A new Pittsburgh police program will try to connect domestic violence victims with resources to reduce the risk of more violence, police leaders said on Friday.
Beginning Monday, officers responding to intimate partner domestic violence calls will ask the victim 11 questions meant to gauge the potential for homicide or serious assaults in the future, Acting Chief Regina McDonald said at a news conference at headquarters in the North Side.
Officers will use a department-provided cellphone to call the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh hot line to put the victim in touch with an advocate if they determine the victim is at a high risk of further trouble.
"Domestic violence will only get worse if it's not handled," said Sgt. Eric Kroll, an instructor at the police academy.
The program is modeled after the Maryland Lethality Assessment Program. City Council passed legislation in June requiring officers to undergo domestic violence training. That legislation was prompted by the death of Ka'Sandra Wade, 33, who called 911 a day before police found her shot to death in her Lowell Street home in Larimer.
Two officers responding to the call on Dec. 31 left when Wade's boyfriend, Anthony L. Brown, 51, of Point Breeze, spoke to them through a window but refused to let them in. Brown confessed to killing her in a note and committed suicide during a standoff at his apartment on Jan. 2.
Shirl Regan, president of the Women's Shelter, said national statistics show that only 4 percent of victims of domestic violence-related homicides previously reached out to resources such as women's shelters.
"The goal is to immediately make a relationship between the victim and a service provider," Regan said. "We know there is going to be a lot more individuals coming forward and getting help."
Two detectives in the city's sex assault and family violence squad will follow up and reach out to victims who were unable to talk to an advocate.
"You reinforce what the officer has already done," said Detective Tamara Hawthorne. "It gives them confidence that you can do this, you can break away."
Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 President Mike LaPorte said he has concerns the violence assessment and subsequent hot line phone call could affect response times and officers' ability to answer other calls.
"At the same time, if it does get someone the help they wouldn't have otherwise gotten, then it's worth it," LaPorte said.
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