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Phila. Rethinks How Police Probe Domestic Abuse

The Philadelphia Inquirer via YellowBrix

December 29, 2009

She said the department needs strong partnerships with domestic violence agencies so officers can make targeted referrals.

“I need for officers to have some avenue to do more than just hand out a card,” she said.

Carol Tracy, the executive director of the Women’s Law Project, cochairs the domestic violence committee. She said creating the kind of partnership Giorgio-Fox wants was “critical.”

“The referral capacity is there, but they’re stretched,” she said.

Four main agencies deal with domestic violence in the city: Women Against Abuse, Women in Transition, Congreso de Latinos Unidos, and Lutheran Settlement House.

“Maybe this crisis will bring us all together to have a more comprehensive strategy for how we’re going to deal with domestic violence in Philadelphia,” Tracy said.

Domestic violence is not limited to romantic partners — it includes anyone living together as a family, such as brothers and sisters, children and parents.

This year’s homicides included two sons who killed their fathers and a daughter who killed her mother. Two fathers killed their children.

Several other large cities use similar databases to track and respond to domestic violence, and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has focused on domestic violence at two previous jobs.

Ramsey led a project to reduce recidivism among abusers when he was with the Chicago police and, as chief in Washington, he employed data in some of the same ways as planned for Philadelphia.

Statistics kept by police and other agencies show a jump in domestic violence overall this year.

In 2008, Philadelphia police received more than 89,000 domestic calls. In first six months of this year, the last period for which figures are available, police responded to 59,600 calls.

Keafer and Tracy both said the downturn in the economy could be driving up domestic violence, but they could not be sure that was the only cause.

“We’re doing everything else the same way,” Keafer said. “The only variable that seems to have shifted is the economy. That seems to be the best educated guess.”

Women Against Abuse also has seen a jump in hotline calls, and the agency’s shelter has been forced to deny twice as many people entrance this year.

“Every time a hotline counselor has to turn someone away, it’s a heartbreaking experience,” Keafer said. “The thing that really drives us crazy is that domestic violence is preventable.”

Said Giorgio-Fox: “We need to feel comfortable at the end of the day that we did and they did everything we can. At the end of the day, we will still have failures, but not because we haven’t done everything we can.”

Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or

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