According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 10 million people per year in this country are abused by a domestic partner; 20,000 calls are made each day to domestic violence hotlines; and 276 people have died from gun-related domestic violence acts this year.
Of course, real life is not a simple collection of raw numbers and data. It’s often much more “real” than that.
“Most of the time, when an officer responds [to a domestic situation], he is tasked with peace- keeping, and then he has to make himself available to handle other complaints,” said Officer David Moyer of the Millsboro Police Department.
“He does whatever is expedient for that moment in time, and a lot of times that is separating parties or coming up with some other kind of peace-keeping solution — but we aren’t solving the core issues of the problem.
“The program here allows the officer to go above and beyond what the officer on the road can do,” continued Moyer. “It’s not family counseling, but in a way it is, because we’re trying to help fix that core issue.”
The program Moyer is describing is a new effort by the Millsboro Police Department to improve the manner in which the department responds to domestic violence and sexual assault cases.
The effort was birthed, Millsboro Police Chief Brian Calloway said, when he realized his officers would show up to a complaint, and then show up again at court — and that was their only contact with the families or homes. Calloway began hunting for federal grants that could help his department allocate one officer to do “follow-ups” with people in those periods between a horrible incident and a court date.
It was through his research that he discovered the Criminal Justice Council in Wilmington.
“The way this works is they first say, ‘We need to look at the numbers. What type of cases? How many cases are you handling annually?’” explained Calloway. “Then they could determine from that what they could do to help. From that data, they said we didn’t have enough cases to fund it totally, but they would fund some of the salary and benefits. So, the Town reviewed this and decided to accept the grant.”
Any Millsboro officer can respond to a call, as was always the case. But, now, according to Calloway, officers will forward the domestic-violence cases to the one officer dedicated to the calls, and he will then make contact with both parties.
“It’s not going to be one or another, or picking sides,” explained Calloway. “It’s both parties, so we could find out if there’s something we could provide. It could be something as simple as providing a phone number to social services. It could be helping with transportation issues to meet court dates. It could be resources, such as someone needing food.”
Calloway has also rediscovered just how generous the people and businesses of Millsboro can be when someone needs a hand. He said the Christian Storehouse has partnered with the police to help donate food. Others have donated things including new locks for a home.
“For us to be able to buy new locks, that’s a little more difficult than just running out and buying locks — there’s an audit trail,” he explained. “We found that many of our businesses were willing to donate these things. It’s really just a great program, and that’s just one side of it.” Calloway also pointed out that the officer in the Millsboro Police Department is also tasked with providing assistance in sexual-assault cases. It is easier on the victims with one officer being charged with these tasks, according to Calloway, because that is just one officer for the victim to know and be comfortable with, as opposed to being shuffled from one officer to another.
The officer will go to training in Texas this August, and then a sexual assault seminar in September. And it will not be some cushy position.
“Oftentimes, when we respond to these situations, it’s the result of something that’s been brewing for months,” said Calloway. “And we are just brought into the middle of these situations and have to try to figure out what’s going on.
“We don’t know about conversations that happened three months ago, or actions that happened three months ago. We know what happened right then. It can be a dangerous position, because you just don’t know what you’re getting involved in. I’d say domestics are some of the most dangerous situations a police officer can find himself in.”
Calloway said he knows his officers won’t be able to solve domestic violence or sexual assaults in the town by creating a new position, but he hopes they can help.
“The real hope of this program is to let the public know that we have resources to help them when they need them,” said Calloway. “So, the hope is if you are a victim... that victim would know we have resources and can help them in the future. Victims know we are going to stay involved throughout the entire process.”
By Darin J. McCann