Erie DA’s New Unit Gets Cell Phones to Help Victims


Cell phones can be turned into weapons in cases of domestic violence. Abusers can follow their victims by phone or monitor calls, heightening an atmosphere of fear and possessiveness.

The Erie County District Attorney’s Office is working with other agencies to change the situation. They want to make the cell phone a tool of help and security for victims of domestic violence.

The initiative is part of the local effort to tackle domestic violence in a standardized, data-driven way, an approach that District Attorney Jack Daneri is modeling after the 11-year-old . Unified Erie program to combat armed violence, especially among young people.

Daneri, the district attorney since 2009, said the domestic violence initiative grew out of the work of the Erie County Domestic Violence Action Alliance, created in July 2019 in response to seven domestic violence homicides in Erie County in 2018.

The alliance is made up of agencies such as the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, the US Attorney’s Office in Erie, police departments, health care providers and social service groups. Its goal is to better coordinate the response to domestic violence by using data to help identify patterns and individuals known to be abusers.

Coordinated approach:New Erie Domestic Violence Action Alliance turns to data and teamwork to target abuse

To tackle domestic violence on a macro level, Daneri created a domestic violence unit in his office earlier this year. With funding from Erie County Council approved in juneDaneri hired a new deputy prosecutor at the end of September who will oversee the unit and specialize in prosecuting domestic violence cases. Domestic violence cases represent about 15% of the office’s 4,000 average cases per year.

At a micro level, Daneri and other law enforcement officials tackle the basic issues they have learned are critical in trying to reduce domestic violence.

“We looked at what has worked in other parts of the country,” Daneri told me.

Among these fundamental issues that have been addressed elsewhere: the availability of cell phones to victims.

Cell phones are essential for gathering information and providing resources, two of the most important aspects of the new family violence unit.

To get information, police officers who investigate domestic violence in Erie County administer what’s called a Lethality Assessment Protocol – or LAP – for victims.

Among the 11 questions asked about the LAP are whether the perpetrator used a weapon against the victim and whether the perpetrator has a firearm. Police services use screenings to refer victims to social service agencies, such as SafeNet, in Erie, and Have a good trip, in Union City.

DA’s initiative:Driven by data, Daneri wants domestic violence unit for Erie DA office, seeks funding

Victims get secure emergency phones

But victims need cell phones to fill out LAPs. And often when the police arrive at a domestic violence scene, the victim’s cell phone was broken during the violent incident or became a way for the perpetrator to track the victim or find out who the victim has contacted. .

“We don’t want the culprits to have access to cell phones,” Daneri said.

To solve the problem, Mark Schau, the chief detective of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, applied for a grant from the Hamot Foundation for Health. The foundation awarded the district attorney’s office $ 15,000 to purchase 55 cell phones.

The Erie County Council approved receipt of the grant and expenditure of $ 15,000 at its meeting of September 28. The phones will be on their way soon.

Each Erie County municipal police department as well as state police will receive cell phones, with “at least one phone for smaller departments,” Schau said.

Police will hand over cell phones to victims of domestic violence to complete lethality assessments and call for help. The police will then retrieve the phones so that other victims of domestic violence can use them.

Victims’ access to phones “helps them contact organizations,” said Robyn Young, acting executive director of SafeNet and the agency’s director of domestic violence services for the past six years. “It helps to break down the isolation.”

Of particular importance is the link of cell phones to lethality assessments. Obtaining this information quickly and accurately, Daneri said, will allow authorities to respond to the immediate needs of each victim and create a database to identify patterns of domestic violence across the country.

Set up a “hot run”

As Unified Erie focuses on identifying the chronic violent offenders responsible for a large percentage of gun-related crime on the streets, the Domestic Violence Unit aims to focus on repeat domestic violence offenders. This approach, Daneri said, has also been successful elsewhere in the United States.

“It’s about identifying the perpetrators and paying attention to them,” Daneri said.

Also in development, Daneri said, a program like the Hot Transfer System used at the Erie County Office for Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

During hot transfers in the drug business, counselors and others meet with overdose patients in the hospital to offer assessment and treatment assistance. The program for victims of domestic violence would be “similar to this,” Daneri said.

“Let’s see if we can keep them, to provide services,” he said.

A hot transfer system, a domestic violence database, a new deputy district attorney for domestic violence cases – the domestic violence unit of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office is taking shape. New cell phones are being designed, call by call, to help kickstart the fledgling operation.

“We have work to do,” said Schau, the county’s chief detective. “But we have accomplished a lot.”

Contact Ed Palattella at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @ETNpalattella.

Resources for domestic violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. A number of agencies in Erie County offer assistance and programs to victims of domestic violence. They understand:

Ed Palattella is a writer for the Erie Times-News


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