Community cooperating to defeat domestic violence
Wednesday, February 15, 2017 1:00 AM
Members of law enforcement are required to receive training every year in aspects of investigating and dealing with domestic violence. That requirement was fulfilled by a recent training with Lorrie Fralick, supervisor of Reno Police Department’s victim services. However, WPD Lieutenant Pam Coats, who organized the training opportunity, had a larger goal in mind. She hoped to increase communication and cooperation among law enforcement, the justice system and victim’s advocate groups that handle domestic violence cases.
Multiple-agency domestic violence training well-received
Learning about domestic violence from someone who experienced it, made some changes in thinking in law enforcement and others who attended a multiple-agency domestic violence training in Winnemucca in January. The Sun asked for feedback from some of those who attended.
HCSO Sergeant Dave Milton said it wasn’t until toward the end of Fralick’s presentation that she told those present that she had been a victim of domestic violence. She said she kept quiet for a long time, only finally coming forward to protect her child. For Milton, that revelation put power behind the things Fralick said in the training.
“We’re just one part of the process but we’re often the first ones there,” said Milton. “Sometimes we’re the last ones to realize there wasn’t follow-up.”
Fralick said those who investigated her case pushed hard to understand what was happening and to get her help. They explained she would not have to be in court to testify. She said she was so thankful to them. She said both law enforcement and domestic violence advocates know the danger to domestic violence victims is great, even — and sometimes especially, after they try to leave the abuser.
“A Temporary Protective Order is only good on paper,” Milton said, commenting on the danger. “It keeps the ones away who don’t want to get in trouble but with drugs or alcohol involved, all common sense and thought process go out the window.”
After hearing from someone who had lived in a domestic violence relationship, Milton said, “I think it helped us see that you keep trying no matter how many times you’ve been called to that house and that relationship. You keep trying and talk until you’re blue in the face to, develop trust and go a little bit deeper in investigations and follow-up more.”
Judge Montero said he was very impressed with the training, saying of Fralick, “She did a good job of presenting on a very difficult topic and made it applicable to our work in the courts and in law enforcement. It gave me more insight into the way victims might respond and might testify in the courtroom, to maybe know a little more of the way they feel.”
Montero said the fact that he doesn’t see many domestic violence cases in district court shows the difficulty both law enforcement and prosecutors have putting and holding a case together. “It was good training to help us ask the right questions, observe the victim and be more aware of the entire surroundings. The message was, there has to be cooperation and communication among the advocates, first responders, law enforcement and prosecutors.”
Montero believes the training will help him be more sensitive to such cases and to consider what can be done in court to ensure a fair opportunity for evidence to be presented. The judge particularly noted a strange thing that Fralick pointed out in domestic violence law. “A violator of a protection order who is not a spouse is guilty of a felony. But if a spouse violates a protection order, they’re guilty only of a misdemeanor. Yet there is more chance of serious injury or death from a spouse than from a stranger. Maybe the laws need to change.”
Winnemucca Domestic Violence Advocate Stephanie Johnson appreciated Fralick’s presenting the issue from many different perspectives. “I think sometimes misunderstandings come because officers have rules and protocol and laws. They really want to help but when it appears the victim isn’t following through, it is frustrating,” Johnson said. “Sometimes a victim may change the story but in a traumatic event, when people are initially doing the questioning, the victim might not remember some details until later. It can look like they’re changing their story, when really, they’ve just had time to gather their thoughts. Sometimes they actually do lie, out of fear of their abuser; it’s extremely common.”
Johnson said she’d never before seen a training locally where judges and the DA’s office were involved. She’s hopeful that cooperation between all those who attended the training will benefit they victims of domestic violence.
Coats knew trainer Lorrie Fralick from when she and Fralick both worked in the Nevada Attorney General’s Office. Fralick has been a domestic violence advocate for 25 years, including her 11 years with Reno PD and her time with the Nevada AG’s Office.
When Coats invited Fralick to do training in Winnemucca, she invited all members of local law enforcement but didn’t stop there. She also invited representatives form the District Attorney’s Office, the judges, and local domestic violence advocates for the training. The response from those invited was great. Winnemucca Police Department personnel, all of Humboldt County Sheriffs Office (HCSO) patrol deputies and Sergeant Dave Milton, Winnemucca Domestic Violence Services advocates and Humboldt AVA (Advocates for Victims of Abuse), Humboldt County Deputy DAs Richard Haas and Nicholas Ziccari, Justice of the Peace Letty Norcutt and District Judge Michael Montero all came to the training.
“Fralick’s training is victim centered,” Coats explained. “It helps everyone in the system understand more about why domestic violence cases are so difficult to investigate and why victims may not be able to respond to interrogation and assist in the investigation.”
“Fralick wanted to train us out of some of our traditional responses and assumptions, where we think the victim wants the suspect caught and prosecuted,” said Coats. “If we receive any false information we may think the whole report is false but that’s often not the case. Many victims are more afraid of the suspect than of the complications of lying.”
Coats said normally what responders learn, when called to a domestic violence case, is only the tip of the iceberg — the violence has been going on for much longer.
Fralick worked to teach the investigators to take their time, to help empower the victim and give some control of the situation back to the victim, to talk to them in a place and time they feel safe. In the training, Fralick said when she was being beaten by her husband, he threatened to kill her if she talked to investigators.
“It gave everyone an idea of why victims aren’t cooperative sometimes, helped them understand what victims are subjected to,” said Coats. “The compassion shown by first responders is extremely important. Survivors who experience a supportive and compassionate response have lower rates of post-traumatic stress complications.”
Coats shared a whole list of reasons why victims don’t come forward.
• fear of not being believed
• not realizing it is a crime
• shame or embarrassment
• fear of retaliation
• fear of family reaction
• self blame
• fear others will blame them
• effort to protect the offender
• a victim may not know who to report it to.
During the training, Fralick shared many stories of actual domestic violence situations — including her own. The combination of hearing the perspective of actual victims along with help for law enforcement and advocates to see domestic violence investigations from each other’s perspectives did make a difference, Coats said.
“I really believe the training breathed life into our community by bringing everyone together,” Coats said. “It’s so important that the common focus puts the victim first.”