The number of reports of domestic violence each week in Northern Ireland has risen by around a tenth during the pandemic, the PSNI chief constable has said.
Several suspected domestic violence murders have taken place during the lockdown, justice minister Naomi Long has said, and officers have drawn up a list of 75 “most wanted” perpetrators.
The overall tally of cases of suspected domestic abuse reported per week has increased from 570 to 630, chief constable Simon Byrne added.
He added: “There have been occasions where the levels of violence has appeared to be extreme.
“Sadly, sometimes people have lost their lives.
“Some people have been badly injured, with life-changing injuries.
“It is something that we are watching closely.”
He said his officers had drawn up a “most wanted” list of 75 suspects.
They have made 38 arrests and charged 18 people.
Domestic Abuse comes in many forms.@TRPNI offers support & help to #LGBT victims of #DomesticAbuse #YouAreNotAlone— Justice NI (@Justice_NI) May 7, 2020
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Mr Byrne warned that Northern Ireland had not seen the same level of investment as elsewhere in the UK in domestic abuse advocates.
As an example, the London-based Refuge group’s independent advocates support survivors of all forms of gender-based violence, including those at highest risk of serious harm or homicide.
They accompany people to court and create safety plans.
A range of other services are in place in Northern Ireland to help those suffering from domestic harm.
Stormont legislation is being piloted by Ms Long to make it easier to prosecute perpetrators.
Meanwhile, police do not anticipate “seismic” change in Northern Ireland’s social distancing restrictions this weekend.
You will find my monthly report to @NIPolicingBoard by following this link: https://t.co/phcou628kQ— Simon Byrne (@ChiefConPSNI) May 7, 2020
Here is my public message in advance of the Bank Holiday weekend. #Covid19 #StayHomeSaveLives pic.twitter.com/pvtoZbTlZz
The process of amending the rules would be “complex”, PSNI assistant chief constable Alan Todd told the Policing Board.
Officers have issued hundreds of fines for breaching emergency regulations designed to curb the spread of the virus.
Mr Todd said: “I don’t anticipate a seismic change this weekend.”
Officers are preparing for the bank holiday weekend and Mr Todd warned people against holding street parties where even the best intentions to maintain a safe distance could be clouded by alcohol.
Local councils are in charge of enforcing regulations around food businesses, while the Health and Safety Executive’s responsibility covers most workplace safety issues.
Mr Todd called for more “designation” to other agencies of the force’s role in policing the restrictions as more businesses were opened.
The senior officer said that was particularly important since there had been a tendency towards increased breaches of the restrictions elsewhere.
The force has been pressing Stormont’s health department on the issue.
Mr Byrne also said there had been 494 drink-driving arrests since the beginning of March – 14 of which had involved the same driver.
He added that the figures represented “a cause for concern” since there were fewer cars on the road due to lockdown measures.
He said that some of those involved were displaying “a devil-may-care” attitude.