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Cops to put it on the line with victims of domestic violence

By Karen Florin

Publication: The Day

Published August 16. 2012 4:00AM

Area police officers will begin delivering an important message to some of the people they encounter during their shifts.

"You are in danger of being killed."

With the goal of preventing domestic violence homicides, the area's first responders will implement a Lethality Assessment Program next month, posing 11 questions to the victims of serious or repeat domestic incidents.

If the victim answers "Yes" to certain questions, the officer will immediately place a phone call to the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut's domestic violence hotline and will encourage the victim to speak to an advocate and seek help immediately.

Without mincing words, the officer will tell the person they are at high risk of being killed.

"We want you to use the phrase, 'kill,'" Lt. Jeffrey Nixon of the Waterford Police Department said at a training session at Waterford police headquarters Wednesday.

"It's not being blunt. It's not being rude," Nixon said. "You do it with empathy. You put it right out there."

Officers from nine area police agencies attended the women's center's lethality training program along with representatives from area courts, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and domestic violence advocates.

Under the "old way" of handling domestic incidents, the police officer would respond to the call, question the participants and perhaps make an arrest. He or she would hand the victim a card listing local resources and write a report. The case would then be handled by the court system. Now police, courts and other agencies will be working together to help victims before it's too late.

The police will be able to put victims in direct contact with the women's center, which has a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, transitional housing program and other services available for victims of domestic abuse.

Connecticut averages 16 domestic violence homicides annually, according to the Connecticut Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee. Nationally, there are about 1,500 domestic violence fatalities a year. Studies have shown that the risk of violence increases substantially during the time when the victim is leaving the relationship.

Emma Palzere-Rae, director of development for the women's center, said the Lethality Assessment Program was developed in Maryland, which has significantly reduced domestic violence fatalities since introducing the program.

"When I talk to people in the community, every once in awhile somebody will say, 'The women's center saved my life,'" Palzere-Rae said. "We kind of hear that and even here we forget that it really is that serious."

The researchers found that only 4 percent of domestic violence murder victims nationwide had ever availed themselves of domestic violence program services and that in half of domestic violence-related homicides, officers had previously responded to a call at the home.

At least two domestic violence homicide cases are pending in New London Superior Court.

In 2010 in Groton, Luis Otero allegedly strangled his ex-girlfriend, Madeline Brisson, and stuffed her body in a freezer. Otero was a known batterer. He had served a year in prison for beating up another girlfriend in 1995 and binding her with masking tape when she tried to break off their relationship. He is in prison awaiting trial on a murder charge.

In 2009 in Norwich, Chihan Eric Chyung allegedly shot his wife of three weeks, Paige Bennett, after the two argued about a fishing rod he had purchased. Chyung had no prior criminal record and claims the shooting was accidental.

After being held in prison for three years, Chyung posted a $1 million bond this week. He is awaiting trial on a murder charge.

k.florin@theday.com

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Lethality questions

Police who respond to domestic violence incidents will pose the following questions to victims in cases that they think could turn deadly. Certain combinations of "Yes" answers will trigger a phone call to a counselor at the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut.

1. Has he/she ever used a weapon against you or threatened you with a weapon?
2. Has he/she ever threatened to kill you or your children?
3. Do you think he/she might try to kill you?
4. Does he/she have a gun or can he/she get one easily?
5. Has he/she ever tried to choke you?
6. Is he/she violently or constantly jealous or does he/she control most of your daily activities?
7. Have you left him/her or separated after living together or being married?
8. Is he/she unemployed?
9. Has he/she ever tried to kill himself/herself?
10. Do you have a child that he/she knows is not his/hers?
11. Does he/she follow you or spy on you or leave threatening messages?
Source: Maryland Lethality Assessment Program

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