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Cops getting tougher on domestic violence

October 31, 2000

Cops getting tougher on domestic violence



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Det. Hoover and Chief SmithThe Hagerstown Police Department is taking a tougher stance this year on domestic violence, according to police and victim advocates in the community.

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Domestic violence victims and their advocates in the community criticized city police in late 1999 for trailing county and state police in making arrests and helping victims, devoting inadequate resources to the problem, and having no clear mechanism for tracking domestic violence cases.

In October 1999, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur R. Smith pledged to make domestic violence a higher priority.

"It's coming around pretty well, I think," he said in a recent interview.

Smith said he has adopted for the Hagerstown Police Department the most effective aspects of his native Baltimore City Police Department's domestic violence program.

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The local police department now has stricter response and arrest policies, a domestic violence coordinator and a two-way early referral system in place to direct victims and abusers to community help agencies while alerting advocates about new cases, Smith said.

City police are expected to make arrests if there is evidence at the scene that a crime has been committed. If the suspect is gone, police are expected to obtain an arrest warrant, Smith said.

"We don't leave it up to the victim now to get the warrant," he said. "And we're capturing a lot more than we used to."

During a 10-month period last year, city police responded to about 280 calls coded as domestic violence and made about 45 arrests, according to a "calls by complaint" report. The report covered the period from Jan. 1 to Oct. 20, 1999.

For about the first nine months of this year, city police responded to about 200 domestic violence calls and made about 80 arrests, according to a Washington County Family Violence Council report and police department Domestic Violence Coordinator Steve Hoover.

City police in June began completing referral reports for all the domestic calls to which they respond, said Hoover, whose position was funded by a state grant approved in January.

Smith said he expects the grant to be approved from year to year.

Police give domestic violence victims and abusers information about help agencies in the community. Officers then fill out detailed reports about the incidents, which are funneled through Hoover to Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, known as CASA, in Hagerstown.

"It used to be nothing was done - no assault, no report," Hoover said. "It's being done now."

Hoover said he tries to "reach out" to repeat victims to keep cases from accelerating to domestic assaults.

Tracking domestic violence cases remains difficult because the department is temporarily functioning without a computer system, but Hoover keeps a "ballpark" tally through paper reports, he said.

He reviews all filed domestic violence reports to make sure responding officers are meeting the department's expectations, he said.

"Steve has made just a tremendous impact at HPD," said Vicki Sadhevandi, CASA executive director.

Hoover and Smith have been active participants on the Washington County Family Violence Council, a group of citizens, service providers, legislators, prosecutors, court officers, school board members and police, which formed in July 1999 to develop a strategic plan for the county, Sadhevandi said.

Their participation on the Council has given the city police officers insight into "what's not working," Smith said.

City police have adapted well to the department's more aggressive domestic violence response and referral policies, he said.

Officers have attended training sessions about the new policies, and related paperwork has been kept simple to lessen the burden on officers, Smith said.

New digital cameras and detailed referral reports developed with the help of CASA have helped city police officers better document domestic violence calls to aid in prosecution when the cases go to court, Hoover said.

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