Policing domestic violence : influences that shape the development of response behaviour
Police officer responses to incidents of domestic violence have received widespread criticism in recent years, but the focus of most studies on this topic has been on the experiences of victims and the work of police units established specifically to deal with domestic violence. As a consequence, the responses of front-line officers have received less attention. In particular, the ways in which they perceive and respond to domestic violence as they develop their careers within the police service are almost entirely unresearched. With this in mind, the aim of this research was precisely to map the shifts and changes (if any) in police officers' reactions and responses to domestic violence incidents during their first three years in service. Where previous researchers have examined officers' response to domestic violence in one temporal dimension and others have considered issues of acculturation and socialisation, the uniqueness of this research is in the way in which it has synthesised both these elements in the production of a more complex longitudinal study. Thus the research is informed by the experiences and perceptions of seven officers from their first day as a member of a Constabulary, through to their completion of three years' service. Observation of their probationer training and of the officers on duty, the design and completion of semi-structured interviews and the use of hypothetical scenarios comprise the primary research tools, with additional insights being gained through semi-structured interviews with the officers' tutor constables. The rich and deep insights that emerged from the fieldwork were made possible because of the development and maintenance of a relationship with a small number of officers over the period of three years. My status as a full-time employee of the Constabulary benefited me enormously in this regard. Through the development of this work, I have drawn from a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches but have been mostly persuaded by theories focused on aspects of feminism and symbolic interactionism. Using theories of power and gender in the context of domestic violence and applying these to observations made of the masculine organisational sub-culture of the police service, enables a picture to emerge of officers' explicit and implicit absorption of sub-cultural values, how they learn from their own experiences, how they learn to deal with domestic violence incidents from peers and colleagues, and influences of the training orientation and content. More specifically, I argue that as an organisation, the police service (through its staff) does little to extend officers' understanding of domestic violence either theoretically or actually. There was (and continued to be) a clear lack of recognition by the study's participants of the gendered power relations inherent in most incidents of domestic violence. The study considered the content and form of probationer domestic violence training in this regard and concludes by drawing attention to the importance of officers' tacit knowledge, or in other words, their understanding of domestic violence as a result of their societal socialisation. Crucially, the primary manifestation of this 'lack' of understanding was in officers' confusion over their precise (police) role when confronted with what they perceived to be domestic 'disputes' as opposed to domestic 'violence', where the latter were more easily recognised as requiring a law-and-order response, but where the former were considered as much less straightforward to deal with. Consequently, in most circumstances, officers tended to rely on their personal experiences and understandings as human beings rather than police officers, to guide their response. A contributory factor to the lack of clarity were the many parallels between the gendered power dynamic to be found in situations of domestic violence and the form and content of banter and behaviour in the workplace. The research is not simply an end in itself in terms of answering a particular set of research questions relating to police responses to domestic violence, but could also act as a vehicle for change.