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Software Aids Battle Against Home Violence

February 05, 1997|JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANCASTER — Investigators are about to add a new weapon to their arsenal to fight domestic violence in the Antelope Valley.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will soon test a software program that profiles domestic abusers to assess just how dangerous they are to their households and whether their violent behavior is likely to escalate. The program will be tested at the sheriff's Lancaster station.

It's a service that detectives at the station--one of three selected to participate in a pilot program--are eager to use due to the area's high volume of domestic violence incidents. In recent years, deputies have made more felony domestic abuse arrests in the Antelope Valley than at any other sheriff's station, and the area's child-abuse cases have run as much as 50% above the county average.

Last year, Antelope Valley deputies responded to 1,369 incidents of domestic violence, Sgt. Ron Spear said.

"We have a significant amount of domestic violence out here," Lt. Tom Pigott said. "So we're really hoping this will help."

The Mosaic-20 program was designed by Studio City-based Gavin de Becker, a nationally recognized violence-prediction expert whose computer programs have been used by the California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Supreme Court Police to protect the governor, legislators and justices.

The program attempts to assess which cases possess characteristics associated with escalation, continued violence and spousal homicide. So far the program has worked well at the sheriff's station in Carson, which began testing it in October.

"In the cases where we have used Mosaic, it has turned out to be a plus," said Sgt. Henry Davis, who supervises Carson assault investigators. "It gave the prosecuting team an idea of the type of individual that we're dealing with, more than just a report alone or relying on a victim's testimony since some victims tend to be uncooperative."

Davis said when deputies at his station go out on domestic violence calls, they are directed to ask victims a series of 13 questions, including "Has the suspect ever been jealous about you in the past?" and "Is he intimidating or manipulative?"

Detectives evaluate the victims' responses, enter the information in the computer program and red-tag cases where it appears the violence is likely to continue or escalate. They then call the victims and ask them a more thorough series of questions--totaling 48--to get a better picture of their abusers. A report is compiled and passed to the district attorney's office, where prosecutors use the information to get a better idea of the type of abuser they are dealing with.

"A lot of times these women are so in denial about their situations that these questions really end up telling us something about the suspect," Davis said.

If an assessment reveals a high likelihood of escalation, a victim will be warned of the threat to her safety and referred to a shelter or counseling. Describing domestic violence as a "national epidemic," Sheriff Sherman Block said he hopes De Becker's program will be a major step toward stopping the cycle of violence.

Meanwhile, Pigott at the Lancaster sheriff's station is eagerly awaiting the arrival of what he hopes will be the first of six computers his investigators will use to run De Becker's program.

"Until we get into the program and start using it, we don't know what the impact will be," Pigott said. "But we're optimistic it will be an effective tool for us."

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