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Pittsburgh police get help for victims of domestic violence

Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Heather, a hotline advocate, fields crisis and counseling calls at the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. An advocate is available 24/7 to answer the hotline phone at (412) 687-8005 or toll free (877) 338-8255.

By Margaret Harding
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 11:51 p.m.
 

In just two weeks, Pittsburgh police convinced 36 victims of domestic violence to get help as part of a new program meant to reduce intimate partner killings.

“We've made a difference,” Detective Tamara Hawthorne said on Tuesday. “I know just by being on the phones. Just in talking with them and letting them know someone is with you. I have no doubt we've made a difference.”

From the program's Dec. 16 launch until Dec. 31, officers asked 89 people a series of questions to determine the likelihood they are in danger of intimate partner violence, said Lorraine Bittner, legal director of the Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, which is working with police on the lethality screenings.

“The fact the police take the time to go over this with them immediately and ask those questions … seems to be getting through to the victim in a way that other things haven't,” Bittner said. “It makes an impact when the officer says, ‘I'm concerned for your safety; look at these indicators.' ”

Officers identified 68 people deemed to be in high-danger situations, Sgt. Eric Kroll said.

“I think that's what we expected,” Bittner said of that figure. “They're already at a point where there is police intervention.”

Police supervisors with department-issued cellphones call the Women's Center hotline to put those victims in touch with an advocate.

“Even if the victim is in no condition to talk, we follow up,” Kroll said. “Nobody gets left behind.”

Of the 68 high-risk people, 57 talked with an advocate, and 36 of those went to services, Kroll said.

“If you get a victim into services, you're less likely to have a repeat call with them … and the victim is more likely to show up to the (preliminary) hearing,” Kroll said.

The program is modeled after the Maryland Lethality Assessment Program. City Council passed legislation in June requiring Pittsburgh police 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 a Dec 31, 2012, call at the home 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 police standoff at his apartment two days later.

Of the nine domestic-related homicides in Allegheny County last year, only one victim had sought services, Kroll said.

“I teach the recruits domestic violence training,” said Kroll, an instructor at the police academy. “I tell them it will save somebody's life and they won't even know it.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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