Special Reports

In Chicago, big-city resources

Chicago's system for dealing with police officers involved in domestic violence is neither simple nor streamlined. With 13,500 police officers compared with Tacoma's 380, the police department has far more resources and layers of responsibility.

These are the elements that make the Chicago department's program unique:

Advocates: The police department pays the salaries of two domestic violence advocates whose full-time job is helping women and men who say they have been abused by police officers. The advocates' offices are in a secret location so victims won't have to worry about their abusers seeing them there. One of the advocates is also a lawyer.

Independent investigation: Within the police department, one or more investigators from a team of six civilians investigates every domestic violence complaint against officers of any rank for possible disciplinary action. Police officials had found that sometimes victims weren't willing to report their problems to Internal Affairs, because IA investigators were cops who might have worked with accused officers. The standard for discipline is lower than that for criminal convictions, so even if charges against an officer are dismissed, he or she still might be disciplined or even fired for inappropriate behavior.

No mandatory arrest: Illinois' state law, unlike Washington's, doesn't stipulate that violent abusers must be arrested - although police officers are encouraged to make arrests in most cases. Domestic violence advocates in Chicago prefer it that way, because they believe it may make victims more willing to call 911 for help. Victims don't always want their abusers to go to jail - they just need the situation defused, said victims' advocate Jan Russell. Victims often believe sending their abusers to jail for a few hours will just make them more angry, she said.

The one-hour rule: Like Tacoma, officers who investigate a domestic violence report and discover a fellow officer is involved must call a superior to assist in reporting the incident. Unlike Tacoma, officers must complete an incident report within one hour. Some flexibility is permitted if the officers are busy, but the goal is to deflect the alleged abuser's efforts to plead for time to cool off, or to call in a favor. If officers wait too long to file a report, they could be given a month's suspension without pay.

Buy-in: Police Superintendent (the job Tacoma calls chief) Terry Hillard supports all efforts to reduce officer-involved domestic violence, which gives the program official sanction and credibility even when individual officers aren't happy with it. To publicize the program through the ranks, department officials gave a half-hour lecture at roll call every day for a week when the victim advocates were hired in 1994, and officers learn about the program when they're hired and learn again when they receive promotions.

  Comments