Policing family violence: to what extend can police effectively broker public health services? Implications for vulnerable people

Dr Isabelle Bartkowiak-théron1

1Tasmanian Institute Of Law Enforcement Studies, University Of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia

This presentation contributes to a multi-disciplinary discussion of family violence, through a public health and policing lens that focuses on the capacity of authorities to provide services to community members impacted by family violence.

Family violence is increasingly discussed in terms of public health, and as a key determinant of women’s and children’s health. However, the administration of public health services to community members is problematic in regional areas of Australia.

Police statistics relating to family violence in regional areas are worrying: in some jurisdictions, 50% of police work is directed at addressing issues of family violence (up to 90% in others on the mainland). We know, though, that the reality of family violence is much grimmer. In the past five years, logistical deployment of first responders during emergency situations (floods, bushfires) have triggered an increase in reporting and in community members reaching out for help: with regions saturated with emergency and social workers, community members usually in situations of isolation could suddenly access immediate victim support. The services, already resource-stretched, struggled to meet the volume of these demands, during and subsequent to the disasters.

Law enforcement and public heath literature establishes police as gate keepers to criminal justice and to the provision of services to vulnerable people. Indeed, police play a crucial role in family violence beyond traditional law enforcement, by linking vulnerable community members with key health services. But then, if police effectively help support the primary healthcare sector by aligning those most in need with services, such service brokerage requires that we re-frame issues of 1) public health services available to the community, and 2) the take up of those services altogether, 3) the role of police as public health interventionists, and 4) the family violence situations amplified by situations of isolation in remote/rural settings.


Isabelle Bartkowiak-Théron is a senior researcher at the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, University of Tasmania, within which she is the lead senior researcher on the vulnerability, police education, and law enforcement and public health research streams. She specializes in socio-legal studies, with a particular interest in police interaction with vulnerable people.


Dec 08 2021