Gabrielle is still alive.
But she’s convinced her case will only get the attention of detectives when she’s dead.
Gabrielle, who asked that her last name be withheld, is consumed with fear her ex-boyfriend’s threats will turn violent. For much of the past year, since the first time she called police, she’s been acutely aware of strangers walking near her as she goes to work, sleeping with a golf club in her bedroom and, now, carrying a wrinkled copy of her order of protection in her left back pocket.
Domestic battery accounted for almost 45,000 of more than 120,000 domestic disturbance 911 calls to the Chicago Police Department in 2013.
On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his domestic violence task force’s creation of a pilot program to drill down on cases that pose a high risk of homicide and said an updated domestic violence training has been given to recently promoted sergeants and lieutenants.
Emanuel announced the formation of the task force late last year, a sign that he was paying attention to a problem members of the state’s attorney’s office, the Department of Family and Support Services and the police department had been meeting to discuss for a long time. Twelve people from these groups and victim’s advocacy organizations meet monthly as the task force develops the pilot program and redesigns training for all police officers, an update that domestic violence victims and their advocates say is long overdue.
But the renewed emphasis comes after years of declining attention within CPD to domestic violence. Relations between police and victims have been at a particularly low point during the past seven years, said Dawn Dalton, the executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network. (Dalton left the network on Friday after taking a position with another organization.) The domestic violence unit originally was led by a police sergeant; now the unit is part of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy and led by CAPS Deputy Director Sandra Wortham, who is not a police officer.
It was Dalton who wrote a letter to the editor published in June by the Sun-Times in response to comments made by Police Supt. Garry McCarthy regarding the arrest of former CeaseFire director Tio Hardiman for alleged domestic battery. Prosecutors dropped the charge when Alison Hardiman, his wife, testified she didn’t want to pursue the case.
McCarthy, answering questions from a reporter about a city contract with CeaseFire, said he was aware how embarrassing public attention over the arrest might be, that his heart went out to the Hardimans and that “anybody involved in a crisis like that, you know, they’re all victims.”
Dalton’s letter called McCarthy’s comments “antiquated,” and she said it’s wrong to call an alleged perpetrator a victim.
“We all have a role in ending, not perpetuating, domestic violence. It is time that Supt. McCarthy finds his,” Dalton wrote.
“It was time to say something,” Dalton said of her letter.
In the past, “whenever there was a situation with a victim, a problem with the way a police officer handled the case, an advocate would reach out to a sergeant and they would work with the district,” Dalton said. If there was a problem with the thoroughness of the police report, CPD would work to get a supplemental report right away, she added.
In 1999, the department issued a special order establishing a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer in each district. Now, instead of those officers, Wortham said there are CAPS officers in each district who are “responsive” to domestic violence issues.
The district domestic violence officers were “something the department made clear needed to stay,” Wortham said, though they now may have additional responsibilities.
“It was a back and forth,” Dalton said. “We’ve seen a steady decline. If it’s not a priority from the top, it’s not going to be priority at the bottom.”
Dalton’s Sun-Times op-ed got her a call from the mayor’s office and provided the spark for Emanuel’s involvement in the task force, according to multiple sources.
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When asked how police are currently trained to deal with domestic violence calls, CPD spokesman Adam Collins said officers receive 10 hours of training in the Chicago Police Academy, which is more than the six hours required by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.
In the academy, CPD recruits are shown a domestic situation and asked to document it in a case report, said Deputy Chief Keith Calloway, head of the Chicago Police Academy.
Wortham said some officers receive additional training on basic response policy through CAPS, though she couldn’t say how many.
Cops at roll call currently watch e-learning modules and videos about five times a year and have had short courses led by domestic violence advocates and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, Collins added.
But until they restarted recently, the last time the state’s attorney’s classes were given regularly was 2011, and the course from the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network occurred once, in fall 2012. Dalton said the battered women’s network training targeted sergeants — a “train the trainer” course — but among the more than 200 officers who registered, just one was a sergeant.
Redesigning the training for police needs to be an attempt to combat officers’ desensitization to domestic violence calls, said Cordelia Ryan, executive director of Connections for Abused Women and their Children, which runs shelter and outreach programs.
“Perception is everything,” she said, because officers need help changing “a systemic attitude” about domestic violence. “It’s the culture. There’s still a macho culture, a bias toward the guy in the room.”
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Gabrielle’s ex called two days before Thanksgiving and said, “Hello, b—-. I am out of jail, and I am coming to f— you up.”
She went to the closest CPD headquarters, the 1st District, to report this third violation of her order of protection, but an officer said unless she had a physical copy of her order with her, he couldn’t help.
She got the copy and took it to a police district near her home, and an officer there told her any cop could have found the order on a computer. There was no need for the paper — all law enforcement officers have access to a statewide database that contains active orders of protection.
“I am asking for their help,” Gabrielle said.
A few days after her complaint at the station, a Chicago detective assigned to her case told her he had a homicide to deal with and didn’t have time for her.
“When you start calling the police a lot, [they feel] ‘It’s a love thing, we don’t want to get involved,’ ” Gabrielle said.
As a paramedic, she said she understands that some police can be jaded from dealing with battered women who go back to their abuser, or calls coming from the same home over and over, but that’s not her. She’s only tried to get away, she said.
“No one cares until I turn up as a victim, as a statistic,” Gabrielle said.
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Much rides on the police activity after a 911 call: Evidence must be collected for prosecutors, a decision about an arrest must be made, an enraged abuser could create a dangerous situation for all present.
Riding in an ambulance, Gabrielle said she has seen police arrive at the scene of a domestic dispute and say, “The next time I get a call from this house, I am going to arrest you both.”
Victims’ advocates are heartened by the mayor’s interest in domestic violence, but they say there’s much work to be done.
Stephanie Love-Patterson, associate director of Connections for Abused Women and their Children, said she hopes the training can go toward “changing behavior, attitude, awareness” of police officers responding to domestic violence calls.
Love-Patterson said she knows of many “wonderful” police officers who have helped victims that her organization assists and houses in shelters, but the new training will need to “raise awareness that [police] need to take victims’ cases seriously.”
Love-Patterson and Ryan, executive director of Connections, say they have had clients interviewed by police in front of their abuser, or had police leave without arresting anyone and the victim is harmed again.
Dalton said she knows of situations where a bilingual abuser has been the only one interviewed by police at the scene where a non-English speaker is the victim.
So far under the task force, six of the 22 police districts have received roll-call trainings from the state’s attorney’s office on preparing domestic violence case reports. City officials on Thursday said the pilot program in the 14th District asks patrol officers to fill out a new “assessment form” created by the task force to identify domestic violence victims most at risk of injury. These most vulnerable victims could also be given counseling, legal representation and personal check-ins from officers, and their abusers could face “prioritized prosecution” from the state’s attorney’s office, officials said.
Only recently promoted sergeants and lieutenants have been retrained so far, but Collins said the goal of the instruction is to “create something that can be delivered consistently across the department, systematic and repeatable.”
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Gabrielle said she has woken up with the man standing over her bed twice, as her son slept in a nearby room.
She won’t keep a gun in the home for fear her son could be harmed with it.
She won’t let the situation hurt her children any more than it already has.
“I’ve made him mad, I’ve attempted to hold him accountable, and no one is taking him seriously,” Gabrielle said.
“He’s freer than I am.”