32.105 Police play an important role in responding to, intervening in, and preventing family violence, and are the first point of contact for many victims. Police are responsible for recording incidents, interviewing victims and collecting evidence to support charges and—as discussed in Chapter 9— applying for protection orders in the civil system. It is well recognised that initial positive police response is vital not only to victim safety, but also to whether victims report any further victimisation, or seek engagement with the legal system more generally.
The roles and advantages of specialised police
32.106 While there are wide variations in the roles and functions of specialised police units, these typically include:
conducting investigations and collecting evidence;
developing police strategies and policies concerning family violence;
developing and participating on inter-agency networks, and coordination and liaison with relevant government and non-government agencies;
training, education and research on family violence issues;
providing advice and guidance to other police officers on family violence issues;
supervising, monitoring or providing quality assurance in relation to police responses to family violence incidents;
liaising with courts and prosecutors; and
providing information and support to victims.
32.107 There is little empirical research available on the effectiveness of specialised police in the family violence context in Australia. In the US, 11% of police departments have specialised family violence units. Research there indicates that specialised units which emphasise repeated victim contact and evidence gathering
have been shown to significantly increase the likelihood of prosecution, conviction and sentencing. Specialised domestic violence units are generally associated with more extensive inquiries by police department call takers … Domestic violence units are also more likely to amass evidence to turn over to prosecutors.
32.108 Further, the research indicated that specialised responses are associated with victims leaving abusive relationships earlier; reporting repeated incidents more frequently; and being more likely to secure protection orders. There is some evidence that they also reduce violence.
Specialised police in Australia
32.109 In most jurisdictions in Australia, there are specialised police units in the areas of family violence, sexual assault and child protection. The following table sets out the nature of the specialised police roles in each jurisdiction.
32.110 There are wide variations in the structure and functions of specialised police units in Australia. In jurisdictions such as South Australia and the Northern Territory, the role of DVLOs appears primarily to be as a point of contact for victims. In Tasmania, the Victim Safety Response Teams (VSRTs) also have other responsibilities, including providing case coordination, attending integrated case coordination meetings, assessing applications to vary police family violence orders, and conducting safety audits and preparing safety plans. The VSRTs form part of the integrated response to family violence in Tasmania under the ‘Safe at Home’ program.
32.111 There also appears to be an impetus in other jurisdictions towards models integrating specialised police units—especially in sexual assault and child protection—with other government agencies and victim support organisations. Particular focus is given in these units to more effective investigations and comprehensive victim support in collaboration with other agencies.
32.112 In Victoria, two Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigative Teams (SOCITs) have been established within two pilot Multidisciplinary Centres located in Frankston and Mildura. The SOCITs are co–located with sexual assault units, child protection and victim support organisations. SOCIT members are specially trained detectives who are able to investigate matters, take victim statements and collect and prepare briefs of evidence. There are currently five SOCIT units in Victoria, with more units in transition as part of an expansion by Victorian police.
32.113 SOCIT members are required to take a four week course covering video and audio recorded evidence, sexual assault investigation and victim management. Members also have access to specialist training in interviewing suspects and victims, in particular in the context in which sexual assault occurs.
32.114 NSW Police have established the Child Wellbeing Unit (CWU), which commenced operation in January 2010. The role of the CWU is to help police officers identify whether or not a child is at risk of harm and needs to be referred to Community Services (NSW). If not, the CWU advises police on how to help children and their families gain access to the services that they need.
32.115 In the Northern Territory, the Child Abuse Taskforce, established in 2005-06, is made up of Northern Territory Police, Family and Community Services, and Australian Federal Police officers. The Northern Territory Police handle serious and complex cases of maltreatment, and AFP handles incidents in Indigenous and remote communities.
32.116 In the ACT, the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Team (SACAT) is responsible for the criminal investigation of serious offences including allegations of sexual or physical assault of children. The team plays a major role in collecting evidence of suspected criminal activity, and placing matters before the courts where sufficient evidence exists. SACAT provides ‘a fully integrated environment for victims of sexual offences’, facilitating interviews, forensic examinations and the provision of support for victims. 
32.117 SACAT also retains a Sexual Assault Victim Liaison Officer, whose role is intended to improve the experience of victims in the criminal justice system. This role includes keeping victims informed of the progress of the investigation and any criminal proceedings and responding to their concerns about interactions with police and the criminal justice system.
32.118 The push for a more coordinated, national police response to family violence is recognised in the Australasian Policing Strategy on the Prevention and Reduction of Family Violence, released in November 2008. This strategy includes principles and objectives, as well as a program for action. Relevantly, measures in this program include an audit of training and a review of workforce development; audits of research and the development of an Australasian knowledge base of best practice across jurisdictions; and audits of current legal and policy responses, including confirming the role of specialised responses.
