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Saturday, August 16, 2008

[MI] Group Aims to Raise Officer-Involved DV Awareness

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Michigan Officer Involved Domestic Violence

HollandSentinel.com, MI
The Holland Sentinel
Aug 16, 2008

While experts tend to agree domestic violence is more common among police and military families, hard numbers are elusive, said Charisse Smith Mitchell executive director of Center for Women in Transition in Holland Township.

Domestic violence definitions vary. Data collection in law enforcement is relatively new. And, with police families, "there's a very strong likelihood of non-reporting," Mitchell said.

"One of the first places you would naturally want to turn is law enforcement, but if the abuser is part of that system, you might not feel safe doing so," she said. "Police have a great deal of credibility and access to things civilians don't usually have."

Laura Spars grew up with Pam Aukerman Brainard. They learned how to ride bicycles together.

They learned to drive a car together.

Pam Aukerman met Kevin Brainard when she was working third shift at a hospital and he was working as a Plainwell police officer. He proposed almost immediately, but the couple wasn't married for several years, Spars said.

Nov. 4, 2007, Plainwell police officer and Ostego fireman Kevin Brainard shot and killed his wife of 14 months before committing suicide.

"A year ago, I never would have thought that any of this was possible," Spars said.

Spars, Pam Brainard's sister, and others formed Michigan Officer Involved Domestic Violence (michiganoidv.blogspot.com), a Web site and advocacy group. Members often attend court with victims.

"When these women have someone there to support them, people take them more seriously," Spars said.

The group is also in the middle of a petition drive for two laws. One would raise awareness of officer-involved domestic violence. The second would require a statewide program to prevent it.

With greater power comes greater responsibility. Police have a responsibility to police themselves, Holland Police Capt. Jack Dykstra said.

"The negative stereotype of police policing themselves is that they cover up for themselves," he said.

No current Holland police officers have domestic violence complaints or personal protection orders on their records, Dykstra said.

"There are so many exceptional police officers that provide such a wonderful service that no one wants to paint a picture that they can't be trusted," Mitchell said. "We are quite lucky and happy that we have such a strong relationship with law enforcement. ... They take domestic violence as seriously as we do." [Link]

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