Police undergo domestic abuse training in Concord
For Sandra, it began with a slap.
The 21-year-old biology student from Mexico had just entered into a romantic relationship with a woman named Rhonda, who, it was becoming evident, had a violent temper. This was the first instance of actual domestic violence, and there seemed to be two ways to handle it: contact the police or call Miranda, a close friend.
But the choice, at least yesterday, wasn’t Sandra’s to make. It was that of two police officers reading cue cards during a four-hour domestic abuse training session in Concord. The session, attended by 24 officers from across the state, but mostly Concord, opened with a role-playing exercise meant to help officers better relate to and interact with victims of abuse.
“We hope they see what victims go through,” said Concord police Officer Christy Spaulding, who handles domestic violence cases for the department and who organized the session. “That it’s not as easy as just packing their bags and getting out of the house.”
For the pair of officers impersonating Sandra, Mark Schneible of the Concord police and Greg Hildreth, a state police detective, that lesson surfaced quickly.
Reasoning it was too soon to contact the police, they called Miranda, but she merely defended Rhonda, describing her as harmless. They turned to a support group, but that proved fruitless, as members simply berated Sandra for her sexual orientation. They tried to get a restraining order, but all that did was set off another string of negative events: abuse, false allegations that Sandra had been the real abuser, a court hearing, two days in jail, more abuse.
“This girl’s been through a lot,” Hildreth said at one point.
If it seems an improbable spiral of courtrooms, offices and abusive homes, it isn’t; each scenario was based on authentic cases, according to staff at the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire, which organized the exercise.
“Sometimes you have two or three children that you have to think about, sometimes you don’t have anywhere to go, sometimes friends or family give you wrong advice or tell you to go back,” Spaulding said. “A lot of times people don’t make the choices that we would because of so many circumstances.”
Spaulding said the Concord Police Department receives about half a dozen reports of domestic abuse every day – an increase from years past.
The goal for law enforcement, she explained, is to help break the cycle of abuse.
It’s “to let (victims) know that there are choices out there, and they can get assistance,” she said.
As a former state trooper, Hildreth said he has witnessed the significance of that role. One case stood out, he said, of a Canadian woman who had been accused by her male partner of being abusive, but who, after speaking with her, Hildreth learned had in fact been the victim. Hildreth said he eventually testified in court on the woman’s behalf and helped contact someone she knew who was willing to help remove her from the abusive situation.
“That was the biggest thing, was breaking that cycle for her,” he said, recalling a thank-you card she sent him months later. “She always had to go back to him because he was the only one she could depend on. To her, it was a hopeless battle.”
But yesterday’s simulation offered Hildreth new insight, he said.
“Seeing this pattern going through, I can definitely see what she might have been through that I wasn’t aware of,” he said. “My first exposure to (the abuse) is probably the end of a long trail for her.”
“For us, you can easily forget that it might just be another call, but it probably took them a lot to get to the point to call us.”
And that most likely won’t be the last call, either. According to the Crisis Center, it takes assault victims seven to 10 times of leaving and returning to an abuser before they can permanently leave the relationship. One reason for this, staff at the Crisis Center told officers yesterday, is an inefficient and in fact obstructive referral system through which victims seeking help are routinely handed off from one agency or organization to another.
Paula Wall, the Crisis Center’s program director, put it like this: “Imagine you’ve just been abused by someone you love. You go someplace to get help and they give you 12 brochures. In fact, let’s be realistic, they give you 23 brochures. . . . You have finally garnered up the courage to make the first call, and now you make another, and the second person gives you five more numbers to call. You call another person and get two more numbers to call. And you call a third number, and what do they get? The number of the first person you called.”
“We’re trying to eliminate that system,” Wall said. “Because it really doesn’t work.”
Their vision, Wall said, is a center in Concord where representatives from various groups serving domestic violence victims, including law enforcement, could co-locate, “so that when they do try to escape, when they do try to report, when they do try to get services, they only have to go to one place.”
The idea first materialized in San Diego about a decade ago, Wall said, and has since been replicated in cities across the country, including in Rochester. The center there, which opened last year, serves victims throughout Strafford County. Wall said the center she and others envision, which they told officers they’d like to see built in the next three years, would service all of Merrimack County.
Wall said the group has just begun to drum up support for the project, and is in the process of researching possible grants to fund it.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)