Right now, many domestic abuse victims don’t hear from police beyond the initial response to a 911 call. Victims of felony offenses receive a follow-up with an investigating detective, but even then, police involvement ends once the case is handed over to the district attorney’s office.
[Maj. Robert] Sherwin said he wants home visits to fill the gap during the eight to 10 months it can take for the case to reach a result in court.
The plan is already working well in New York City, where police respond to about 250,000 family violence incidents a year. Dallas police respond to about 13,000 domestic abuse incidents annually.
To deal with its large caseload, NYPD assigns about 450 officers to conduct home visits with the most vulnerable victims: children, elderly and people police suspect will be abused again. They go on a “high propensity” list and must be visited at least once a month, said Chief Kathleen O’Reilly, who oversees the domestic violence unit.Problem is, Dallas wants to implement the program without assigning extra resources.
On their visit to New York, the Dallas officers joined their NYPD colleagues on a visit to a Harlem public housing complex, where they navigated dark, narrow hallways and knocked on doors. The officers chatted with victims, looked for signs of further abuse and helped create a safety plan — putting Social Security numbers, credit card information and other necessities in one place in case the victim needs to leave in a hurry.
Though the program has existed for years, O’Reilly said, her unit re-emphasized the visits after the city saw a spike in domestic violence murders a few years ago. Now, family violence homicides have fallen and, O’Reilly added, “We don’t know how many lives we’ve saved just by showing up.”
the biggest challenge is deciding how to choose which victims to visit. Sherwin said police are considering using the lethality assessment program, criminal background checks on the abuser and knowledge of previous assaults on the victim.This is a good idea but it flies in the face of the current policing model where patrol officers rush from 911 call to 911 call without an overarching strategy. Thanks in part to more than 10% of police calls responding to false burglar alarms, there's little extra patrol power to assign to this sort of proactive approach. Make me philosopher king and I'd pull the plug on home-burglar alarm responses, implementing a verified response system and using the extra manpower for more of these sorts of targeted, risk-based policing tactics. But it's become clear that, certainly in Dallas, verified response is "good public policy" but "bad politics," as former Dallas police chief David Kunkle has said.
The success of the program would likely hinge on such a filter system.
“That’s kind of the sticky wicket,” Sherwin said.
You can't get something for nothing in this world and that includes extra police resources, even if it's to implement a good idea. Policing, like every other government function, involves trade-offs. Not everything can get done in a world of limited resources. I'd rather see officers following up on high-risk domestic violence cases than chasing after thousands of false burglar alarms, but between the public's ignorance and the alarm industry's political clout, in the near term the trade-off will almost certainly continue to prioritize the latter over the former.
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