CROYDON'S most senior police officer has described a sharp rise in domestic violence as "hugely worrying".
Borough commander Chief Superintendent David Musker told the Advertiser that failing to address a 13.4 per cent increase in offences over the past year could have fatal consequences for some victims.
He said: "I've often told my officers that dealing with domestic violence is murder suppression, because if you look at the data, 80 per cent of murders are committed by people who the victim knows or are in a relationship with.
"That's why the high number of incidents – and the fact that it's up significantly from last year – is of great concern."
There were 1,043 reports of domestic violence in Croydon in the past 12 months; up from 903 in 2011-12.
Chief Superintendent Musker believes the rise is "genuine" and only shows a fraction of the problem.
"Many times you will hear police officers say it's about confidence and people being prepared to come forward – but this increase is real," he said.
"It's hugely worrying, especially because data shows that there have normally been 40 incidents of domestic violence before a victim calls the police.
"This is a particularly pernicious crime, which robs people of the sense of security in their homes, and it is an issue which is getting my full attention."
A review of the police approach to domestic violence in Croydon is now being led by Detective Chief Inspector Sian Thomas, who worked on the Met's Sapphire unit, which investigates serious sexual offences, before moving to the borough in October 2012.
Chief Supt Musker said he would renew the borough's "zero tolerance" attitude and work more closely with the council.
He believes domestic violence is a growing problem because of the "stress" in society.
"There's no excuse for committing these sort of offences but if you look at the way the borough has changed, in terms of deprivation, that must have contributed," he explained.
"I think there's something about the stress of the things around housing conditions, incomes, all that sort of stuff. I haven't got evidence around that, it's just my gut feeling."
While not specifically comparable, latest figures for the Met as a whole show domestic violence increased 5.4 per cent in the year up to March 2013.
Selhurst councillor Toni Letts, herself a former victim of domestic abuse, said: "While domestic violence has always been an issue, I think the recession has increased family violence.
"Households where once there were two salaries, now there is one or maybe none. That has to be a factor.
"I'm not sure how much of a will there is to do something which will make a genuine difference."
Croydon's Family Justice Centre, which is home to the borough's domestic violence services, is used by about 1,000 people each month.
Labour has accused the council of slashing funding to tackle domestic violence, while the council said the centre's funding has been increased from £562,000 last year to £622,000 in 2013-14, in part due to Government funding.
Simon Hoar, council cabinet member for crime and public protection, said: "If the number of offences has gone up it could be about the economy or the availability of cheap alcohol, which we know is a factor in domestic violence and is an issue we're trying to address."
Croydon Council is currently in the process of changing its licensing policy to give it greater power to prevent the spread of off-licences.