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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

[IL] Will County taking proactive steps training in police domestic violence


...Last week, the Family Violence Coordinating Council in Will County held a seminar for social workers and police on how to deal with domestic violence cases when the abusers are police officers... It was the second time in two years the council held a seminar on the topic... Experts say education is key in tackling the issue. Law-enforcement policies on how to handle abuse by police officers differ from department to department, and an agency with more lax procedures could leave a victim with nowhere to turn...

Code of silence can protect abusive police
Will County group holds seminar on how to deal with domestic violence involving cops

Chicago Tribune
By Erika Slife
September 3, 2008

A woman abused by a police officer endures a life of secrecy and desperation, domestic violence experts say.

She feels she can't report the abuse to the police, because he is the police. She can't hide in a shelter; he knows where they are. In court, it's her word against that of a sworn officer.

"It's something that is just bubbling underneath the radar screen in this country, when it comes to police family violence," said Margaret Moore, director of the National Center for Women and Policing.

But when domestic violence cases involving police officers are propelled into the media glare—most prominently, in recent months, the allegations against former Bolingbrook Police Sgt. Drew Peterson, who denied them—experts believe that awareness can encourage lawmakers and police agencies to institute policies that help protect oft-hidden victims.

Last week, the Family Violence Coordinating Council in Will County held a seminar for social workers and police on how to deal with domestic violence cases when the abusers are police officers. About 130 people attended the daylong workshop, which was closed to the media and public. It was the second time in two years the council held a seminar on the topic, said Shorewood Police Lt. Jeff Hanley, chairman of the council's Legal Action Committee.

Experts say education is key in tackling the issue. Law-enforcement policies on how to handle abuse by police officers differ from department to department, and an agency with more lax procedures could leave a victim with nowhere to turn.

"What we're trying to do—and I know most departments are trying to do—is take it out of the [responding] officers' hands," Hanley said. "Policy requires that a supervisor or officer of a higher rank answers the call. We go right up the food chain."

Putting the responsibility on a supervisor's shoulders addresses two issues, advocates for domestic-violence victims say. It takes the pressure off the responding officer, typically a patrol officer, having to mediate a situation that could potentially cost a colleague his police job. It also removes the possibility of officers covering up for a buddy in the department.

"That's a big part of the police culture, the code of silence," said Diane Wetendorf, author, advocate and consultant specializing in police-perpetrated domestic violence. "Some officers may have direct knowledge of what's happening. Many of them have an idea of what's going on and purposely ignore it or look another way."

Even if a woman's complaint does get funneled through the legal system, advocates say, a victim may have to stand up to a higher level of skepticism from judges and prosecutors.

"She has to prove everything that happened, because not everyone is going to take her word for everything they would in perhaps other situations," said Cory Ryan, executive director of the Connection for Abused Women and their Children. "It becomes, 'he said-she said,' and the officer's word is often given the benefit of the doubt."

Even if a victim does have her abuse allegations taken seriously by law enforcement, the consequences of her speaking up could be severe.

For example, if the officer loses his job, she and their children could lose an income, health insurance benefits and a pension.

"It's the No. 1 thing. They don't want these men to lose their jobs," Wetendorf said. "That's the problem with some policies. It has a chilling effect on reporting."

Experts say police departments should bear some responsibility if they recruit individuals prone to violence. There needs to be a better screening process or tests administered that would weed out future abusers, Hanley and Moore said.

But they also recognize the difficulty in predicting who is prone to domestic violence.

"You can only screen so far," said Lansing Police Chief Dan McDevitt. "Every police department I'm aware of does psychological screening. I don't know if there's an instrument out there that can accurately predict the potential for domestic violence."

eslife@tribune.com [Link]

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