Special Reports

Police can create secure ways for victims to get help

Police departments can help domestic violence victims even if they don't know of them, a national expert says.

"You have to create a system where ... if they don't feel safe calling the police, they have an ombudsman or someone they can call and seek help without fear of retaliation from him or his friends," said retired police officer Anne O'Dell.

Departments also need to work harder to screen out potential abusers in law enforcement, and watch current officers carefully for signs of problems.

Standard background checks for prospective officers include interviews with current and past spouses. But in a violent relationship, victims often won't want to talk, O'Dell said.

So departments should use their computer-aided dispatch systems to see whether any 911 calls have come from the applicant's past addresses. Even hang-up calls can indicate a potential problem, she said, if combined with other factors.

In addition, questionnaires filled out by applicants should ferret out the person's attitude toward the opposite sex, O'Dell said.

For example, "Is jealousy a sign of love?" she said. "In your home, who makes decisions about money?" "How do you resolve conflicts in your home?" "How would you feel if your wife went out in a skimpy outfit?"