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Innovative Police Force Breaks the Cycle of Domestic Abuse, With Help From BlackBerry Technology

I've spent decades as a police officer and investigator in the UK. During my career, some of the most heartbreaking crimes I've investigated have involved domestic abuse. This is especially true when perpetrators of these crimes continue to victimize their targets, even after a court order says they must stay away from their accusers. 

How does my organization, Greater Manchester Police (GMP), break this cycle of violence as we patrol an area of nearly 500 square miles and 2.8 million people? I believe new technology combined with human innovation finally holds the answer for law enforcement agencies worldwide. 

Law Enforcement Award-Winner: Domestic Abuse Case Study 

Domestic abuse affects more repeat victims than any other type of violent crime. This situation may be about to change as we move into relentless pursuit of perpetrators. 

Greater Manchester Police began piloting a potential solution to this repetitive problem during 2023, and the early results are so compelling that the force, along with our partner BlackBerry, won the Public Safety Award at the CIR Risk Management Awards. These awards celebrate excellence in risk management and are the pinnacle of achievement in the sector.  

I'd like to share details of the domestic abuse case study that led to this recognition. There is a real possibility this approach can offer further protection and improve the lives of domestic abuse victims wherever law enforcement teams implement something similar. 

New Police Paradigm: Protecting Domestic Abuse Victims

In the UK alone, police receive a domestic abuse call every 30 seconds and record 1.5 million incidents a year. In the aftermath of an alleged attack, courts often issue DVPOs (domestic violence protection orders), requiring suspects to stay away from their accusers for up to 28 days, so that victims can put additional safety measures in place.  

However, perpetrators often ignore these orders which are issued by the courts to offer protection. They frequently stalk, harass, or re-abuse their victims. As a result, victims often feel isolated, lose hope and become reluctant to support a prosecution. Then the perpetuating cycle starts over again. 

This is why GMP launched a new initiative to improve the enforcement of these orders and to protect victims, using the geolocation and intelligence-sharing capabilities of a technology called BlackBerry® AtHoc®, a critical event management (CEM) and communications tool.  

At GMP, we already use the highly secure BlackBerry AtHoc platform to communicate with thousands of employees each day. It has also radically enhanced communication across the many public- and private-sector partners that are required to support a fast, accurate and coordinated response to incidents and events. This can sometimes number upwards of 20 partners in an individual situation response. 

Now, GMP is utilizing the geolocation alerting and intelligence-sharing capabilities of this technology to ensure the safety and security of victims of domestic abuse, to reassure them, and to better equip officers on patrol to monitor and identify those who breach protective orders. 

Geolocation Supports Intelligence-Sharing and Communication 

GMP has established a process where geo-alerts, or geofences, are set up around the addresses of victims of domestic abuse. When an officer approaches an area where the court has granted a protective order for safeguarding abuse victims, AtHoc sends an automated and secure push notification to the officer's mobile device. The message asks them to check on the welfare of the victim, and the alerts provide details of the protective order.  

Primed with this high degree of specific knowledge, our officers now act more proactively, decisively and effectively to protect domestic abuse victims in the community. The officer can personalize the visit to discuss the victim's specific needs and reassure them that the police are actively monitoring the area to keep them safe.  

This strategy increases the odds a victim will have continued support through the prosecution of the case, protecting lives and disrupting the cycle of domestic abuse.   

An additional benefit of this approach is that the risk levels of each individual victim are constantly reviewed and communicated. This helps ensure that victims assessed at “standard” or “medium” risk, which represents around 90 percent of all cases, also receive regular attention, and that welfare checks extend beyond the high-risk cases that are most closely monitored.

Domestic Violence Policing: Two-Way Communication

This approach to domestic violence policing also helps close a critical loop.  

GMP officers receive geographically based alerts with protective order details, and the officer responds by acknowledging and visiting a victim’s home. Once the officer completes the victim check, the officer completes a field report recording the visit. Once finished, the report automatically notifies the department of the findings. The officer can register concerns and assign follow up actions or safeguarding to support teams within GMP units or partner agencies. This information becomes power, to keep victims from falling through the cracks, and breaches of protection orders are put back before the courts, where DVPOs are policed very closely. 

Pilot Project Results  

Our department has already incorporated the process described above. It is now part of the standard operating procedure when a DVPO is issued, and we are seeing results. 

During the first two months of our trial, officers receiving AtHoc alerts made 133 additional welfare checks, beyond those that would typically occur. Think of the reassurance this can provide victims and their families. 

And while arrests for violating protective orders have been perceived as being difficult to police, things are improving with our new approach. GMP officers have made numerous arrests for breaches of DVPOs during the trial period. AtHoc helps us ensure that the right officers are in the right place, at the right time – equipped with the right information – to catch perpetrators at the victim’s address in breach of prevention orders issued by the court.  

My favorite story relates to an officer that received an automated push alert prompting them to do a welfare check, and found the alleged abuser inside the victim's residence. The result was two weeks in custody, which gave the victim time to put additional safeguards in place.  

A New Approach to Help Domestic Violence Victims 

Winning the Public Safety Award for this effort is certainly a source of pride for both Greater Manchester Police and BlackBerry, but the most gratifying result of our efforts will be to see other law enforcement agencies implement this approach, and achieve similar success. Together, we can use new technology to solve long-standing challenges faced by domestic abuse victims, wherever they may live.

Darren Spurgeon

About Darren Spurgeon

Darren Spurgeon, Inspector, Greater Manchester Police