Coalition seeks better domestic violence response
• Isolation. “You have to be with me.”
• Monitoring whereabouts. “Tell me who you are with.” “I want you to be safe.”
• Moving away from family and friends.
• Monitoring social media, email and asking for passwords.
• Explosive behavior.
• Financial control.
If you are in danger, call 911.
Advocate Safehouse Help Lines: 970-945-4439 or 970-285-0209
Terry Wilson, the Glenwood Springs police chief, says nothing in his 32-year law enforcement career has changed as much as how officers handle domestic violence calls.
“It used to be that you separated the parties for the night and told the aggressor, ‘Don’t go home till you’re calmed down,’” he said.
Authorities and advocates learned through the years that doesn’t work — that domestic violence typically builds over time and can lead to “very violent, very dangerous, potentially fatal situations,” Wilson said.
In fact, all three of Garfield County’s homicides this year — sheriff’s deputies’ justified shooting of Brian Fritze at the end of a chase on Interstate 70 in February; the machete killing of Carminda Portillo-Amaya in Carbondale a week later; and the beating death of 1-month-old Sarah Ogden in June in Parachute — involved domestic violence, law enforcement records assert.
So today, law enforcement works with advocates, courts and counselors to standardize responses, gather better information at the scene of an incident and help ensure the proper prosecution and treatment, Wilson said.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but it’s a year-round mission for Julie Olson, director of the Glenwood Springs-based Advocate Safehouse Project, which provides a range of services including a shelter house for abuse victims and children.
She is leading the formation of the Garfield County Domestic Violence Coalition, which includes Advocate Safehouse, law enforcement agencies including Glenwood and Silt police and the Garfield County Sheriff’s Victim Response Team, and the Ninth District Attorney’s Office. Garfield County last year was selected by the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence as one of four locations in the state to start a coordinated community response team to combat domestic violence in rural areas.
The idea is to train police officers to get better, deeper information on domestic violence calls to help prosecutors and otherwise hold abusers accountable, and to improve victims’ safety. The coalition supports training and reviews responses to continue to improve.
It is notoriously difficult for abuse victims, 85 to 95 percent of whom are female, to leave their abusers.
Olson said the coalition approach includes engaging victims more effectively so they are more comfortable with the legal system and also so they might leave the bad situation sooner. On average, victims leave abusers seven or eight times before staying away for good — Olson would like to see that cut to three or four times.
“Especially in this valley, you’re really stuck,” she said.
Imagine a woman not native to the area in a part-time or low-paying job who has a young child or two, an old car and lives with an abuser who provides the bulk of household income. It’s hard to break away. In addition, abusers often control finances and details of life, such as bank accounts, credit cards and the mobile phone plan.
Olson said community support is essential from family, friends, a church or other sources for victims to effectively start anew. Just coming to the safehouse, where the average stay has increase to 70-90 days, isn’t enough, she said.
From Wilson’s perspective, among law enforcement’s biggest concerns “is how much we aren’t called. It’s a secretive, private crime.”
But it’s a crime. The police want to hear from people in danger.
Short of a physical crisis, Wilson said, “Go get counseling. If only one partner sees a problem, then there’s probably a problem with the other person.”
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Fire investigators are still working on determining the cause of Tuesday’s house fire in Glenwood Springs, which left no one injured but caused extensive damage.