The 39-strong specialist unit, the Local Resolution Team, introduced in March this year, deals by appointment with any cases that are not immediately urgent, including a new video appointment service when conversations cannot take place face to face.
Officers discuss the incident with the caller, carry out an initial investigation and provide safeguarding advice, to leave the victim feeling safer than before and can explore further investigative opportunities to prosecute those responsible for domestic abuse, advice on obtaining court orders to prevent further abuse, and also arrange access to sources of independent advice and support.
Part of the safeguarding advice includes referrals to independent support agencies in Sussex such as Rise, Worth Services and The Portal.
Chief Inspector Oliver Fisher of the force’s Public Protection Command said; “This additional way of responding to domestic abuse, made possible by funding provided by the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, has been so well received by callers that it is now a permanent part of our investigation work.
“Reaction from people who have used the new service has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Ch Insp Fisher shared positive comments from people. One person said: “It was really thorough, a long conversation, going through questions and a discussion about what would come next.”
Another said: “The person who I spoke to was very reassuring and caring. Made me feel like I wasn’t in the wrong”:
“The person who I spoke to was very reassuring and caring. Made me feel like I wasn’t in the wrong.”
Ch Insp Fisher said: “We aim to be in touch with the caller within 12 hours of their initial contact, and the vast majority of victims are then seen, in person or online, within 48 hours of that initial contact.
“We naturally prefer to see someone face to face in private at a police station. However, we recognised that current restrictions for people in vulnerable categories, self-isolation, or travel, meant that some would not be able to attend so we have now adopted new video conferencing technology.
“In these cases our officers obtain a safe contact number, then using very discreet and safe means, set up a video meeting with the caller.”
After the video meeting, Ch Insp Fisher said the caller is guided through how to remove any trace of the video appointment from their device, which is disguised in the first place to hide any links with the police.
He added: “We have successfully used this system to safely carry out online no less than 437 of 1,440 appointments, from which further investigations can then develop. The system is now a permanent feature of our work.
“But it is still important to be clear that wherever there’s an emergency that’s ongoing or life is in danger, call police on 999 and we will arrange an immediate response. This new approach applies only when that is not the case.”
Sussex Police has also been carrying out domestic abuse awareness publicity at local supermarkets as part of an online campaign.
A spokesman said: “Even though our social media pages are already reaching out those affected by domestic abuse, we recognise that not everyone has access to the internet, and some may have their access controlled.”
Chief Superintendent Steve Rayland, the force lead on Public Protection, said it was important people know that alongside these new initiatives the force continues to respond to domestic abuse as normal, arresting perpetrators and protecting vulnerable people.
“No matter what is going on around us there is no excuse for domestic abuse, it simply isn’t acceptable,” he said.
“The police priority hasn’t changed so if you are a victim of domestic abuse I would urge you to make contact with us so that we can help.”
Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “It has been more important than ever that people who feel threatened and vulnerable have someone they can reach out to, who will listen and help them.
“I’m pleased that, following the extra investment into Sussex Police this year, they have been able to put in place these innovative, ground-breaking measures to protect victims at a time when it has been incredibly difficult for them to safely reach out for help.
“Sussex Police are really going the extra mile during this crisis to ensure that people do not feel they have to suffer in silence.”
If you are a victim of domestic abuse, or know someone who is, and there is an emergency that is ongoing or life is in danger, call police on 999.
If you cannot talk because the perpetrator is nearby, you can then press the numbers ‘55’ into your mobile phone which will alert the operator to your situation.
The Sussex Safe Space website also provides a valuable directory of help and support from all agencies, available near you.