The unnecessary arrests of thousands of women each year is a drain on police resources and a misuse of public funds, according to a new report by MPs and peers this week.
The APPG on Women in the Penal System has found that an estimated 37,000 arrests of women each year result in no further action. The APPG obtained data from 5 police forces and the Home Office and questions why so many of these arrests happen in the first place.
The report (available here) follows the APPG’s inquiry into reducing arrests of women in England and Wales. It finds that one police force made 9 arrests of women and girls in a single day of which 6 resulted in no further action and another force made 17 arrests of which 13 resulted in no further action.
It is often the case that no-further-action arrests are in relation to incidents in the home where female victims have lashed out, the report says. The briefing warns against the inappropriate use of arrest against women who have been the victims of crime or exhibiting challenging behaviour. An example provided by one of the five police forces involved a woman being arrested for assault who showed signs of being a suicide risk.
Black women remain twice as likely to be arrested as white women. The briefing recommends police forces review cases to improve practices and learn lessons, particularly relating to how officers are deployed to incidents involving women.
The MPs call for a more nuanced approach to dealing with conflicts in the home as current policies bring women into the criminal justice system for low-level family disputes. Data provided by the five forces showed that women were calling the police to report domestic abuse but were arrested when their partner stated that they were victims. Officers should assess when an arrest is disproportionate and instead focus on resolving disputes in other ways, the report recommends.
The briefing explains that training of front-line staff is vital. In larger urban areas police officers may lack local knowledge when deployed to incidents. Training can improve officers’ understanding of how to reduce unnecessary arrests if they are first responders.
The briefing calls on officers to use restorative solutions to defuse confrontation and reduce unnecessary arrests. The report highlights that such solutions can better address the underlying sources of tension in the home. The report also cites a 2002 survey by The College of Policing (2020) which found that around a quarter (26%) of officers said that not enough time was spent on training in essential communication and only half (52%) said training had taught them how to defuse confrontation.
The report references domestic abuse research that found that police officers would, at times, arrest because they feared senior officers would criticise them if they did not. The College of Policing guidance on domestic violence does not state that arrest is mandatory for domestic violence incidents.
The reports considered detention under the Mental Health Act and agreed that police stations are not ‘a place of safety’ to detain people under the Act. According to police data, a police station was used as a place of safety in less than 0.5% of mental health detentions.