MEET THE TEAM: Mildura police Family Violence Investigation Unit members Tracy Holmes, Detective Senior Sergeant Paul Matheson, Constable Krystie Williams and Constable Andrew Depyle. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By VINNIE RODI

MILDURA police have implemented an “enhanced investigative approach” to domestic violence following the establishment of a Family Violence Investigation Unit (FVIU) in the region.

It’s a move that will see local members take the fight against violence in the home to “the next level,” with the new unit headed by Detective Senior Sergeant Paul Matheson.

Two FVIUs have been established in the Mallee, with the second located in Swan Hill.

Det. Snr Sgt Matheson said the FVIUs are made up of “dedicated detectives and intelligence practitioners,” with more than 20 units established across the State in July.

The FVIUs have three functions – to investigate serious and complex investigations, manage high-risk, complex and cold cases, and support general duties police and specialist units.

The aim is for trained specialist investigators to “understand the complexities” of family violence, ensure effective risk assessment, evidence collection and use, and accurately identify primary aggressors.

“Previously Mildura police had our Family Violence Unit in effect, which was created with uniformed resources – so similar to a tasking unit,” Det. Snr Sgt Matheson said. 

“Significant funding was allocated by the Victorian Government following the Royal Commission into Child Abuse to establish Family Violence Investigation Units, and to also establish Safety Hubs across the State.

“This funding, and the establishment of this unit, has created additional resources locally, which will be rolled out over the next two years. 

“Effectively we are investigating serious family violence crime. We triage all family violence incidents across the division, and then run a crime prioritisation tool – essentially a risk assessment – and pick up the medium and high-risk cases.

“The idea is that if we investigate more serious offences it breaks the habit and locks perpetrators up. While we always investigate and prosecute, we can now dedicate more expertise, and we’re getting better results.”

Family violence remains a major concern for Mildura, with our town ranked second in the State when it comes to the rate of family violence incidents recorded per 100,000 population (3060.02 per 100,000 according to the most recent Crime Statistic Agency data.)

It’s a rate that remains nearly three times higher than the State average (1163.4 per 100,000 population), with Det. Snr Sgt Matheson saying that family violence continues to be a significant source of harm to the Victorian community.

“Victoria Police respond to more than 75,000 family violence incidents per year – on average about one incident every seven minutes,” he said. “The latest Crime Statistics Agency data showed a decrease of about 2500 family violence incident reports in the 12 months to March 2018.

“This slight downward trend is consistent with the previous two reporting periods. While on the surface this may sound positive, we believe there is still significant under-reporting in the community.”

In the 12 months to March 2018, 74.9 percent (56,359) of Affected Family Members (AFMs) across Victoria were female, while 24.8 percent (18,703) were male. Females aged between 20 and 49 made up 71.6 percent (40,330) of female AFMs, with Victoria Police attending 7065 incidents of family violence in December last year alone. 

“We have a massive problem, and this new unit is about treating the problem more seriously, and taking our response to the next level,” Det. Snr Sgt Matheson said. “For the month to date, Mildura alone has processed 18 serious family violence perpetrators, and that’s only at the higher level.

“Most of our offenders locally are either bailed with strict conditions, or remanded.

“We are hoping to see a decrease in the severity of offences, especially in the Aboriginal community where assaults are really bad, extreme in some cases.”

Det. Snr Sgt Matheson said Victoria Police has come a long way in developing responses to family violence, raising community awareness and challenging attitudes supporting violence.

“We will continue to work hard to ensure victims feel more comfortable in coming forward to report incidents to police,” he said. “By 2020 there will be approximately 230 trained specialist investigators and 32 intelligence analysts deployed across the State to support this important work in identifying and investigating high-risk family violence incidents.  

“They will focus on the needs of Victorians facing additional vulnerabilities including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities, young and older people and people with a disability.”

In terms of the local team, a designated analyst has already been apportioned for the entire division, with the first investigative positions to come into effect in October.

“In the interim we have those positions filled with unformed members on secondment,” Det. Snr Sgt Matheson said. “A court liaison officer will also be based in Mildura, and they will triage intervention orders on a Monday morning at court and follow up with victims.

“We will also have a designated Senior Sergeant training officer for family violence… whose role is to work with frontline officers.”

Det. Snr Sgt Matheson said the new unit’s workload would be assessed over the next six to 12 months, with additional resources to be allocated should they be warranted.

“We’ve been lucky to receive this funding… and we’re already starting to see the benefits,” he said. “This unit is already playing its role, and we’re getting significant jail terms for offenders.”