The University of Connecticut Police Department has a specific protocol to respond to domestic violence incidents, which dropped by nearly half from 2015 to 2016 according to the annual Fire and Safety Report.
In 2015 there were 45 reported incidents of domestic violence, in 2016 there were only 26, a 42 percent decrease. In 2014 there were 32, 26 of which were reported as dating violence at the time in accordance with the old Connecticut Family Violence laws. In 2013 there were 23 reported domestic and dating violence incidents.
UCPD Lt. Justin Gilbert said that, due to the nature of violent domestic relationships, UCPD has a special protocol in place that focuses on helping victims.
“Domestic violence has a pattern to get increasingly severe. So, if, at some point, we can get (the victim) the services to break that pattern, we have a better chance of stopping that pattern of violence,” Gilbert said.
When an incident of domestic violence is reported, UCPD ensures the situation is safe and determines that an act of domestic violence has occurred. If they make this determination, police will then make the proper arrests and begin working with the victim to ensure she/he is guided to the appropriate resources, Gilbert said.
Police will administer the standard Lethality Assessment for the victim to determine if the victim is at a “high risk” of their partner killing them, Gilbert said.
If the victim responds yes to any of the first three questions on the assessment, they are automatically considered to be at a high risk. These questions ask: Has (your partner) ever used a weapon against you or threatened you with a weapon? Has (your partner) threatened to kill you or your children? Do you think (your partner) might try to kill you?
If the victim answers yes to four of the next 11 questions, they will also be considered high risk. These questions include factors like if one’s partner has or can easily gain access to a gun or if one’s partner acts jealous or controlling.
“If we determine (the victim) is ‘high risk,’ (domestic violence counselors) try to get things in place for that victim and make sure they’re safe moving forward…(and) that (victims) know where they can go to get help,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said many people in violent relationships are often in denial or unaware of the true danger of their situation.
“This screening…if you come through it as high risk, then (we) would tell the person that people in the similar circumstances have been killed,” Gilbert said. “Sometimes telling them that information: ‘you are in a very serious situation’…maybe that will give them a kind of spark there to realize what they’re actually in.”
Gilbert said having these protective protocols is instrumental in intervening in the escalation of violence that characterizes violent relationships.
“You need to step in and take action, you need to intervene and stop that pattern so people don’t end up seriously injured or killed,” Gilbert said.
55 percent of murders of women from 2003 to 2014 were the result of domestic violence, a total of 5,510 deaths according to a study by the CDC across 18 states.
UCPD will also help the victim develop a short-term safety plan, coordinating with domestic violence counselors or shelters if need be, Gilbert said.
“What we try to do, if at all feasible, is come up with a short-term safety plan for that victim whether it be to stay somewhere else…that they can be away from where that person would know where they would be if (their abuser) get(s) released from custody,” Gilbert said.
The arrestee is given the next available court date so a judge can put a protective order in place as soon as possible. UCPD can also issue a temporary protective order, Gilbert said.
A study conducted by the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund found that the highest percentage of incidents in which police officers are intentionally shot are domestic violence incidents.
21 percent of the total 39 fatal incidents occurred when officers were responding to domestic violence incidents, a higher percentage than any other kind of incident during the course of the four-year period the study covered (2010-2014).
Gilbert said UCPD also treats violence between roommates as domestic violence incidents because they are cohabitants.
“It’s kind of a weird thing,” Gilbert said. “We do domestic violence even though it may have been a random (assignment) you may not have met that person before, but you get into a fight…and we process that under domestic violence.”
Gilbert said UCPD understands the gravity of having appropriate domestic violence protocols.
“We take it seriously to keep people safe and get people the resources they need to have safe relationships in their lives,” Gilbert said.