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Phila. Rethinks How Police Probe Domestic Abuse

The Philadelphia Inquirer via YellowBrix

December 29, 2009

When a Philadelphia police officer responds to a domestic violence call, the officer probably does not know if the home has a history of problems or whether someone living there has an active restraining order.

If there are no obvious signs of violence, the officer typically can do nothing more than leave a business card with hotline numbers.

And if no police action is taken, the initial report the officer files — known as a “48” — often says simply “domestic violence, adjusted by police.”

But after an unexpected surge in domestic homicides this year, the Philadelphia Police Department is rewriting the book on the way officers investigate, report, and make referrals in domestic abuse cases.

Last year, there were 21 domestic homicides. As of Dec. 11, there had been 35 — a 67 percent increase. Since then, there have been two more homicides that eventually could be classified as domestic.

This jump comes with incongruous timing — the city’s overall homicide rate has dropped 23 percent in the past two years. As of yesterday, the city had logged 300 homicides, compared to 390 in 2007.

While domestic violence is impossible to eradicate, police leaders believe the changes they are planning will make officers more effective in dealing with the problem and getting help to victims.

An updated police directive will not be ready until after the new year, but the focus will be on better collection and use of information.

Police districts will be required to keep their own databases on domestic calls, by name and address, which will show victims and homes with repeat calls.

Dispatchers will be required to provide that data when an officer responds to a call, and to report whether anyone in the home has obtained a protection-from-abuse order from the courts.

“The point we wanted to make is there are warning signs,” said Deputy Commissioner Patricia Giorgio-Fox. “We’re looking for good predictors for future violence.”

There were warning signs in several of this year’s homicides.

Since January 2008, police had fielded 10 calls from the North Philadelphia home of Willie Lamont Scott, three of which were classified as domestic calls. On Feb. 21, Scott fired more than 10 shots into his ex-girlfriend, Larosa Gonzalez, in front of the couple’s 4-year-old daughter, police said.

Police received 21 calls from the home of Renee Farrow-Nesmith, seven of which were related to domestic violence. In June, her husband, Marvin Nesmith, shot her and another woman during a Father’s Day celebration at their Overbrook home, according to police.

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