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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

[NY] Watertown says it's READY now for an officer-involved domestic violence policy

Watertown Police Officer Michael Vanwaldick

Watertown has been in media chaos since Officer VanWaldick kidnapped his ex-girlfriend, shot a man in the chest several times, and became the subject of a manhunt in December of 2004. What made it a NATIONAL scandal and opened the city to lawsuits was that Watertown police were already aware that VanWaldick had serious problems before he committed this more noticed set of crimes. The scandal was that his past domestic violence acts had been effectively pushed under the rug by his department.

VanWaldick most likely had become convinced, by the lack of response to his past acts, that he could do whatever he wanted to. He had come to live in a mental world of lawlessness because there was no consequence for his prior crimes. He could climb into his ex's window to kidnap her in camoflauge clothing, bulletproof vest, and a MASK with the intent of lethal harm to his ex's friend.

For example, just a couple of days before the shooting VanWaldick called in sick, came to his ex-girlfriend's JOB, and threatened to kill her and himself. Plenty of police came to the scene - using cell phones instead of police radios, not talking to the victim, letting it all just blend into the another day in Watertown. Now he's sentenced to 15 years and people's lives are changed. Covering for his past acts was no favor. He could be getting help while working a new job instead.

Because of a complaint filed by a city council member the New York State Commission of Investigation probed and reported on the incident.

According to the investigation results: ...many Watertown police officers who responded... "gave preferential treatment to VanWaldick because he was a police officer."It goes on to say investigating officers failed to properly document, review, or coordinate their investigations of the incidents... (Source: Feedback: State Says Watertown PD Response To VanWaldick 'Inadequate,' WWNYTV.net, July 20, 2006)

From yesterday's news: ...Monday night the council revealed a draft of a new policy stating how police will handle domestic cases involving one of their own in the future. The policy calls for more outreach to the District Attorney's office, and the families of the officer, as well as better training. Councilor's say they're ready to get a policy in place so something like this never happens again... (Source: Council comments on state's report of mishandling VanWaldick case, News 10 Now, August 22, 2006)

That's a big ideological leap for the city compared to 7 months ago: ..."I know absolutely nothing about it," Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said. He downplayed the significance of the investigation. "What is it that you're going to find?" he asked. "A guy went out and did something stupid, it's tragic." He later said: "A finger-pointing session about what happened before isn't going to make my life or anybody else in the community's better than before"... (Source: A YEAR LATER, NO REPORT YET ON CITY POLICE, VANWALDICK, Watertown Daily Times (NY), Cory Nealo, February 9, 2006)

The hope is that Watertown will follow through with the report's recommendations, and also will put a specific policy in place to be a guide to them in officer-involved domestic violence cases - that they can move to being proactive and preventative in the future. Hopefully others will look to Watertown and benefit from what this city found itself learning the hard way.

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