More power to fight domestic violence

Police who arrive at the scene of domestic violence will now have a checklist to help them determine if a victim is at imminent risk of serious injury or death, under a program announced Monday.

Under the program being piloted in 14 communities, officers will be trained to assess the situation and warn victims if they are at high risk. The police will also call a domestic violence counselor and encourage the victim to speak to the counselor on the phone at the scene.

“This is really creating a critical response at the scene,” said Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The new approach should help warn victims who are particularly vulnerable to potentially lethal harm immediately. Victims and those around them often didn’t fully understand or recognize critical risk factors for domestic violence homicides — triggers such as a breakup, divorce or child custody disputes, a recent report by the Connecticut Domestic Violence Review Committee found.

In fact, national statistics show that only 4 percent of domestic violence homicide victims reached out for domestic violence services in similar situations, said Joe Froehlich, law enforcement coordinator for the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“If they are deemed at very high risk, the officer will talk about high risk, and tell the victim that maybe she needs to go to a shelter or go to a family member’s home,” Jarmoc said.

The program is modeled after a successful program in Maryland that reduced domestic violence homicides 40 percent.

“I think it will have a profound effect. We’re talking about serious intervention at a very critical time,” Jarmoc said.

Connecticut, where an average of 16 people are killed a year from domestic violence, is one of 10 sites across the nation involved in the new Lethality Assessment Program.

The federally funded program is a collaboration between the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council.

“If we can get more victims into these services, we’ll be able to reduce the numbers of these crimes,” Froehlich said.

Initially the program will be offered as a three-month trial through eight domestic violence agencies and 14 police departments, including Hartford, Manchester, New Britain, Waterbury, Norwalk, New London, Greater New Haven and the Naugatuck Valley. If successful, the program will be expanded to all 18 domestic violence agencies around the state next year.

In addition to the new program, an expanded domestic violence law took effect in Connecticut Monday. Among key changes, the law:

  • Expands restraining orders from six months to a year;
  • Strengthens and expands the definition of stalking to include electronic stalking;
  • Requires police departments to appoint someone in a supervisory position to serve as a domestic violence liaison, and
  • Improves communication between courts and domestic violence victims, alerting the victim if charges are dismissed and if the abuser is put on probation or violates probation.