A new approach to crimes of harassment and stalking has been promised by Lincolnshire Police in the wake of a damning new report.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the independent body monitoring police forces across England and Wales, found “systematic failings and inconsistency” in the way victims of stalking and harassment were treated nationwide.
The HMIC report was based on an inspection of six police forces and criminal justice services in Wales, the South West, South East, North East and North West of England.
Now in response to the HMIC’s report, “Living in Fear – the Police and CPS response to Harassment and Stalking”, Lincolnshire Police has pledged to work with mental health services to deal with stalkers and those who harass their victims.
Speaking to the Lincolnshire Free Press, Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Shaun West said: “This is a significant issue that affects people’s lives and so it’s right that we get our response right first time, every time.
“The (HMIC) report is one that we welcome, with its recommendations and advice for police forces up and down the country on how to tackle stalking and harassment.
Both the legislative and practical view is that stalking comes in all shapes and sizes, affecting people of all ages, genders and backgroundsAssistant Chief Constable (ACC) Shaun West, Lincolnshire Police
“There’s a fine line between the two, but both the legislative and practical view is that stalking comes in all shapes and sizes, affecting people of all ages, genders and backgrounds.
“However, the common theme is this fixated, unnerving and obsessive pattern of behaviour which develops over a period of time into something significant, including threats of serious injury or death exacted by the offender.”
Figures from Lincolnshire Police showed that between April 2016 and March 2017, 936 crimes of general, racially or religiously aggravated harassment and stalking had been reported.
But in stark contrast, only nine people reported that they had been victims of a stalking offence compared to 914 people who said they had been on the receiving end of harassment.
Mr West said: “One of the recommendations by HMIC is around the use of Police Information Notices and the advice to stop using them.
“In the past, if a victim of harassment or stalking came to police, one tactic we used was to go and see the offender to advise them that they should stop their activities if they didn’t realise it was considered to be harassment or stalking.
“Now, we’re really keen to start the investigation at the earliest opportunity, so there’s no delay in dealing with it.
“Ultimately, the report talks about joint working with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and other criminal justice partners so that we can make sure there is support provided to victims.”
The HMIC report team was led by Wendy Williams, formerly Chief Crown Prosecutor at CPS Direct, who said: “We spoke to many victims of harassment and stalking during this inspection and found that these are crimes of persistence and control.
“Repeat patterns of behaviour can have a devastating effect on a person’s quality of life and sadly, in the digital world, crimes of harassment and stalking are occurring more frequently.
“Police forces must act quickly to protect victims, including survivors of domestic abuse leaving coercive or controlling relationships.
“It is not acceptable that victims and their families are left to live in fear or have to change their lives because of someone else’s behaviour.
“Whilst we found some evidence that the police and CPS understand the risks of repeat behaviour, as well as some examples of positive practice where victims’ needs were prioritised, we found worrying failings at every stage. “Changes need to be made immediately to protect victims from harm.”