Domestic violence: Town not immune

In 2010 the Redding Police Department responded to 113 family or domestic dispute calls, in 2011 it responded to 84 and so far this year, it has responded to 92.

“Except for motor vehicle accidents, from a criminal investigation standpoint, our No. 1 call volume involves answering domestic disputes,” said police Chief Douglas Fuchs. “They are also the most dangerous.”

Family violence, general assaults, breach of peace, disorderly conduct, threatening, violating court orders, and harassment are the more frequent calls, he said.

There is an unknown risk when arriving at another person’s home, he added.

“We are there to stop or prevent violence, or to investigate it. Oftentimes when we make a determination to arrest the offender, the victim has second thoughts,” he said. Sometime victims are fearful that their spouse is going to be angry with them, or leave them, or not support them financially anymore, he said, and as a result, they turn against the police officer, said Chief Fuchs.

Officers are heavily trained on how to respond to domestic violence calls, as far as tactics and communication go, he said.

“We never send fewer than two officers to a domestic violence incident,” the chief said. “Our primary mission on calls is to protect the victim for that call and for the future.”

When you ask a police officer why they became a police officer, most will say they want to help and protect people, said Chief Fuchs.

“Generally speaking, many domestic violence offenders are men and most police officers are men. One such example would be if a male offender takes umbrage with the fact that another male is there [protecting the victim]. A female doesn’t generate that type of anger.”

Chief Fuchs said that having female officers respond to a domestic violence call brings something else to the table. Redding has two female officers.

Chief Fuchs said that though Redding is not a big city or town, domestic violence does happen. He said the most common domestic violence call is around 11 p.m. when a spouse comes home intoxicated and an argument ensues.

“Objects get thrown or someone strikes someone else and then we get called,” he said.

The three big triggers for a domestic violence dispute would be finances, infidelity and alcohol.

“Infidelity is a big one,” Chief Fuchs said.” During times of economic stress, as expected and predicted, domestic violence and family dispute calls rose by a fairly significant percent.”

Years ago, Chief Fuchs said, domestic violence used to be treated as a “family matter.”

“If violence is involved, the police need to be involved. We are the gateway to the criminal justice system. We are the gateway to family court. You can’t get there without us,” he said.

The Police Department also receives calls pertaining to child custody issues, property disputes and other conflicts that don’t rise to the level of crime but generally involve the police.

“We have parents exchange their kids in our parking lot because their relationship has gotten to that point,” said Chief Fuchs.

People also call for guidance.

“We answer a lot of those. They usually have to do with questions about custody or divorce decrees that are civil, but one parent is not willing to comply with visitation or property,” he said.

In an effort to further protect victims of domestic violence, the state recently re-wrote police department policies and procedures relating to family violence.

The new policy requires a supervisor who is specially tasked with reviewing all domestic violence complaints and/or actions and serving as a conduit between the police department and the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Communications Supervisor Stephen Schnell will fill this position and will maintain phone contact with the victim in every family dispute, said Chief Fuchs. Mr. Schnell will call to make sure the victim has no other needs and knows the services available, even if no arrest was made.

Chief Fuchs said that given the call volume, Redding has more domestic violence calls than most residents think.

And because of the number of calls police officers go on and the complexity and danger of most domestic disturbance calls, “we need to make sure we get there quickly and handle the incident safely, and we need to have the staffing to do our very best to protect the victim and children of victims,” he said. “The nearly 300 victims over the past three years deserve nothing less.”

Granted, some of those 300 domestic violence calls over the past three years are repeats. With repeat calls, the police make sure the court system handles them as well, said Chief Fuchs.

After the landmark domestic violence case Thurman v. City of Torrington in 1983, “Thurman Law” was passed in Connecticut, making the domestic violence offender automatically subject to arrest, even if the victim does not press charges.

“That case changed the way all of us [police officers] thought about it,” said Chief Fuchs.

He said domestic violence is a cycle. “It is a cycle in marriage repeated or passed down to children who feel that it is a normal family dynamic. It is imperative to be broken, and that is where we come in,” he said.

“If probable cause exists to make an arrest, an arrest will be made,” he said.

In the Police Department lobby, there are informational cards about abusive relationships. The cards outline telltale signs of an abusive relationship and rights a victim has.

“In Connecticut, you have rights which are protected by law,” it says on the card.

The confidential domestic violence hotline is 888-774-2900.

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