A comprehensive plan for handling domestic violence incidents in Prince George’s County is being implemented to ensure cases are addressed in a similar manner by law enforcement, health and social service departments, and domestic violence groups.
The county’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team — which consists of representatives from various agencies that come in contact with or specialize in domestic violence cases — released a report in May with 12 recommendations for county groups, including the sheriff’s department, police department, state’s attorney’s office and domestic violence organizations. The review team was formed in 2007 after the passage of state legislation to identify key points in domestic violence responses that, if changed, could have prevented a fatality.
The primary call to action from the report is that all law enforcement agencies use a Domestic Intervention — Supplemental Report form when responding to domestic violence calls, and that all first-responders to domestic violence cases handle them similarly. The primary difference among first responders is the amount and types of questions posed to victims and witnessess involved in a domestic dispute, said Prince George’s County Sheriff Melvin C. High, who added that having a uniform response would ensure thorough questioning and documentation.
“Using the form will provide sooner resolution to the things that are deriving from domestic violence,” High said of the planned use of a form that includes detailed questions to be asked in every domestic violence incident. “[Domestic violence] is a very challenging issue, and it’s certainly an issue for this entire community.”
There were nearly 13,000 domestic violence calls reported in Prince George’s in 2011, according to the study, and more than 55 domestic violence homicides reported since mid-2004.
The sheriff’s office is a county leader in dealing with domestic violence issues, which is why it is providing the training to other agencies, High said.
Other recommendations from the report are to expand the use of a specialized domestic violence unit where needed. Currently, specialized domestic violence units operate in District 3 of the Office of the Sheriff, the Laurel Police Department and the Bowie Police Department.
High said Howard University in Washington, D.C., which has school officials on the review team, has been tasked with studying the feasibility of expanding the specialized unit and seeing if areas with a specialized unit are better served.
Lt. Col. Regina Taylor, the sheriff’s office’s bureau chief of field operations, said the agency’s specialized unit will review the supplemental reports for other law enforcement agencies that do not have specialized domestic violence units and have the sheriff’s office contact victims directly who may be in need of assistance under the new review team recommendations.
“The Supplemental Report is critically important to the investigation of a domestic violence incident,” Taylor said. “The comprehensiveness of the report can be central to following up on a case and to court proceedings.”
The report also calls for more oversight into the application process for protective orders, and if a court commissioner denies an application for a protective order, that request should be reviewed by a supervisor, the report states. The team also suggested that a policy be implemented that requires active supervision over every domestic violence case and that domestic violence agencies work closely with faith-based groups so that resources and education is more available to victims.
Judith Wolfer, the managing attorney for Baltimore-based domestic violence center House of Ruth Maryland, heads the review team and said the report was distributed to Gov. Martin O’Malley, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and county agency leaders. She said this is the first published report from the team since its formation.
“There is no question that there’s a great deal of work to be done, but our continuing review of domestic violence fatalities only strengthens our understanding of where we can make a difference in preventing future fatalities,” Wolfer said. “These recommendations can focus our community’s ability to make important changes in the way we work with victims or perpetrators and ultimately prevent deaths.”
The full report can be seen on the Maryland House of Ruth website.