57 research requests in 2019, from which 46 were conditionally approved. Seven of those related to domestic violence issues.

“We are currently engaged in a number of research partnerships with universities and peak bodies on a range of policing issues including domestic and family violence and continue to look to evidence-based research to inform our strategies and operations,” the statement said.

Police said they were attempting to arrange for Carrington to visit one of their domestic and family violence vulnerable persons units “and welcome her observations from that engagement”.

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