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Police to receive updated training for domestic violence cases

Municipal police, military and RCMP officers across the province to get new training

3 min read
caption Police in Nova Scotia are getting updated training on domestic violence.
Isabel Ruitenbeek

More police officers in Nova Scotia are going to receive domestic violence training, including how to recognize subtle signs of abuse.

“It’s not always going to be a black eye,” said Kentville police Chief Julia Cecchetto.

The training, announced Nov. 29, has been offered and funded by Nova Scotia’s Department of Justice for the past 15 years, said Cecchetto, chair of a Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association sub-committee on intimate partner violence.

The update includes new information on emergency protection orders and talking to children at the scene.

About 100 officers from municipal, military and RCMP forces across the province will attend “train-the-trainer” sessions over the next two months. Those officers will be responsible for training others at their home detachment.

An online training session is expected to be up and running within six months.

Domestic violence is under reported

According to the Nova Scotia Domestic Violence Resource Centre, from 2015 to 2016 the number of women affected by intimate partner violence in Nova Scotia increased by seven per cent.

Of cases reported to police, 78 per cent of survivors identified as female and 22 per cent as male. Assault was the most common offence reported to police by both female and male survivors, followed by uttering threats. The rate of sexual offences was 72 times higher among women than men.

According to the resource centre, most cases of intimate partner violence are never reported to police. Cecchetto estimates for each domestic violence call to Kentville police, 10 incidents go unreported.

Nationally, intimate partner violence accounts for 25 per cent of all violent crimes reported to police. Intimate partners are defined as those who are legally married, separated or divorced, are current or former dating partners, or have another intimate relationship.

Police responses

Cecchetto believes the updated training will help officers communicate better with people who are scared to talk to the police. She said officers called in by neighbours can face a situation where both the perpetrator and victim deny anything happened.

Victims may be scared that their partner will cut off their finances, or kick them out of their house. This is where improved knowledge of emergency protection orders, aimed to help victims in those situations, is crucial.

“I’m not sure that (officers) realized just how far an order could go to help a victim,” Cecchetto said.

Domestic violence is the only offence with a “pro-arrest, pro-charge,” policy around it, said Cecchetto. That means police officers, not victims, can choose to lay a charge.

Canada-wide, police lay charges in about seven of 10 solved cases.

Then and now

Mary Ann Campbell, psychology professor and director of the Centre for Criminal Justice at the University of New Brunswick, said there’s been “tremendous” change in police response to domestic violence.

Before the 1980s, she said, officers treated domestic violence as a family matter, to be dealt with in the household. As policing became more evidence-based, research on the dynamics of abusive relationships and the effects of police action changed police responses.

Intimate partner violence training for police has tangible effects, said Campbell.

“Training them in appropriate responses can actually help them mitigate future violence for that perpetrator against some other victim, or the same one,” Campbell said.

Dawn Ferris, executive director at Autumn House, a women’s shelter in Amherst, said intimate partner violence training is vital. Police need to be able to look at domestic violence through the victim’s perspective and make trauma-informed decisions, she said.

“The police are our supporters and yet we still have a ways to go to work better with them,” Ferris said.

Enhanced police training is part of a Nova Scotia Department of Justice goal to create programs addressing domestic violence.

“Intimate partner violence is an issue that has touched far too many lives, and government is committed to supporting the survivors/victims of gender-based violence and their families,” Justice Minister Mark Furey said in a statement to The Signal.

So far in 2018, the provincial government has expanded domestic violence court services to the Halifax Regional Municipality and legislated a leave of absence for victims.

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