New Janesville Police Department team strengthen domestic violence intervention

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Sunday, October 16, 2011
— It doesn't sound like good news that the YWCA of Rock County's alternatives to violence program has been busy.

But it is very good news, said Latreece Sandlin, director of the alternatives program.

More domestic violence victims are learning they have options other than to suffer abuse, she said. She credits some of the improvement to the Janesville Police Department's Domestic Violence Intervention Program.

Formed in February 2010, the six officers on the team call or visit in person with the victims of domestic violence in the days after an abuser is arrested. They hoped to connect more victims with services and write better reports.

It appears to be working better than anybody had hoped.

According to data collected between February 2010 and August 2011, the department has seen a drop in the number of domestic violence calls since the team was formed.

In some cases, the contact goes on beyond the initial follow up as officers form relationships with abuse victims and their families.

This week, as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the team won two state awards for its efforts to help victims.

While explaining the program, officer Laurie Valley read samples of cases from department records. The stories have been modified slightly to protect victims' identities.

'It was brutal'

It was a Monday morning in summer 2010 when the man got text messages his friend sent the night before.

"My husband is beating me up. I need help."

He called police. When officers got to the Janesville duplex, a neighbor came out to see what was going on. He said he'd heard loud thumping all night. It wasn't the usual sound of three little kids playing, he said.

When police entered the home, they found the woman, her husband and their three children hiding in the master bedroom.

The woman, who is in her 20s, was half naked and covered with bruises. The memory sticks in Valley's mind.

"Her eyes were swollen shut. She was black and blue from head to toe," Valley said. "It was brutal."

Over and over, she told police she didn't know what happened.

In an earlier time, police might have lost patience with the young mother, Valley said. But training, interviews with survivors and a growing pile of experience have taught officers a lot, Valley said.

Valley sat with the woman and kept questioning her until the oldest child, a 3-year-old, spoke up.

"You need to get my mommy to the doctor because my daddy did that to my mommy."

That wasn't the only piece of evidence police used to arrest the husband, but it was a big one, Valley said.

Many people have a hard time understanding how relationships can get so bad.

"We've all said it," Valley said. "Oh my god. Why doesn't she just leave?"

It's never that easy, she said.

In this case, the husband and wife were not living together, Valley said. They remained connected by their children.

The husband had isolated the woman from her family and friends leaving only himself as a baby sitter, Valley said. Her three, 12-hour weekend shifts were the family's only income, Valley said.

"She was doing very well for herself," Valley said. "She had a great job. People would be surprised. She had everything together, except him."

Every weekend, he went to his wife's house to baby-sit. On Sunday nights, she would have a hard time getting him to leave.

He drank alcohol regularly, and they both typically would drink heavily on Sunday nights, Valley said. That was the case before police intervened on that Monday in 2010. Valley met with the woman more than once after the incident. The woman filled out paperwork for a restraining order but never filed it.

The couple has since moved, and the Janesville Police Department has lost contact.

Preventing deaths

The primary goal of Janesville's domestic violence intervention team is to reduce the number of fatalities as a result of domestic violence.

In Wisconsin in 2009, 59 people died as a result of domestic attacks. That was a 10-year high, according to data collected by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

That year, a Janesville woman died in what became a high-profile case. In April 2009, Kyle Hicke of Milton led police on a high-speed chase after fatally shooting Erica Ostenson, 25, in front of her 5-year-old son.

In 2008 and 2009, three murder-suicides were committed in Edgerton, Janesville and Beloit.

Since 1986, eight Janesville residents have died as a result of domestic violence, according to police records. Seven of the eight domestic relationships included children, and the children were home during four of the eight homicides, according to the records.

Two-thirds of the homicides in Janesville are the result of domestic violence, Police Chief Dave Moore said.

Women are not the only victims. So far in 2011, the YWCA has worked with ECHO and the Gifts Mens Shelter to find emergency shelter and services for 12 Rock County men who were the victims of domestic violence.

A long, long time

"We've been dealing with this married couple for a long, long time," Valley said.

Their oldest child is almost 18, and the relationship has been violent for at least that long, she said.

The last time the husband was arrested was in fall 2010. The wife got a restraining order for a year.

It expired this month, and police already have had to respond to the home, Valley said.

He had a key his wife didn't know about. He came home and refused to leave. Finally, she threatened him with a weapon, Valley said. He laughed, and she lost her temper and went after him with another weapon. The wife was arrested.

She won't get another restraining order because she wants the kids to see their dad, Valley said.

As far as police know, the children are not being abused, she said.

"Every single time she opens the door to let him have contact with the kids, he takes advantage," Valley said.

Better pictures

Police had a few expectations when they started the program, said Sgt. Anne Brophy, a violence intervention team leader. They expected to connect victims with services and to improve investigations, she said.

What they didn't anticipate was how much the follow-up contacts would improve police reports and result in additional charges against suspects.

When police respond to a domestic incident, the tension level is usually at its peak. With adrenaline coursing through their bodies, it's expected that victims forget to share some details with police, Valley said.

"Sometimes victims were embarrassed to call the next day and say they remember some things," Valley said.

When officers stop by and ask, they get more information that results in better reports to file with the district attorney's office, Moore said.

Police also didn't realize how often they would catch violations of the 72-hour no-contact order that comes with domestic violence arrests. Intervention officers sometimes stop at homes to find abusers there when they shouldn't be, Moore said.

Sometimes, a victim's cell phone starts buzzing in the middle of a police interview, and police arrest abusers for violating the no contact order by calling or texting the victim.

A few days after a violent incident, officers also can take better pictures of bruises or other injuries, Moore said.

Just the act of showing concern makes a difference, Valley said. Without the intervention team, officers would show up in the middle of a domestic incident, interview the parties, make an arrest and get out.

