David Thomason, Detective Constable at Cheshire Police, and Dan Price-Jones, Consultant Forensic Psychologist at North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, spoke to us about their unique response to stalking.
The work on the anti-stalking unit began in late 2015 as a result of David’s experiences. He said his job within the police focused on tackling stalking and stalking-related incidents. Following on from several domestic homicides that were in relation to stalking behaviours, David said that he wanted to find a way of dealing with stalking that was truly appropriate. Both David and Dan said that the current legal framework surrounding stalking is insufficient in managing risks and preventing the continuation of such behaviour and acts of stalking. For example, stalking can continue despite sentencing or punitive measures. The perpetrator, their motivations for why they stalk, and their objectives need to really be understood to address stalking.
The new and different approach that had to be taken would have to consider “forward planning”. It had to look at the risks, formulated risks and risk management. The earliest stages saw NHS psychologists both discussing and working with the police in an anti-stalking forum.
An evolving model
Initially the unit began as an anti-stalking clinic. In November 2015 there was the first clinic with a forensic psychologist and police working together. It then gradually grew with more services getting involved, including, but not limited to, refuge services, adult social services, criminal justice liaison staff, primary care and probation. David described this unit as a “perpetrator-facing initiative.”
The anti-stalking forum had monthly meetings to discuss how they were tackling the risk posed by stalking, interventions, and also to discuss how the clinic was working. There was the sentiment that expansion was needed and wanted and therefore funding was required to do more effective and worthwhile work.
By that point they had started to collaborate with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and other statutory services. They heard about the police transformation fund so put in a bid.
A growing model
The funding was secured. The funding covers Cheshire, Hampshire and the London Metropolitan Police with funds going to both the Trust and the police. Cheshire, where it started, has been doing work on stalking for a while making their pilot the most established.
This funding enables the unit to do more. Live time incidents are scanned for any instances that are described as, or might have the potential to be, stalking or stalking-related incidents. Referrals are made both internally by the police and externally by other services such as probation or the NHS. At the clinics there is screening, triage services, case discussions and so forth. It is dependent on the individual case. The risks are formulated and then appropriate actions will follow and this can include anything from therapy to intervention sessions. This is not a ‘behavioural change programme’ that has the explicit objective of preventing future stalking. Most cases that are referred are not always labelled as stalking which demonstrates that it is not that black and white or easily recognisable, but that there are elements of stalking.
The clinics/sites provide wrap-around support for victims. There is a definite awareness that the impacts of being stalked are varied and problematic, ranging from being anxious and fearful for their own safety or longer-term trauma. They also work with the perpetrators and provide careful intervention in response.
David emphasised that they focus on all cases, not just the more typically well-known instances that involve homicide or celebrities. Stalking can have hugely detrimental impacts that can continue to manifest even after it is ‘dealt with’, even if there’s no risk of violence or homicide it can be psychologically traumatic.
The best case scenario outcome is that the perpetrator stops stalking behaviours and does not continue and this is what they are trying to facilitate via the anti-stalking unit. However, they acknowledged that someone never stalking again is not their marker for success. Ultimately, the aim is to prevent and minimise the risk the individual perpetrator poses.
Tackle the problem
Dan highlighted that they want to really address all perpetrators as there are assumptions that perpetrators can be considered to be unstable and mentally unwell. The belief is that this drives their behaviour and therefore should be a factor in how perpetrators are responded to. However, he said that not everyone who is a perpetrator falls into this category and are not actually deemed mentally unwell enough to access those kind of treatment and services. The concern is thinking about how to address those who lie outside of that categorisation and targeting the “underlying motivation for that behaviour when people aren’t mentally ill”. It’s really about trying to challenge assumptions and think pragmatically to effectively address the issue.
It was also acknowledged that in the instances of anyone stalking, especially if they do suffer from mental health issues, prison and/or punitive measures are not always adequate because they are further damaging someone who is vulnerable, unhappy and also in a position where they may be provoked or not deterred from continuing on. Indeed, stalking can continue even if the perpetrator is in custody.
David stated that punishment with the mentality of simply “lock them up and throw away the key” is not the best way of addressing stalking as it doesn’t address the risks involved. He said that it “makes sense to tackle the problem” itself, which is a better perspective to adopt across the whole criminal justice system. Punishment is needed where it’s deserved but also isn’t always best in itself.
Collaboration and problem-solving
Dan emphasised that it is not just police and the criminal justice system that are actors in tackling stalking. There is a psychological perspective that comes in with having mental health workers involved and there is a definitive multi-agency and collaborative response in interventions and how it is delivered. Hundreds of people across statutory services have been trained, from GPs to police to social workers. There is also work being done to provide a consultation model and service.
Dan and David both acknowledged that part of the motivation for what they are doing has been to get agencies working together, collaborating and to be able to show that, and its success, with evidence. This has very much been a shared vision and a “model driven from the bottom up”, led and developed by practitioners and specialist staff. It is very much a problem-solving approach and they know that this is similar to certain work done within Australia’s criminal justice system. Here in the UK, the FTAC (fixed threat assessment centre) is a similar and older unit; it’s a unit that is joint between the police and NHS set up by Home Office, Metropolitan Police and Department for Health to assess and manage risks to politicians, royal family and other public figures from obsessive individuals. However, their work is very niche and very focused and has not, in their history, moved beyond the particular focus they have.
What makes this unit particularly different is the fact that stalking is being treated as “a public health problem” and they are trying to tackle a “complex aspect of human behaviour” in order to address this area of crime. Framed in this way, it is apparent that prison and/or sentencing is not always the most viable solution.
Tailoring innovation to local circumstances
This work comes under multi-agency stalking intervention programme (MASIP) that is run, essentially, by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. The three sites (Cheshire, Hampshire and London) will be coordinated by the Trust, as are the interventions that will be delivered. It will be independently evaluated. The three sites went live in September 2018.
The Met will have a STAC (stalking threat assessment centre) which is pan-London and they will be liaising across boroughs. It will be partially based in custody suites and follow a slightly different model and approach to Cheshire. In Hampshire, the model is quite different and is integrated into pathway schemes that they already have. However, weekly contact would be occur between the different sites to understand and monitor the work they are all doing.
Results and evaluation
The Jill Dando Institute at UCL is evaluating the unit in Cheshire. The independent evaluation and the three areas that MASIP is being delivered in will serve in building an evidence base.
Since starting, the unit has dealt with over 140 cases in 1 borough. It is not a “prescribed” response and an intervention that applies to everyone but rather there’s a strong focus on the individual. Since March of this year there’s been a 500% increase in the recording of stalking-related crimes – testament to better and proper identification. It is interesting to note that males rarely ever report being stalked.
The new sites will run for 18 months and then an independent evaluation will happen and, after that, the long-term viability will be considered alongside packaging this model and potentially upscaling it to be rolled out and delivered across the UK.
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This case-study was compiled and edited by Jaskirat Mann in 2018