Every year local police respond to hundreds of calls for help from people who are victims of domestic violence. Those calls often leave officers with a unique set of challenges.
“Every time our officers go out on a call of domestic violence that’s one of the most dangerous calls that they can go on,” said Winnebago County Deputy Lisa Ballinger.
Now Winnebago County Sheriff’s Deputies will get new tools to deal with those victims because of a $1.5 million federal grant. The ‘Lethality Assessment Program’ gives domestic violence victims a connection to social services after officers conduct a risk assessment. Police rate the level of danger a victim is in by asking a series of questions including if the offender has ever threatened anybody with a gun, or made a death threat. Officers then pair victims with a team of advocates, walking them through the process of getting help after the officer leaves the home.
“I want the community to know that law enforcement, the advocates, and the victim service providers can all work together and we’re all working together to have one common goal and that is to decrease domestic violence,” said Ballinger.
Ballinger works in the domestic violence unit for the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office. She says in 2016 there were 1,136 domestic incidents with 285 cases of domestic battery, including one murder in Winnebago County alone. The good news is that more domestic violence victims are reaching out to police, but that has also increased the caseload for officers and the courts.
“We really hope to interrupt the process of domestic violence for these victims, so there are not future violations of their orders of protection and future criminal cases coming through,” said Winnebago County Domestic Violence Court Advocate Sierra Kellen.
Senior Deputy Brian Woodford took part in the training and says the new program will make it easier for victims to get help.
“Leaving houses before saying ‘I hope they get help.’ Well now I can make sure by having the victim call an advocate and establishing some sort of safe ground, or safe house. So just the plan is great,” said Woodford.
Ballinger says no matter what the circumstances are, it’s never too late to ask for help.
“There is help out there, so if someone knows somebody who is the possible victim of abuse, or someone themselves is being abused, please reach out. You don’t have to be afraid anymore,” said Ballinger.
Rockford Police Officers will also participate in the program. If the study proves to reduce domestic violence incidents, it will become a permanent policy.