Harm Reduction Unit

The Harm Reduction Unit enables criminal, health and social justice agencies to work together at a local level to manage the risks associated with stalking and domestic abuse and to support victims.

David Thomason, Detective Sergeant at Cheshire Police, updated us on the evolution of the Anti-Stalking Unit into the newly formed Harm reduction Unit.

Operational modelling of the HRU is commensurate with, and evolves from, the nationally evaluated Integrated Anti-Stalking Unit (IASU) for Cheshire which formed one of three Local Area Partnership Sites underpinning the Multi Agency Stalking Initiatives Programme (MASIP) project. The aim of the IASU was to mitigate risks and impact of stalking on victims by providing needs-led, risk-informed interventions to support victims and provide appropriate interventions to perpetrators.

Operational Concept

The Harm Reduction Unit (HRU) is a collaborative service, delivered by integrated Criminal Justice and National Health Service partners. The lead agency is Cheshire Constabulary (CC) with primary integrated partnership organisations being Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CWP), Probation Service (PS) and Mersey Care Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (MC).

The HRU employs a proven integrated working model to address risks associated with identified targeted problem behaviours, principally stalking and serial domestic abuse, to protect victims. The HRU manages the threat, harm and risks associated with the highest harm and serial perpetrators of problem behaviour in Cheshire. Problem behaviours are often complex behaviours that cause harm to the subject/perpetrator and/or others.

Assessing risk

The HRU is a needs-led, risk-informed service provider framed within a psycho-social and legal framework. Risk is seen as dynamic in nature and responsive to individual vulnerabilities which interact with situational/social factors. It is this interaction which manifests in the interpersonal problem behaviours of stalking or domestic violence and can represent a range of risk, both psychological and emotional as well as violence, to known and unknown victims.

Risk assessment identifies the presence (or absence) of risk factors in individual cases of problem behaviours, and explanation of how these risk factors present will inform management plans. The HRU ascribes an intervention as any activity by the HRU which directly and/or indirectly targets risks correlated to an individual case.

Access to HRU

Uniquely, access to the HRU is not predicated on diagnosis or classification of an underlying mental disorder (in the widest sense of the term) or psychopathology. However, it is recognised that specific problem behaviours can be associated with underlying disorders such as psychosis, atypical neurology, personality, intellectual disability, emotional disturbance and substance abuse which require consideration when undertaking risk assessment, providing consultations and planning diverse interventions to manage risk.

Intervention from the HRU is dependent upon the nature and degree of the presenting problem behaviour and the nature of the risks associated with the presenting behaviours that has brought the individual to the attention of services. Ultimately, and further to progress along the HRU risk management pathway, interventions provided by the HRU are dependent upon assessed “added value” by the HRU input, addressing the management of identified risks with each individual case referred.

The HRU will operate where the alleged perpetrator ordinarily resides within the Cheshire Constabulary geographical area comprising the four unitary authority areas of Warrington, Halton, Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester. The degree and nature of HRU input is determined by the source and nature of the complaint or request made, and the outcome of the risk/threat assessment process.

Partnership working

The HRU integrates the skills, competencies, knowledge and authorities of staff from all organisations (CC; PS; CWP; MC) to inform management of risks associated with identified problem behaviour, utilising a diverse range of interventions including legal deterrents and therapeutic intervention when indicated.

The governance of the HRU will be led by Cheshire Constabulary with overall operational responsibility lying with the Detective Superintendent, Safeguarding and Early Intervention.

The full time dedicated HRU staff will consist of:

  • Detective Sergeant (CC)
  • Constables x 3 (CC)
  • Consultant Forensic Psychologist (MC)
  • Clinical Practitioners x 2  (Senior Psychiatric Nurse and Specialist Occupational Therapist) (CWP)
  • Specialist Victims Advocate  x2 (CC)
  • Probation Officer (NPS).
HRU Victim Advocacy

Cheshire Constabulary Specialist Victim Advocates will assess victims' needs and risks according to their training and force policy. Core functions and service provision are:

  • Provide emotional and practical support to victims of stalking episodes or domestic abuse.
  • Liaising with key partners as necessary (e.g. Cheshire Cares, RASASC, locally commissioned Independent Domestic Violence Advocates and Domestic Abuse services, refuge accommodation and any national victims' services e.g. national stalking helpline, Paladin etc).
  • Coordinating the victims' safety plan and any legal tactical options, monitoring, flagging and, in conjunction with the CC police officers, any victim or vulnerable persons safeguarding as necessary. This will include liaison with partners as part of any statutory or non-statutory existing risk management (e.g. MAPPA, MARAC, IOM).
  • To articulate and advocate on behalf of and for the victim within a professional, clinical and legal (criminal/civil) contexts or proceedings. 
  • Targeted Problem Behaviour Consultation Service.

The expertise in the HRU may contribute to the effective risk management of cases where there exists other patterned problem behaviours which fall outside of the context of stalking or serial domestic abuse. These can include behaviours such as; “fire setting”, sexual violence and “querulant behaviour”.

Evaluation

In 2020 University College London published a final evaluation report on the Multi Agency Stalking Initiatives Programme, under which the Anti-Stalking Unit (which predated the HRU) operated. In Cheshire, the report found that the rate of re-offending for perpetrators who had completed a health intervention in Cheshire was 17.6%, which is at the lower end of the range reported in research studies where a psychological intervention has been used with stalkers. Victims were overall satisfied with the support provided to them by the Victim Advocates (VAs). In particular, the VAs kept victims informed and empowered them to manage their own safety and support the investigation.   

For more information about this project, please contact hru@cheshire.pnn.police.uk 

To read the full case-study compiled on the Anti-stalking Unit in 2018 click here.

 

This case-study was compiled by Jason Watt in 2021