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Laws crack down on physical abuse

SHERRY MAYS, Sierra Sun

Laws have changed and so have the ways domestic violence is handled with law enforcement and in the courts.

As laws stiffen, anyone suspected of inflicting injury in a domestic violence case is considered a felon unless otherwise found innocent.

“Domestic violence is a serious crime,” said Sgt. Tom Carrington, of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Truckee Substation. “People are starting to realize if they smack someone around, they will probably go to jail.”

Carrington added that the new laws should have been in place sooner.

“Domestic violence calls are the most dangerous calls we respond to,” he said. “With the emotions that are involved, it’s a guess as to what could happen. We make felony arrests at the first sign of the slightest injuries. It’s becoming a deterrent now.”

But is it?

To date in 1998, the sheriff’s office has received a total of 111 calls for domestic violence. Of those 47 were verbal arguments and 64 were for physical violence.

The calls included:

Involving mates: verbal – 34, physical – 48

Involving family members, including children: verbal – 10, physical – 12

Involving ex-partners: verbal – 3, physical – 4

Carrington and NCSO Dispatch Supervisor Chaun Gass said although the calls are decreasing, the incidences of domestic violence are not.

With Truckee’s population on the rise, the cases are also rising.

Arrests made in 1998 totalled 16 men for spousal abuse, 3 men for battery and one female for battery.

“People have to realize domestic violence is a crime,” Gass said.

Truckee Superior Court Judge Andy Holmer said he has also seen an increase in the amount of violence in Truckee.

“Across the board, the level of conflict is the highest I’ve ever seen in Truckee,” he said. “From my vantage point, we are seeing much more domestic violence because it is reported more. There is far more conflict on the interpersonal level than we have ever had.”

Holmer said that although the laws point to prosecution for batterers, the cases are not cut and dry because of the same emotions that Carrington said make response to domestic calls dangerous.

“Domestic violence is far and away the toughest thing court has to deal with,” he said. “On one hand, the laws make it clear about prosecution, but on the other, emotions sometimes drive the phone call to the police. Victims often don’t want to prosecute.”

Holmer said the courts are held accountable instead of the batterers in some cases where the victims don’t want to testify or prosecute and the court is forced to.

“Some people leave the court with a bad taste for the system,” he said. “The current law is too broad. Sometimes it’s not the best for the case.”

Where success has been found outside the criminal court is with civil cases, according to Holmer.

He said Tahoe Women’s Services and NCSO are working hard to educate victims about restraining orders.

Carrington agreed, and said having the courts support midnight calls for emergency restraining orders, has helped.

“If we need to get a restraining order in the middle of the night, the judge is there to sign it,” Carrington said. “Tahoe Women’s Services is a large part of this process.”

Holmer said that because the laws have muddied the water, even though they have tried to take the pressure off the courts, the courts have attempted to stop the “revolving door” of batterers.

“Domestic Violence is a big social problem,” he said. “Domestic relationships are built over years. Sometimes we (the court) do absolutely the right thing and sometimes we do absolutely the wrong thing. By the time people reach the courts, it is determined that they cannot appropriately solve their domestic conflicts.”

Conflict resolution, something that deputies do daily, is important to the process. Verbal arguments can stop there with proper resolution. Divorce conflicts can be resolved in the same way through mediation. Holmer said there needs to be more help for people with no children and who are not in the midst of divorcing.

“There is a large segment of the population where domestic counseling is not readily available,” he said. “We need to be more proactive. Divorce counselors are reactive. Even Tahoe Women’s Services handle abuse once it has already happened. It will take a while to turn this around, even with the tremendous effort by agencies like Tahoe Women’s Services.”

Carrington said he supports the new laws as protection for victims.

“When I started (in law enforcement) 28 years ago, we would respond to domestic violence calls and try to cool down the situation even if the wife was sitting there with a shiner (bloodied eye),” he said. “Women would almost have to be a bloody mess before an arrest could be made. We would go back and go back and go back. It was typical police work.”

The tool that deputies use today is injury. Deputies handle domestic violence cases as felonies, taking statements, photos and evidence of the abuse.

“There are full investigations done today,” Carrington said. “We either try to mediate or we make arrests, so that we don’t have to come back.”

The difficulty arises with the “triangle” that most often is found in domestic violence cases – alcohol, methamphetamines or economic difficulties.

“Alcohol is present in 80 percent of our domestic calls,” Carrington said.

Holmer agreed and said drugs and money commonly follow suit.

“A lot of victims don’t want to prosecute because of the economic hardship they might face if a spouse is put in jail,” Holmer said. “It’s part of battered spouse abuse when the victim is fearful of the end result (conviction).”

SIDEBAR

October is packed with events sponsored by the Tahoe Women’s Services in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Ongoing – Purple Ribbon Campaign. Wear purple ribbons as a sign of support for the end of domestic violence.

Ongoing – Everybody Deserves to Feel Safe Campaign. A kick-off for the campaign is a poster contest where district children will draw posters of where they feel safest.

Beginning today – Volunteer training begins for people interested in working on the crisis line, in the Safe House or on other TWS projects.

Beginning today – Hands Are Not For Hitting Campaign. TWS focuses on elementary school students with activities aimed at teaching positive hand uses.

Oct. 28 – Healing the Wounds of Violence Against Women. TWS honors victims of domestic violence with a candlelight ceremony.

For information, call 546-7804 or the Truckee office at 582-9117.

STATISTIC: The Bureau of Justice reported that although divorced and separated women comprise only 7 percent of the population in the U.S., they account for 75 percent of all battered women and report being assaulted 14 times more often than women still living with a partner.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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