New tactics in Lycoming County shy away from the “break it up and hope for the best” method, and instead allow police officers to make arrests and provide immediate help to victims of domestic abuse.
At a crime scene, where officers may have once simply handed a pamphlet to a victim of domestic abuse, new tactics help determine risk level and make an immediate connection with a crisis representative.
“Domestic violence is very serious and it’s very dangerous,” said District Judge William Solomon said. “If you can save one person, help one person, it’s worth doing.”
Joining the Old Lycoming Township police department 31 years ago, Solomon’s first case out of the academy was a call for domestic disturbance.
At the time, standard procedure dictated that the officers simply separated the individuals involved, waited for them to calm down and left the scene.
“Break it up and hope for the best,” Solomon said.
New laws and policies have since given officers the ability to arrest a suspect if there was evidence of physical abuse. But it wasn’t until 2012 when Old Lycoming Township became the pilot program for the lethality assessment.
With this method, instead of simply handing over a pamphlet of local resources, officers are trained to see signs of domestic abuse and ask the victims questions to gage if they are in danger. The officers carry a dedicated cell phone they can use to call a Wise Option’s representative so the victim can get help immediately.
“A lot of times the abuser is very territorial or controlling,” he said. “They would not allow the victim to get out of their sight to make a phone call.”
Lycoming County Judge Joy McCoy recommended the lethality assessment to Solomon around 2012 when he was the Old Lycoming chief. Solomon was passionate about the program and “sold it hard,” throughout the county.
McCoy and Solomon agree that the county courts and first responders have seen a lot of improvement in the field of domestic violence. A dedication to cooperation between the courts and programs such as Wise Options is important to helping the problem as a whole, McCoy said.
“You don’t know how many people you save,” McCoy said. “The hope is that we’ve stopped a lot from happening, but I have no way to count that.”
Even though Solomon conceded that it’s often hard for police officers to change their tactics, the lethality assessment has been well received countywide, he said.
Domestic violence reports continue to rise each year, McCoy said, adding that while it may be due to increased awareness, a rise in violence throughout the community also means domestic violence will rise.
New training and communication between county law enforcement, crisis programs and the courts are essential to deal with the problem, McCoy said.
Abuse reports have reached about 320 so far this year. During his time in Old Lycoming Township, Solomon has witnessed two homocide cases and one suicide as a result of domestic violence.
While new techniques and education have helped shed some light on the issue, Solomon doesn’t believe the issue will ever cease entirely.