Group fights domestic violence |

Group fights domestic violence

Rich Hogbin is an expert in a realm police officers historically like to avoid – domestic violence. It’s a topic that society has ignored for decades, but through education, attitudes are changing.

“I care more,” Hogbin admitted. “Before it was just another call for service. Just another part of the job.”

The reason behind Hogbin’s awakening was the Domestic Assault Response Team. It began through a three-year federal grant, and combined the South Lake Tahoe Police Department with the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center.

A three-member team, consisting of Hogbin, family advocate Lorena Gonzales, and community educator Rafael Elias conducted follow-up visits with victims and began intervention early. Only a year after its start, the program lost funding. Still, it was enough for the department to recognize the program’s potential and effectiveness. At the time of the cancellation, Brad Bennett, now chief of the department, said the program resulted in fewer repeat calls, and the department was looking for ways to fund a reduced version themselves.

A year and a half later, the program is still hanging on through the hard work of Hogbin and legal advocate Tamara Utzig of the women’s center.

“I spend two days on patrol and two days on D.A.R.T.,” Hogbin explained. “We get all the domestic violence cases and we try to do something on every case. But now that I’m only part-time, I have to be more selective. We tend to focus on the more severe cases.”

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in the beginning was changing the way officers approach domestic violence calls, Hogbin said.

“Training on how to handle a domestic violence call used to be through videotape,” Hogbin said. “If cops go out, if it’s at all possible, we want them to make an arrest and get as much evidence as possible. I think we do a better job as a group now than we used to. We’ve identified domestic violence as a real concern in our community. We’re starting to get more cops involved.”

In 1993 South Lake Tahoe was ranked 38th highest per capita – out of 552 California jurisdictions – for reported domestic violence. The women’s center experienced a 34-percent increase in domestic violence calls from 1993-95. In 1996 the South Lake Tahoe police handled 300 reported cases of domestic violence. The 1997-98 case load was under 200.

Deputy District Attorney Pete O’Hara said that after driving under the influence, domestic violence is the No. 2 misdemeanor crime in South Lake Tahoe.

“It’s hard to gauge whether the number of cases is decreasing because of the transient nature of the community. But, there are less than 10 cases of recidivism that I can think of. We don’t have many repeat offenders,” O’Hara said.

Hogbin estimates that the department averages at least two domestic violence calls a day. In January officers responded to 37 calls that ranged from simple arguments to batteries with injuries. Officers are required to document every call that involves a battery, even if the victim doesn’t want to prosecute.

“I’m finding I have less to do because the cop who went out on the call already did everything,” Hogbin said. “They put the victim in contact with all the different resources and helped them get an emergency protective order.”

Hogbin said his involvement helped him understand the dynamics behind domestic violence and dispelled some myths.

“It was very hard for me to understand. I had a woman whose husband put a cocked gun to her head tell me that she didn’t think it was domestic violence because he didn’t pull the trigger. That’s a little hard to take.”

In September, the D.A.R.T. team will enter its third year. Utzig said South Lake Tahoe is fortunate in the relationships that the team has forged.

“The program gave us a working relationship between the police department and the women’s center that we didn’t have before,” Utzig explained. “As we go to other communities, I realize more and more how lucky we are.”

Both Utzig and Hogbin emphasized that their working relationship won’t compromise anyone’s confidentially who seeks help at the women’s center. No one has to talk to the police if they don’t want to, Utzig said.

“Our objectives are similar, the victim’s safety is the paramount issue,” Hogbin added. “If making an arrest is going to compromise the victim’s safety I have to take that into consideration.

“We still may not solve the problem of domestic violence, but we’re giving it our best shot.”

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