Discussion examines domestic violence cases from prosecution, defense, NYPD viewpoints
The Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, in conjunction with the Kings County Civil Court Gender Fairness Committee, hosted a panel discussion in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The discussion surrounded the “Anatomy of a Domestic Violence Case,” and representatives from the New York City Police Department, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office and the Brooklyn Defender’s office discussed how a domestic violence case is handled from beginning to end.
“Domestic violence is prevalent. It is disruptive,” Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Genine Edwards, chair of the Gender Fairness Committee, said in her opening remarks.
NYPD Deputy Chief Kathleen O’Reilly informed attendees that there are approximately “250,000 radio calls for domestic violence a year” throughout New York City, and the task placed upon the officers responding to the calls is a heavy one. Officers are trained to think of domestic violence calls as homicide calls. This seems like a bizarre tactic, until O’Reilly explained that many domestic violence victims withdraw their complaints so, as in a homicide, the police officers have to approach domestic violence cases as though they are dealing with a victim who cannot speak for him/herself.
New databases have been created to further assist victims of domestic violence, since “arrests are not always made” on domestic violence calls, O’Reilly noted. The new database groups anytime a victim has been subject to domestic violence or any other crime in any borough. This is helpful, O’Reilly stated, because more often than not, perpetrators of domestic violence move their victims from borough to borough to avoid scrutiny from police. The grouping database allows the police department to make sure — in their estimation — that they are doing everything they can to keep the victim safe.
“We don’t want to further victimize the victim,” O’Reilly noted. “Officers must take care when determining who the victim is in contrast to the primary aggressor.” Understanding that there are times where officers do not to handle cases in a proper manner, O’Reilly gave out her phone number and email address so that she can be contacted directly of any police misconduct.
Deirdre Bialo-Padin, domestic violence bureau chief in the Brooklyn DA’s office, put forth the assertion that the criminal justice system is beneficial for victims of domestic violence. “When a case is in the criminal justice system, the system allows for protection of the victim, as it is often the first opportunity for the victim to find out what social services and resources are available to them.”
While the criminal justice system is not the “best opportunity,” Bialo-Padin added, tempering her earlier statement, it is an opportunity for the victim to “create a social service safety net.”
Defense attorney Jamie Burke began her presentation by noting a significant difference in terminology. Legal defenders of accused domestic violence perpetrators refer to victims as “complaining witnesses.”
Burke stated that while her goal as defense attorney is to address the “needs of the defendant,” she as well as the criminal justice structure has to address the needs of the family. As an example, Burke noted that a defendant might have a drug and alcohol problem that leads to violent outbursts. In that instance, the defendant needs rehabilitation and therapy, not necessarily jail time. “If the needs of the defendant are not attended to, the domestic violence may continue or worsen,” Burke cautioned.
There are numerous programs and services available for domestic violence cases, said Diana Torres, one of 23 social workers for the Brooklyn DA’s office. “Our job is to make sure that we are addressing the concern and trauma of our clients,” Torres said. “It is an ongoing effort.”
Lt. Patrick Mulcahy, NYPD liaison to NYC’s Administration for Children Services, informed the audience that even if you are not a victim of domestic violence, you can call and report cases to the police, especially in instances where a child is involved.
“There is mandatory reporting for child abuse,” he noted. “If you witness a child being abused or have knowledge that a child is witnessing the abuse of his parent or another member of his household, please let the police or ACS know.”
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