Emanuel, Alvarez unveil new domestic violence plan

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Chicago Police officers will identify households at “high risk for domestic violence” and target them for special attention in hopes of preventing another beating or homicide–under a pilot program unveiled Thursday that could go citywide by summer’s end.

“I’m proud that we have a task force. I’m proud that we have a coordinated response. I’m proud that, for the first time, there’s gonna be a true risk- assessment,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a news conference at Association House, 1116 N. Kedzie.

“[But], I’ll be prouder when we’ve reduced our homicide rate. I’ll be prouder when…we don’t have to do repeat attendance at a home because there’s another time somebody was beat beyond what you can look at….We are not done….I’m hoping…this pilot will be fully implemented throughout the Police Department by summer’s end so we ensure that every individual who’s a victim is not a repeat victim.”

At least initially, the program will be confined to the Shakespeare District, 2150 N. California.

Patrol officers there will fill out an “assessment form” that asks a series of questions aimed at identifying, what Emanuel called the “flashing yellow light.”

Sample questions include: Is there a gun in the house? Has the offender used or threatened to use a weapon against you or your children? Has he threatened to kill you or your children or prevented you from leaving, calling police or seeking assistance? Is there a court order against the offender? Have you left the offender or separated after living together or being married due to domestic violence? Has the offender experienced recent changes that caused more stress?

Based on those answers and past criminal history, officers will pinpoint victims at an “elevated risk of injury” and target them for special attention.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said detectives will prioritize the household for “immediate follow-up investigation.” A “flash message” will be distributed to patrol officers notifying them to “be on the look-out for the offender immediately.” The victim will be encouraged to call the Chicago Domestic Violence Help Line.

The full-court press will also include everything from phone-calls, in-person “well-being check-ins,” and counseling to legal representation and a “Targeted Abuser Call” program in the state’s attorney’s office that “prioritizes prosecution” of offenders with a criminal background.

Emanuel and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez also disclosed that the new “domestic violence-specific” training protocol for police officers they announced in December is under way, with recently-promoted sergeants and lieutenants undergoing seven hours of training.

Six of Chicago’s 22 police districts have received training on ways to improve domestic violence case reports so vital to prosecution.

Emanuel said the “most important part” of the training is encouraging victims to make that first phone call that represents a cry for help.

“It’s a simple thing. But, if you live in a house with a person you think you love and loves you and is emotionally and physically abusing you, being willing to make that call has so many complex emotions…Doing it while a police officer is there gives you that space you don’t really think you have,” the mayor said.

Noting that ten percent of Chicago homicides are triggered by domestic violence, Emanuel said, “Every one of `em almost, there was a call prior to that. Every one of us know where somebody has said, `Why didn’t they just leave?’ They knew about the yelling. Nobody did anything….It takes a village. That was referred to raising a child. This is about, it takes a village to protect a family.”

McCarthy said his officers respond to hundreds of domestic violence calls each day.

“Each of them is a highly stressful situation that is very dangerous for everyone involved, including the officers,” the superintendent said.

“But our work in partnership with the service providers, victims’ advocates and prosecutors can make a meaningful change in the lives of these victims and begin to break the cycle of domestic violence.”

The laser-like focus on domestic violence is nothing new in Chicago.

For 22 years as mayor and eight years before that as state’s attorney, Richard M. Daley championed domestic violence initiatives and branded the problem a “national plague.”

He led the fight to create a Domestic Violence Court, created the Mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence and chose a prominent women’s advocate to coordinate the city’s fragmented response to, what he called a “far too common problem that society refuses to admit.”

Daley also tripled city funding for domestic violence programs after a surge in calls, created a toll-free, 24-hour hotline for victims of domestic violence and moved domestic violence to the top of the Police Department’s agenda with liaison officers in each district and increased training for the rank-and-file.

He even threw his political support behind a legislative package designed to protect future victims of domestic violence victims that spills over into the workplace—by requiring companies to provide unpaid leave to battered women and insurance companies to cover them.

In spite of that full-court press, the Chicago Police Department was accused of failing to take domestic violence complaints seriously, in part because some police officers are involved in abusive relationships themselves.

That apparent indifference was on display on the night in 2002 when Ronyale White was murdered by her estranged husband after her frantic calls to 911 went unanswered.

The first two officers dispatched to the scene were the last to arrive at White’s home. The city subsequently agreed to a $4.25 million settlement with White’s children.

In mid-December, the Emanuel administration was ordered to rehire–and give $234,000 in back pay to– an $80,256-a-year budget analyst fired in October, 2011 for violating the city’s residency requirement after being forced out of her Chicago home because she was a victim of domestic violence.

The Illinois Department of Labor sided with Valerie Tolson after concluding that Tolson was given “lip service” in her request for a residency “waiver” and that City Hall “had no clear and established policy” for making “workplace accommodations” for victims of domestic violence, as required by state law.

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