Domestic violence reporting reviewed

Better documentation urged

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Prince George’s County’s law enforcement agencies could help prevent domestic-related homicides by adopting a uniform method to document domestic violence reports, a new study concludes.

The top recommendation by the Prince George’s County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team is that all law enforcement agencies in the county - which includes county police, the sheriff’s department, and nearly two dozen municipal agencies - use a standard reporting form when responding to a domestic violence call.

“The supplemental report is critically important to the investigation of a domestic violence incident. The comprehensiveness of the report can be central to following up on a case and to court proceedings,” county Sheriff's Office Lt. Col. Regina Taylor said in response to the recommendations.

The Office of the Sheriff has a specialized domestic violence unit that responds to domestic calls in one police district in the county and pioneered the use of the supplemental report in that police district. The report itself asks detailed questions about domestic incidents, including threats made, history of abuse and injuries sustained by the victim.

The team making the report reviewed domestic violence homicides in Prince George’s County in order to determine at what points law enforcement or community agencies had contact with the victims prior to their deaths and whether different responses could have prevented those deaths. Between July 2004 and July 2011, the county recorded 56 domestic violence-related homicides, according to the report.

From January through November of last year, law enforcement agencies in Prince George’s County received 12,979 calls for service for domestic violence-related incidents, according to the report.

“There is no question that there’s a great deal of work to be done, but our continuing review of domestic violence fatalities only strengthens our understanding of where we can make a difference preventing future fatalities,” said Judith Wolfer, an attorney with House of Ruth and chairwoman of the team that authored the study.

The report, issued last week, makes 12 recommendations that could be adopted by various entities that play a role in handling domestic violence cases, from police to court officials to probation officers.

Among other recommendations outlined in the report is increased training of court commissioners, who can issue emergency short-term protective orders for domestic violence victims, and the immediate review by supervisors of any interim protective orders that are denied.

“We certainly think that type of monitoring and accountability is important,” Michaele Cohen, executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said of the recommendations. “There is a certain judgement factor in any court case. We want to make sure those judgements are reasonable and appropriate.”

The continuing cycle of domestic violence is a problem the report notes could be reduced by imposing enhanced supervision for people convicted in criminal cases involving domestic violence. Specifically it suggests Prince George’s County adopt Baltimore’s approach in notifying parole and probation officers of any protective orders filed against parolees and considering that to be a violation of probation.

An evaluation of the effectiveness of certain domestic violence programs in the county, including the Office of the Sheriff’s specialized unit, was another of the report’s recommendations. If the sheriff’s program is shown to have an effect on successful prosecution rates and in reducing recidivism, the report recommends expanding it to other areas of the county.

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