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Are police officers and their departments able to deal with domestic violence? It depends who you ask

(WYDaily file photo/Courtesy of Pixabay)
(WYDaily file photo/Courtesy of Pixabay)

In cities across the Peninsula, there are dozens of causes of domestic-related incidents, including intimate partner violence, which can be labeled as simple or aggravated assaults, depending on the jurisdiction.

“If they are sexual partners, but don’t meet the criteria in 18.2-57.2 then it’s reported as a simple assault,” said Adam Cooper, crime analyst for the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office. Cooper noted there were 433 non-simple and aggravated assaults in 2017 and 2018.

Other localities, like James City County, started labeling domestic violence related incidents as intimate partner violence, which is limited to individuals who had a previous sexual relationship, Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for the James City County Police Department, wrote in an email.

Domestic violence can take many forms, from insults and gaslighting to financial dependency and physical aggression.

RELATED STORY: Chances are you know someone who’s in an abusive relationship. There’s help out there

Who responds?

In all jurisdictions, a minimum of two officers or deputies on patrol respond to the incident, regardless of his or her gender and if the victim is a woman, she can request a female officer if she doesn’t feel comfortable speaking to a male officer.

Williams said the officers will do their best to accommodate the victims if they are able to.

Law enforcement officers are trained to handle domestic violence situation and all of the jurisdictions offer 40 hours of in-service training, which cover a variety of new topics including cultural diversity, legal issues and workforce development, said Capt. Troy Lyons, spokesman for the YPSO.

The YPSO has in-service training every two years, Lyons said, and sometimes “outside folks” from Avalon, The Center for Sexual Assault and nurse examiners speak with the deputies at the in-service trainings and the LAP liaison trains deputies.

Other jurisdictions, such as the Newport News Police Department, happen once a year, said MPO Brandon Maynard, spokesman for the department.

And on the job training in the form of patrol calls, Maynard added.

What happens?

When police respond to a domestic violence call, officers use the lethality scale for first responders which can trigger the Lethality Assessment Program, aimed at reducing fatalities around domestic violence, according to the attorney general’s office website.

If a domestic situation is considered “high lethality” with factors like being choked or previous incidents, the responding officers can contact local nonprofits, said Sanu Dieng, executive director of Transitions Family Services in Hampton.

Several law enforcement agencies use the LAP except for Williamsburg. Each department gives the victim contact information in the form of a pamphlet with local and national resources or sometimes, a phone call to local nonprofits in the area like Avalon Center in Williamsburg, said John Heilman, spokesman for the Williamsburg Police Department.

Heilman noted the department plans on implementing the LAP program at a later date.

Both nonprofits rely on donations and funding from state and federal grants like the Violence Against Women Act, Dieng said.

How prevalent is domestic violence?

On April 4, police said a woman was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend outside a nail salon in Newport News. However, when the local police department informed the public, it was considered a homicide investigation.

WYDaily offered to look at the records in the person to determine the nature of the relationship between the parties involved. Williamsburg was the only locality to send WYDaily the number of intimate partner violence records.

Here is a breakdown of number of domestic-related incidents in each jurisdiction in 2017-2018 and how much each locality wanted to charge WYDaily for the incident reports.

Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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