No matter how kind or careful and officer is with a victim, his or her job usually ends with the arrest. That was leaving a hole in the safety net for victims, Valley said.

That's where the intervention team is making a difference, she said.

"There used to be a gap, and we're filling the gap," Valley said. "Police were coming and were sympathetic. Then, all of a sudden it was gone."

'She was fearing so much'

The woman wasn't home when she got wind of the danger.

Police departments in Edgerton, Milton and Janesville were getting reports of threatening phone calls.

He was calling every person in her cell phone and trying to find her. Ten, eleven times an hour he would call people she knew and threaten their lives.

He even called and threatened the YWCA.

Police issued a warrant for his arrest and issued her a cell phone so she could call 911. He had beaten her severely in the last month, but she hadn't reported it. Twice police responded to the home, but she maintained the arguments were only verbal.

Then she went into hiding. She told police she was staying with a friend from her church—a person whose name wasn't in her phone. Someone her boyfriend didn't know.

"She was fearing for her safety," Valley said. "She was fearing so much that she put herself in hiding on her own. She didn't go home to get belongings or anything."

She hadn't told her boyfriend she was carrying his baby. The couple are in their 30s.

For 10 days, she stayed hidden, fearing for her life.

Then he showed up at the Janesville Police Department.

She was with him.

She told police she wanted to drop the stalking charges. Those charges were dropped, but he has since been sentenced to prison on unrelated charges, Valley said.

'Tremendous difference'

McBride said his No. 1 goal is to connect victims with advocates at the YWCA. Advocates teach victims about domestic violence, McBride said. They work to build victims' self esteem to give them the strength to leave.

"I feel like it's a success if we get them to the Y," McBride said.

Things have been busy at the YWCA, and that's a good thing, Sandlin said. One can assume the number of families experiencing domestic violence hasn't changed, she said. Rather, the police are connecting more families with services, she said.

The domestic violence intervention team is making a "tremendous difference" in that respect, Sandlin said.

Officers connect with a group of victims the YWCA normally would not see, Sandlin said. Officers make appointments for victims and accompany them on interviews or in court, she said.

"I'd like to be able to duplicate this in other cities in Rock County," Sandlin said.

What they said about domestic violence in Rock County

The Gazette talked about domestic violence in Janesville with Latreece Sandlin, YWCA of Rock County alternatives to violence program director, and Janesville Police Department Domestic Violence Intervention Team members officer Laurie Valley, officer Paul McBride and Sgt. Anne Brophy.

Q: If you have a magic wand and could make any improvement to the team, what changes would you make?

McBride: That intervention team members could always make the initial response to domestics, as opposed to any on-duty patrol officers, and that one person from the district attorney's office would be assigned to prosecute domestic cases.

Q: What can Janesville residents do to support victims of domestic violence?

Sandlin: Continue supporting the YWCA, something she said the community does well.

Also, be aware of the silent symptoms of domestic violence.

"Everybody knows to look for bruises."

Watch for a coworker who has a pattern of calling in sick after weekends without good reason. Watch for friends who are distant, who have low self-esteem, who are constantly apologetic or who can never make a decision.

McBride: "If we witness something, we need to be witnesses for that person."

Victims could be going through a stressful time and might not be able to advocate for themselves. If you can give a thorough statement to police about what you saw or heard, you would be helping immensely, he said.

Q: What should Janesville residents know about domestic violence in our community?

Brophy: "We've got it in every corner of the city."

Some victims are married, some are divorced or single. Violence does not follow income or race lines.

"To say it's one group or one individual type of person, no," Brophy said. "We're seeing it all. I can't think of too many other calls where every single day we go on at least one."

Valley: "It's like it's behind every door, if you want to find it. You have to be looking."

To get help

Resources are available for those who need to leave a violence situation or want to help a friend.

Most advocacy websites warn domestic violence victims to search the Internet for help only from a safe computer. Sites also urge readers to call 911 if they are in immediate danger.

-- In Janesville, call the Janesville Police Department Domestic Violence Intervention Team at (608) 290-5261.

-- Anywhere in Rock County, call the YWCA of Rock County. In Janesville, call (608) 752-2583. In Beloit, call (608) 365-1119. Visit ywca.org. Click on the "Find YWs" link, the "local associations" link and the state of Wisconsin on the map.

The YWCA has volunteer opportunities available and welcomes donations of cash and household items. Call (608) 752-5445.

-- The Domestic Violence Intervention Program provides programming for offenders. Call (608) 757-5677. Visit www.co.rock.wi.us and click on the deferred prosecution link.

-- The Wisconsin Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Visit www.wcadv.org.

-- The National Network to End Domestic Violence. Call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or at TTY 1-800-787-3224 or visit nnedv.org.

Taking notice

The Janesville Police Department in May created a domestic violence intervention team. The officers work to communicate with victims of domestic violence in the days after an abuser is arrested. Team members already have earned two rewards for their work to prevent domestic violence.

-- Sgt. Anne Brophy on Friday was given a merit award at the annual award luncheon for the Wisconsin Association of Women Police. The award recognizes Brophy's leadership with the team.

-- The team on Wednesday was given the Wisconsin Governor's Council on Domestic Violence Justice Award. Since 1991, the council has given two annual awards to those fighting domestic violence, according to a news release from the council. The Justice Award goes to a group that promotes the safety and justice for victims. A Courage Award is given to a survivor who advocates against violence.

"The Janesville DVI team has demonstrated that systems advocacy can be initiated by law enforcement who want to make changes within their own department," said Mariana Rodriguez of the Latina Resource Center in Milwaukee, co-chairwoman of the council. "The team has also formed valuable partnerships with local resources, and in particular, the domestic violence program at the YWCA."

Last updated: 6:43 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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