Gov. Brian Kemp has relaxed the state's shelter-in-place orders, but with the number of coronavirus cases in Georgia still rising, many people have continued to stay home. The forced togetherness can lead to a pressure-cooker environment that worsens family disputes.
Consistent training in how to talk to families benefits victims but also helps officers deal with sometimes delicate situations, victim advocates say.
Victims often feel embarrassed or ashamed of what took place before they called 911 and become reluctant to talk when police arrive, added Cynthia Pearson, a secretary with the Fulton County Family Violence Task Force (FVTF).
A raspy voice could indicate a victim was choked. A blood vessel that has popped in the eye might be a sign of a punch in the face. And if a victim changed her clothes before police get to the house, it could mean she experienced some strangulation causing her body to involuntarily urinate, according to police engagement advocate Amber Goins who works with for the Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV).
“The idea of training is to get officers to investigate in a way that if the (victim) doesn’t want to participate, it’s okay because there is enough evidence,” Goins said.
Sandy Springs’ victim advocate Barsin is also a licensed clinical social worker and works with patrol officers and detectives in the Criminal Investigation Division to be sure domestic victims are handled differently from victims of other crimes and understand what resources are available to them.
Unlike when law enforcement handles domestic violence calls, when an advocate responds, those who repeatedly call for help can develop trust in an advocate, she said.
Johns Creek doesn’t have a dedicated victim advocate but the police department has referred people who need additional help to the Victims Assistance program in the Fulton County District Attorney’s office, Hood said.
Many Johns Creek police officers have trained in a 40-hour class, Law Enforcement Response to Domestic Violence, taught by the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, Hood said. Some officers have received more specialized training from other agencies including the Fulton County Solicitor General’s office on crisis intervention and mental health awareness which helps them respond to domestic calls.
Before the pandemic, Roswell planned to hire a victim advocate for the police department but that’s now on hold due to a tighter budget, Thompson, said. Similar to Johns Creek, Roswell relies on Fulton County’s resources when providing help and information to domestic violence victims.
Roswell officers respond to more domestic disputes or domestic violence reports and traffic accidents than any other type of 911 call, according to Police Officer Sean Thompson. That’s not surprising because Roswell is primarily a residential city. Even so, the city did not see a percentage increase in the number of calls this year. Thompson said, the police department works to ensure their officers get regular training to be ready to respond.
Pearson said domestic violence training in police departments can sometimes fall down the list of priorities.
“I’ve been doing this work for 12 years,” Pearson said. “Police know when they get a domestic call, they have to be ready because it can result in a hostage situation or a shooting. There is so much information to know in handling these situations but training is not always consistent.”