New Caroline Springs family violence unit making headway

Senior Sergeant Helen Chugg. Photo: Joe Mastroianni

Against reports of “skyrocketing” domestic violence in Brimbank, the merger of two Victoria Police family violence units has led to fewer repeat offenders in the area, according to a senior policewoman.

The independent Crime Statistics Agency’s latest statistics for the year to March 31 reveal a 16.1 per cent annual rise in the number of family violence incidents reported to Brimbank police.

But Senior Sergeant Helen Chugg, who co-ordinates the newly created family violence unit at Caroline Springs police station, said she had witnessed a recent reduction in the percentage of recidivist family violence offenders.

In March, Senior Sergeant Chugg had the Keilor Downs and Melton family violence units co-located to Caroline Springs to deal with an increasing caseload.

“It just made sense to bring them together to share information, so we all know what’s going on across the [north-west metro] division,” she said. “It has enabled us to become more specialised and we’re working out of a 16-hour station here so have more access to resources.”

Her team works closely with Brimbank and Melton criminal investigation units, their focus being on recidivist offenders. The team deals with, on average, more than 400 family violence incidents a month.

Senior Sergeant Chugg said that since the merger, the number of repeat family violence offenders had gone down because police had been able to engage more closely with offenders.

Once a family violence incident is reported, male offenders are referred to behavioural change programs, and women are put in touch with family violence service Women’s Health West (WHW).

Chief executive of WHW Robyn Gregory said the new Caroline Springs family violence unit had meant better management of high-risk cases.

“We’ve certainly noticed that the merger has established a dedicated specialist team and it’s a more integrated approach,” Dr Gregory said.

“It strengthens our efforts to collaborate and co-ordinate our responses.”

But she was unable to say whether WHW could report a drop in recidivist offenders.

The family violence referrals from police had skyrocketed, she said, with 1122 referrals in May for the western metro region. “So it’s really a significant hike,” Dr Gregory said.

“We were hovering around 720 a month, then 950 for the past few months. Then in May, it skyrocketed.”

She said the trend could be due to factors including more public discourse that family violence was unacceptable so that neighbours and bystanders were beginning to report incidents.