9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Help Me, My Daddy is Hurting My Mommy"

I don't remember where I got this article.

It is common knowledge that domestic violence incidents are among the most volatile situations public safety professionals encounter. Statistics show that a female is battered every nine to twelve seconds in this country. It is also estimated that between 70 and 87% of their children witness the battering. As a result, children are making an increasing number of 911 calls reporting these incidents.

Virtually every domestic violence call presents unique problems for the 911 dispatcher. When a child is the caller, these scenarios can escalate faster and become even more dangerous and complicated. An awareness of the issues surrounding these calls is necessary to increase victim and responder safety.

Most dispatchers are taught to keep the caller on the line while they journalistically gather information (where, who, what, why, when, descriptions, weapons, etc.). Often, an important factor is overlooked: if a man is beating his wife, why won't he hurt his kids? What about the child on the phone?

Domestic violence is a brutal and often fatal act. The call usually begins with screaming, tears and hysteria, immediately throwing the dispatcher into a "military operation." The dispatch of officers is paramount, but what about the other people in the house? If a child is witnessing the act, it is likely that the batterer can see the child as well. Hence, that child is standing smack in the middle of what we refer to as the "kill zone." Do men kill their children in these chaotic moments? Yes they do! Why? According to experts, the key words are power and control. Psychological disorders coupled with jealousy can result in uncontrollable outbursts of violence.

To compensate for this, the dispatcher may have to give unique law enforcement pre-arrival instructions to a child caller. If possible, they should ask the child to go next door and call back, especially if the batterer has a gun, knife or other life threatening weapons in his possession. It is also important to determine if there are any other children in the house. An often-overlooked but critical factor is what type of phone the child is using. It may be a portable or cell phone that allows the caller to exit the "kill zone" while remaining in contact with the dispatcher.

Responder safety is a major issue in domestic violence incidents. Consider the alarming statistic that approximately 82% of police officers injured or killed met that fate prior to the arrest phase. With this in mind, we should examine their main complaint about dispatch, which is almost universally reported as not getting the correct information. A telecommunicator can help responders tremendously by gathering information on the safest method of approach, especially when duplexes or apartment houses are involved. What will the officer see as he/she looks at the building from the street? Where are the children? Knowledge of potential danger zones is vital for officer safety and cannot be emphasized enough.

Another unique situation that can arise is "role reversal," where responding personnel become the "bad guys." At times, the victim or an observing child will turn on the police after an officer executes a custodial situation. For telecommunicators, this once again underscores the importance of alerting responders to the dangers involved. Remember that getting the number and location of weapons is critical! Your police officers and medical response personnel have a better chance of safely aiding victims if they know more about what they're walking into.

In addition, dispatchers must treat every call as a unique situation and not allow stereotypes to influence their actions. A solid awareness of the issues behind domestic violence and child callers, combined with strong call-taking skills and information gathering techniques, can greatly assist in saving lives.

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