Updated figures on Police Safety Orders

Significant changes to the Domestic Violence Act saw Police granted with the ability to issue on-the-spot Safety Orders (PSO) from 1 July 2010. These orders which require perpetrators of family violence to immediately leave their residence for a period of up to 5 days, can be issued regardless of ownership or tenancy of property and without the consent of the at risk person. They also require the surrendering of any weapons and firearms licenses.

In the four months between July and October 2010 a total of 1,376 orders have been issued throughout New Zealand with the highest number in Counties-Manukau and the second highest in Waitemata. According to Police, 99 of these 1,376 orders were breached, a rate of approximately 7% with the highest number of breaches recorded in Wellington.

Police Safety Orders are designed to provide a period of safety in which victims can consider their future options, including the possibility of applying for a protection order through the courts. Judges can also grant a protection order in cases of a breach. The majority of breaches referred to the courts so far have been discharged or new safety orders have been issued. Out of 1,376 orders issued, only 11 have translated into Protection Orders.

Whilst Stopping Violence Advocates feel that in the main safety orders are working well in most areas of the country, there is concern about what safety plans are being put in place and whether or not there is adequate support provided for families, after people against whom a safety order was made, return home.

Information and support services for victims of family violence are essential for their ongoing safety, particularly if they choose to continue to live with their abuser or if children are present in the home. Often victims who contact the police during or after a violent incident can be at risk of retribution from the perpetrator or their families when the incident is over, which can lead to further or more intense physical or emotional abuse. They can feel guilty or be held responsible for calling the Police and this can stop them from contacting Police next time a violent incident occurs. It is at this time that the need for safety planning to manage leaving or staying in a violent relationship and information regarding options, advocacy or support is greatest, as the level of risk to the victim can increase. If this support is not available victims are often not able to break the cycle of abuse on their own and many victims, including children, will continue to remain isolated and vulnerable to further violence.

Many victims cannot afford the significant cost of obtaining protection orders through the court system, do not have the confidence in their ability to complete the process or are afraid of the consequences of further violence when a protection order is granted and the perpetrator is automatically required to attend a stopping violence programme. For these reasons they may not attempt to apply for a protection order.

Judges now have the power to automatically issue a protection order in cases where safety orders have been made. This takes the onus or blame off the victim for pursuing a protection order on their own and is issued without cost. The low number of protection orders granted in comparison to the number of police safety orders issued is of concern. It indicates that judges are not granting protection orders when violent incidents have been severe enough for the Police to feel the victim is at risk of further violence, and have removed the person who has been, or threatened to be, abusive.

Similarly the number of breaches of Police Safety Orders which are discharged without conviction, or where an additional safety order is issued rather than granting a protection order, can lead to putting victims at greater risk. Perpetrators do not receive consequences for their violence towards their families and learn that they can be violent without an appropriate judicial system response. This can also stop victims from the calling the Police in the future.

Published on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011, under Announcements, Family violence

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