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Police, nonprofits work together to halt domestic abuse

Published: Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

CRYSTAL LAKE – Sometimes the call for help comes in the middle of a shouting match and sometimes it comes through from the silence on the other end.

Huntley Police Sgt. Linda Hooten said officers can never be sure what to expect on domestic disturbance calls, but their response must be more than that of someone only looking to enforce the law.

Hooten, who also serves on the Family Violence Coordinating Council, said officers often walk into a hostile environment during domestic disputes, even from the victim, who may not want to see a significant other in trouble. But, Hooten said, it is important that victims know there are options other than remaining in an environment where abuse could escalate from verbal to physical and even become fatal.

“From the outside, you can always see a clear solution,” she said. “But sometimes it’s difficult for the victim on the inside to see the light at the end of that tunnel.”

With October marking the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Hooten and other area police officials said it is a good opportunity to shed light on a problem that law enforcement is attacking aggressively.

In Huntley, officers have been giving victims informational brochures about community resources, engaging in follow-ups and participating in frequent training. The result has been a decline in domestic incidents, falling from 277 in 2011 to 223 in 2012 and 160 so far in 2013.

But other departments, such as the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, have seen a fairly consistent number in domestic violence calls.

In 2011, the department fielded 735 calls and made 206 arrests. The arrest number dropped slightly to 201 in 2012 and is at 142 so far in 2013. Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said the numbers are not necessarily bad, as it means victims are not scared to come forward.

Zinke said the more domestic violence becomes part of public discourse, the better.

“If even one person is not coming forward, then we are not doing our job,” Zinke said. “Everyone needs to feel safe and secure calling the police or a counseling agency if they are in an abusive situation.”

Robert Lowen, chief of Woodstock Police Department, said one challenge in domestic violence calls not often seen in other incidents is the gray area when it comes to making arrests.

Lowen said that when domestic disturbances happen, the victim often will call police before the situation escalates to physical abuse. When the officer arrives, the parties involved often can be talked down, which Lowen said is great, but it also leaves the door open for multiple offenses.

“We’ll get called to some of the same addresses 10, 12, 15 times,” Lowen said. “A lot of those repeat situations are not arrest situations. Unfortunately, it is still verbal arguments and things like that.”

That is why Lowen said it is important officers go above and beyond enforcing the law and let the victim and offender know what services are available.

When people find themselves in a relationship that is not “well-balanced,” Lowen said, services such as the Family Violence Coordinating Council and Turning Point – the only shelter in McHenry County – offer information and intervention.

Those who find themselves falling into the same pattern of aggressive and abusive behavior have many options in counseling for drug and alcohol abuse – the primary cause of domestic violence, Lowen said.

Lowen said officers have to be as adaptive as ever with the changing nature of domestic violence because of more family members living under one roof.

“We’re constantly going through special training and extra training. We always send at least two people per call, too,” Lowen said. “You never know what you’re going to encounter. It’s son-father, brother-sister. It runs the whole gamut of family members now.”

Turning Point has played a crucial role in training police officers throughout McHenry County about the relationship between enforcing domestic violence laws and offering services to address the root of those problems.

Executive Director Jane Farmer said the seamless relationship and continuous training is important to stopping domestic violence. In 2012, Turning Point served 1,252 adult victims and 204 children – 47 of whom were under 5 years old.

The organization also had 154 people go through its 26-week partner intervention program and handled about 4,300 calls on its hotline.

“The relationship with police is very important, and I think it has grown and changed as we figure out our responsibilities,” Farmer said. “They can go ahead and handle the perpetrator while we handle the victim.”

Bev Thomas, director for the local Family Violence Coordinating Council, said a community symposium on substance abuse and family violence will be held from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 25 at McHenry County College in the Luecht Conference Center.

The $15 admission includes breakfast, lunch and multiple workshops and presentations about men’s issues, teens and alcohol and other contributing factors to domestic violence. Those interested can call 815-455-8593 for information.

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