Submissions and consultations
32.119 The Consultation Paper proposed that each state and territory police force should ensure that:
victims have access to a primary contact person within the police who specialises, and is trained, in family violence issues;
a police officer is designated as a primary point of contact for government and non-government agencies involved in responding to family violence;
specially trained police have responsibility for supervising, monitoring, or assuring the quality of police responses and providing training and advice to operational police; and
there is a central forum or unit responsible for policy and strategy concerning family violence within the police.
32.120 This proposal received broad support. The Commissioner for Victim’s Rights (South Australia) submitted that ‘having dedicated victim liaison officers has proven integral to the police assisting victims to exercise their rights and to access victim assistance’. The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre submitted that the ‘ACT experience of the SACAT is exemplary’, with victims reporting they are supported and believed regardless of whether charges are laid or the prosecution proceeds. Other submissions noted that specialised police were often empathetic, committed and took a personal interest in matters, helping to engender confidence in victims and the public alike. The Commissions heard similar views expressed in consultations.
32.121 In response to the question in the Consultation Paper on the challenges facing police specialising in family violence and sexual assault matters, two key themes emerged.
32.122 First, the majority of submissions emphasised the importance of comprehensive education and training for specialised police, covering the nature and dynamics of family violence. In relation to sexual assault units, submissions argued for development of skills and systems to attend sexual assault incidents, providing information to victims and gathering forensic evidence. Education and training were viewed as particularly important in regional and remote communities, where police are required to be multi-skilled and equipped with a broad knowledge base. A number of submissions expressed the view that there was a need for similar levels of training for general duties police dealing with family violence to ensure consistency of response in the absence of specialised police.
32.123 Secondly, many submissions argued that the sustainability—in particular reducing high staff turnover—and success of specialised police units required ongoing resourcing, support and high level leadership within the police organisations. In a joint submission, Domestic Violence Victoria and others highlighted that in relation to Family Violence Liaison Officers there was ‘a high turnover through normal rotation of portfolios’, exacerbated by ‘insufficient opportunity for training and professional development in these roles’. Similar views were expressed that DVLOs in NSW ‘have not been well supported by their own colleagues and the role of the DVLO is not considered prestigious within the NSW Police Force’. The Commissions heard similar views expressed in consultations with the Tasmanian Victim Safety Response Teams, including that the training provided was insufficient and work schedules differed in the unit.
32.124 Although there is little information or research available on the role and value of specialised police units in Australia, a significant number of stakeholders reported positive experiences with such units. The Commissions have formed the view that there is substantial merit in the use of specialised police in family violence, sexual assault and child protection matters. Liaison officers provide an important early point of contact for victims and assist them in navigating the legal system. Specialised police at all levels provide contact points for inter-agency collaboration, and may form a key element of integrated responses. Further, monitoring and supervision by specialised police is likely to improve consistency in the application of laws in the context of family violence.
32.125 The Commissions are of the view that the effectiveness and consistency of police responses—including from specialised police units—would benefit from regular education and training. The Commissions, therefore, endorse the actions outlined in the Australasian Policing Strategy on the Prevention and Reduction of Family Violence in relation to training and education, aimed at improving knowledge and understanding of all police dealing with family violence. Relevantly, these actions include:
auditing training to ensure that education and training provided incorporates technical, conceptual and interpersonal skills including appropriate behaviours, cultural awareness and attitudes;
including victim case studies in training programs where appropriate; and
engaging in joint training between police and other organisations where appropriate to facilitate a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities.
32.126 Education and training appear especially important in regional and remote communities where the establishment of specialist units may not be so readily feasible. In those circumstances, access to a primary contact person and a number of operational police officers who have some training in dealing with family violence, and are able to liaise with other agencies, would ensure a measure of accessibility for victims and improve practice amongst all police officers.
32.127 The Commissions recognise that specialised police units operate under different organisational structures, and in different policy and operational contexts. Despite this, the Commissions are of the view that, in the development of policing strategies and policy, specialised police units should be fostered. In particular, the comprehensive integrated model in Victoria, in which specialised police units are co-located with other services, appears promising as a model.
32.128 The Commissions are of the view that an important element of fostering specialised units lies in providing career progression opportunities for specialised officers. The effectiveness of specialised police is enhanced where ongoing relationships with victims and networking with other agencies are maintained. The retention of quality staff is vital to ensuring sustainability of specialised police units.
Recommendation 32–5 State and territory police should ensure, at a minimum, that:
(a) specialised family violence and sexual assault police units are fostered and structured to ensure appropriate career progression for officers and the retention of experienced personnel;
(b) all police—including specialised police units—receive regular education and training consistent with the Australasian Policing Strategy on the Prevention and Reduction of Family Violence;
(c) specially trained police have responsibility for supervising, monitoring or assuring the quality of police responses to family violence incidents, and providing advice and guidance in this regard; and
(d) victims have access to a primary contact person within the police, who specialises, and is trained, in family violence, including sexual assault issues.
 Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission, Policing Domestic Violence in Queensland (2005), xii.
 A Klein, Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges (2009), National Institute of Justice, Ch 5, section 2.
 Ibid, Ch 5, section 3.
 Ibid, Ch 5, section 4.
 This information is based on the descriptions of roles given in published information, generally from police websites, and may not capture all the activities and functions undertaken by specialised police. Certain functions, such as victim support and liaison with the legal system, may be carried out by different actors in the jurisdictions.
 Successworks, Review of the Integrated Response to Family Violence: Final Report (2009), 11–12.
 The Safe at Home program is discussed in Ch 29.
 For a discussion of integrated responses, see Ch 29.
 The MDCs were established in April 2007, as part of joint initiatives between Victoria Police and the relevant Centres Against Sexual Assault.
 Victorian Government, Submission FV 120, 15 June 2010.
 This training is provided at the Centre for Investigative Training, through the Detective Training Course.
 Victorian Government, Submission FV 120, 15 June 2010.
 NSW Police Force, Children: Sex Crimes Squad <www.police.nsw.gov.au/community_issues/children> at 14 March 2010.
 See Memorandum of Understanding between ACT Policing (Adult Sexual Assault Team and Child Abuse Team), ACT Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services, the Office for Children, Youth and Family Support and Care and Protection Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services.
 Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ACT) and Australian Federal Police, Responding to Sexual Assault: The Challenge of Change (2005), 14.
 Ibid, 17.
 Australasian Policing Strategy on the Prevention and Reduction of Family Violence (2008).
 Consultation Paper, Proposal 20–1.
 Women’s Legal Services Australia, Submission FV 225, 6 July 2010; WESNET—The Women’s Services Network, Submission FV 217, 30 June 2010; Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, Submission FV 216, 30 June 2010; National Abuse Free Contact Campaign, Submission FV 196, 26 June 2010; Women’s Legal Service Victoria, Submission FV 189, 25 June 2010; Women’s Legal Services NSW, Submission FV 182, 25 June 2010; Law Council of Australia, Submission FV 180, 25 June 2010; Queensland Law Society, Submission FV 178, 25 June 2010; Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Submission FV 172, 25 June 2010; Confidential, Submission FV 164, 25 June 2010; Justice for Children, Submission FV 148, 24 June 2010; Domestic Violence Victoria, Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, Victorian Women with Disabilities Network, Submission FV 146, 24 June 2010; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children Inc, Submission FV 144, 24 June 2010; Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, Submission FV 132, 22 June 2010; N Ross, Submission FV 129, 21 June 2010; F Hardy, Submission FV 126, 16 June 2010; Commissioner for Victims’ Rights (South Australia), Submission FV 111, 9 June 2010; K Johnstone, Submission FV 107, 7 June 2010; Confidential, Submission FV 105, 6 June 2010; Queensland Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian, Submission FV 63, 1 June 2010; Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service Network, Submission FV 46, 24 May 2010; One in Three Campaign, Submission FV 35, 12 May 2010.
 Commissioner for Victims’ Rights (South Australia), Submission FV 111, 9 June 2010.
 Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Submission FV 172, 25 June 2010.
 Confidential, Submission FV 164, 25 June 2010; Confidential, Submission FV 105, 6 June 2010.
 Women’s Legal Service Victoria, Submission FV 189, 25 June 2010.
 Central Australian Legal Aid Service and Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission, Consultation, Alice Springs, 28 May 2010; Central Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Unit and Central Australian Women’s Legal Service, Consultation, Alice Springs, 28 May 2010; Northern Territory Police, Consultation, Darwin, 26 May 2010; Magistrate N Toohey, Consultation, Melbourne, 25 January 2010.
 Consultation Paper, Question 20–1.
 Education Centre Against Violence, Submission FV 90, 3 June 2010; M Condon, Submission FV 45, 18 May 2010; One in Three Campaign, Submission FV 35, 12 May 2010.
 National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence, Submission FV 195, 25 June 2010.
 M Condon, Submission FV 45, 18 May 2010.
 Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, Submission FV 216, 30 June 2010; Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service Co-operative Ltd, Submission FV 179, 25 June 2010; Family Voice Australia, Submission FV 75, 2 June 2010.
 Confidential, Submission FV 184, 25 June 2010; Justice for Children, Submission FV 148, 24 June 2010; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children Inc, Submission FV 144, 24 June 2010.
 Domestic Violence Victoria, Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, Victorian Women with Disabilities Network, Submission FV 146, 24 June 2010.
 Women’s Legal Centre (ACT & Region) Inc, Submission FV 175, 25 June 2010.
 Sergeant Chris Hey (Victim Safety Response Team), Consultation, Hobart, 12 May 2010.
Australasian Policing Strategy on the Prevention and Reduction of Family Violence (2008).