All frontline police officers in North Wales are being given specialist training to provide better protection for domestic abuse victims and to save lives.
North Wales Police has launched a pioneering “cultural change programme” to improve their understanding of abuse and coercive control.
The force will work with the Safe Lives charity over the next 18 months to deliver the Domestic Abuse Matters course, with police staff also being trained.
It will give them a better insight into what is meant by the term coercive control, challenge victim blaming and prompt them to recognise high levels of manipulation by the abusers.
The force’s work to tackle domestic abuse is being championed by Sergeant Mike Taggart who was recently honoured with an MBE for his work in supporting victims of domestic abuse.
The crusade by Sgt Taggart, who works in the Protection of Vulnerable People Unit (PVPU), is motivated by his tragic family history.
He was just 15 when his mother Donna Crist was murdered by his abusive stepfather Derek Evans in 1997.
Sgt Taggart explained that control and coercion stops short of serious physical violence but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse.
Since 2015, the offence carries a maximum of five years’ imprisonment.
“Officers are aware of coercive control, but now, we want this knowledge to have more of an impact,” Sgt Taggart said.
“The aim of this training is to educate officers and give them more tools for their kit really, to be able to take it that step further.
“The more we can pick up on, the more thorough the investigation will be and hopefully that will help in making victims safer and getting better conviction rates in court.”
He added: “There have been times where there have been missed opportunities and there is work that could have been done to change an outcome or make it better for someone.
“So, to see us as a police force to put something into place that’s going to accommodate those things is massive.”
The news about the training programme has been welcomed by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Andy Dunbobbin, who is a long-standing campaigner against domestic abuse.
Mr Dunbobbin said: “I have been an official ambassador for the White Ribbon campaign to end male violence against women since 2013 so this cause is close to my heart.
“The work being done by North Wales Police in general and Sgt Taggart in particular to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse is exemplary.
“The roll out of the Domestic Abuse Matters course is another example of how the force is leading the way in this vitally important area of policing.
“I am sure that ultimately this training will save lives and I can think of no better or more fitting tribute to Sgt Taggart’s beloved mother.”
Previous initiatives masterminded by Sgt Taggart have included attending a tattoo convention and training staff in salons to spot signs of abuse.
He also welcomed the stiffening of prison sentences for domestic abuse offences in recent years and called for a serial stalker register to help monitor perpetrators.
According to Sgt Taggart, had his mother had the information available today, along with encouragement and support, she may well have been given the “push she might have needed” to seek help as a victim of domestic abuse sooner.
“I think back in the 90s, domestic abuse was probably seen as that – as something that happened at home and it was nobody else’s’ business,” Sgt Taggart added.
“But it isn’t just about what happens behind closed doors now, it’s about how we as police and bystanders deal with it.
“We can all be eyes and ears and help a victim, who could be so frightened that they’d never come forward, but sometimes you can have that little guardian angel somewhere that will make that call that will get the ball rolling in terms of support.
“There was nothing like that available when my mum was alive.
“Having that information in my time, readily available, and having that encouragement and support might well have given my mum that push she might have needed.”
Hopeful the programme will go on to save lives, Sgt Taggart added: “People will contact police as their first port of call if they’re in a crisis.
“So, for an officer to turn up at their door and to identify the issue goes beyond that one incident, and it is in fact a pattern of behaviour, I think will have a massive impact.
“If we can identify those situations earlier, we can intervene earlier and implement safeguarding measures that are ultimately going to keep them safer and give them the confidence and encouragement to leave that relationship.”
Training is currently being rolled out to all frontline officers and staff.