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Breaking the Cycle : LAPD Program Helps Officers Step In Before Domestic Violence Escalates

November 03, 1994|ISAAC GUZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ann's boyfriend yanked her hair so violently that he tore out a patch of her scalp four inches in diameter and then hit her so hard she nearly passed out. Semiconscious, she was only aware of a warm stream of blood flowing from her left eye.

When LAPD officers responded to Ann's call at 2:40 a.m. on a recent Friday, they had been presented only two days earlier with the basic tools and tenets of a new police program designed for victims of domestic violence.

Equipped with what Hollywood Division police call a "domestic violence kit," the officers were better prepared than before to meet the demands of being the first contact with the victim and suspect in a domestic battering.

For the first time, the officers were able to provide a victim with transportation to a shelter with the assurance that they would be able to find her safe harbor. For the first time, they could offer her detailed information, available in a variety of languages, about what she could do to protect herself and her children from further violence. For the first time, the officers had been provided with the means to document her injuries at the scene, ensuring that the proper evidence would be brought to bear when the case went to court.

These innovations are the result of a new domestic violence policy adopted by the Los Angeles Police Department this year, spearheaded by LAPD Cmdr. John White. The new guidelines, developed over the last year in conjunction with prosecutors and shelters for battered women, are an effort to break the cycle of violence that escalates from verbal to physical abuse and--in more than 100 cases last year--to murder.

"The trick is to get the services and intervention there before you have a homicide," White said. "Also, if you do not interdict the violence, you get more abusers."

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Domestic violence incidents account for a staggering number of emergency calls to police, as many as 40% in some areas of the city. Last year, LAPD officers responded to 43,000 domestic violence calls and made 9,000 arrests.

In April, 1994, the LAPD implemented the major assault crimes unit. Citywide, the LAPD has 102 investigators assigned to the new units, handling domestic violence, rape and child abuse.

The new program requires each division to work closely with domestic violence social services and implement a new protocol that involves officer training, investigations that have an expanded scope, and guidelines for dealing with victims.

Each of the 18 LAPD divisions, however, is free to develop its own program. Last year, the Southwest division ran a pilot program that united police with the Jenesse Center, which provides counseling and shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

So while officers in Hollywood respond to each call with a domestic violence kit, in the Harbor and Van Nuys divisions, domestic violence volunteers respond to weekend calls in a follow-up unit after officers have apprehended the suspect or made sure the home is safe. No program imitates the Southwest pilot program, but they all try to match its spirit.

"I can't dictate standards and programs that will meet the needs of everyone," White said. "Innovative cops will make it happen in each division."

Getting battered women into shelters where they can receive counseling is one of the most important goals of the program. In the past, victims who requested transportation to a shelter often put officers in a difficult position. The officers wanted to help but did not have the time or resources to find the victim a place to stay. Officers might spend an hour or more calling shelter after shelter only to find that there were no beds available.

Hollywood officers now have only one phone call to make: to the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, which has agreed in advance to place the abused spouse.

"L.A. County domestic violence shelters have been trying for 10 years to establish working arrangements" with the LAPD, center official Julie Lee said. "Our role in the response team is that once the officers identify the woman as being in need of services, then we are the ones they contact for crisis counseling, shelter services or to situate the woman in a safe place."

Ann's ordeal is a prime example of how police hope their improved response to domestic violence calls will work. At his arraignment, Ann's boyfriend pleaded guilty to beating her, was sentenced to 45 days in jail and required to undergo a year of counseling.

But police intervention in what many officers have traditionally seen as family disputes has not always been a priority. One of the biggest problems the department faces in implementing the new program is getting the full cooperation of field officers.

"Street cops don't like to do this touchy-feely stuff," said Detective Rick Papke, who heads Hollywood's unit. They wonder "what's that got to do with ass-kicking police work? They say, 'Give me tools I can work with.' So we want to give them nuts and bolts and tools they can use."

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