GRANITE?FALLS?- Domestic violence is a crime difficult for law enforcement to deal with. Victims often don't want to press charges, or there is a he said/she said situation that has to be unraveled. And domestic disturbance calls are dangerous for law enforcement officers.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Minnesota West Community and Technical College hosted a course for 20 area police officers and domestic violence advocates. Trainers Henry Levenson, a 32-year veteran of law enforcement, and Alex Tangois, 22 years experience, walked the participants through a wide range of perspectives on the issue.
According to Levenson, domestic violence can be physical assault, or threats and statements that put fear into the victim. These can occur between married and cohabiting people, but a threat between individuals who were college roommates 20 years ago can also be legally construed as domestic violence in some jurisdictions.
The course was created by Levenson for the University of Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Initiative and funded by federal grants through the Rural Law Enforcement Training Initiative.
"This course is being offered to rural communities across the country through a grant by the Department of Justice to provide training to rural communities," Levenson said. "We've found in many rural areas they don't have the resources and quite often don't get the training the larger agencies and communities get on domestic violence."
The purpose of the course is to give the tools necessary to deal with all aspects of domestic violence.
Subjects covered included the dynamics of domestic violence, the power and control model of abuser/victim interaction, how to gather evidence and what to look for, identifying the primary aggressor, stalking, the signs of strangulation, and laws defining what domestic violence is and how it can be prosecuted.
"Domestic violence typically involves some kind of intimate relationship, husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend with a lot of dynamics," Levenson said, "and when officers get on the scene there'll be conflicting statements. We're giving the officers some resources and best practices on how they can determine exactly what they have, so if an arrest is warranted they arrest the right person and don't put the victim of this crime in jail."
Although in 85 to 90 percent of cases the abusers are male, domestic abuse by female partners does occur. The training is designed to give officers the ability to tell the difference between aggressor and victim, according to Tangois.
"Often there will be injuries on both parties," Tangois said. "They're learning how to tell if they were offensive or defensive injuries, so even if the abuser has injuries and claims, 'hey that person scratched me,' they can tell the scratching took place when somebody was trying to get away from a chokehold or being pinned down to the ground."
Stacy Vinberg, assistant county attorney for Yellow Medicine County, was asked by the trainers to attend the course to serve as the authority on Minnesota law.
According to Vinberg, domestic violence calls in rural areas present different problems than urban environments.
"It's the sheer isolation factor," Vinberg said. "The police are at greater risk."
Tangois said responding to domestic violence calls is one of the most dangerous for law enforcement officers and it is recommended that at least two officers respond whenever possible.
But small-town police forces and county sheriffs' offices are often stretched thin and domestic violence training would not be a high priority if it weren't for the free courses offered through MinnWest.
"We don't always have access to training the bigger cities do because of budget issues," said Officer Angie Milo of the Montevideo Police Department. "Up until yesterday I thought we had a lot of domestic violence, an average of two to three calls a week, but according to these guys from New Orleans that's not so much."
Lincoln County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Struntz said what he's getting out of the course is how to best handle domestic violence situations, better ways to determine the aggressor, and how to make sure the victim is taken care of.
Justine Tweit is an advocate with the Women's Rural Advocacy Program office in Granite Falls who came to see the law enforcement side of the issue.
"I work with victims and I wanted to see how they respond to it," Tweit said.
Tweit admitted that advocates sometimes get frustrated with law enforcement when they don't call the 24-hour crisis lines on behalf of victims of domestic violence.
"But on their side, sometimes they can't get ahold of an advocate," Tweit said.