Police stepping up focus on curbing domestic violence

Police stepping up focus on curbing domestic violence

CHAMPAIGN — Police told Champaign City Council members on Tuesday night that they have set up better ways to target offenders and help victims of domestic violence, one of the most frequent calls for service that officers receive.

Champaign police responded to more than 1,100 domestic violence calls in both 2011 and 2012, said Lt. Dave Shaffer, and that's why the department has put more focus on targeting domestic violence.

The Champaign department has begun working with local groups and given extra training to patrol officers, said Lt. Tod Myers, including reviews of the Domestic Violence Act and bringing in representatives from the Center for Women in Transition to brief officers at the beginning of their shifts.

"We were bringing everybody up to speed, getting everybody on the same page," Myers said.

Those briefings at the beginning of officers' shifts can reinforce the effect domestic violence can have on victims, Myers said.

The department has started working closely with the Champaign County state's attorney's office, too. Upon deeper analysis of the hundreds of domestic violence calls, Myers said, it was discovered that 88 offenders are responsible for a large percentage of the violence.

Now, a Champaign County prosecutor will review each domestic violence case and charge those repeat offenders.

"That's huge for us because that's a one-call communication that we can go to," Myers said.

Police have also worked with the Center for Women in Transition to prepare resource packets which they plan to give to victims when they arrive on a domestic violence call.

Billboards and bus boards have gone up around the city to raise awareness and remind everyone that domestic violence can affect everyone.

"We thought this was a great opportunity to reach as many people as possible," Myers said. "We can put it on the bus; we can put it on the billboards."

Shaffer said it is important that those meetings with community groups continue into the future. Police also have plans to add on to what they are already doing, including putting into place a "lethality assessment protocol," which is a series of standardized questions officers can ask a victim to determine whether that person is in a particularly high-risk situation.

Shaffer said Champaign police also hope to make their efforts available to other Champaign County law enforcement agencies.

Council member Karen Foster said the department's efforts to target a problem and reduce harm in advance is "key."

"That shows compassion," Foster said. "That shows a sign that the officers are trying to work on domestic violence in our community."

Council member Tom Bruno said he appreciated the extra efforts, adding that kind of "creativity" can probably be applied to different kinds of "social ills" the community faces — driving under the influence, drug abuse and theft, for example.

"Arrests are necessary, but we're not going to arrest our way out of the problem," Bruno said.

Police on Tuesday night presented to the city council a number of initiatives they have put in place recently, including increased social media efforts and an alternative method to addressing bicycle safety.

Lt. Jim Clark said bicyclists who commit traffic violations now have an option on their first offense to complete a bicycle safety quiz instead of receiving a traffic ticket. Traffic tickets for bicyclists count against their driving record and potentially car insurance rates just as they would if the bicyclist were driving a car.

The program began in August. Clark said police caught some heat for giving traffic tickets to bicyclists before the safety-quiz option was in place, but the new program has been well-received.

Only one person, Martel Miller, gave public comment during Tuesday night's session — a contrast from recent years when city council meetings regarding the Champaign Police Department have often been an airing of grievances for the public. Mayor Don Gerard said that was indication of positive strides the department has made.

Miller said the police department has "stepped up" recently under its new police chief and command staff.