A domestic violence prevention system that has proved very successful in a Massachusetts town is now being implemented in Schenectady.
It will help police, judges and prosecutors determine which suspects are most likely to try to kill their partners if they’re released on bail.
Officers get more domestic violence calls than any other type of call, Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said.
Two decades ago the department implemented a policy in which they always arrest the aggressor in domestic violence cases. Seven years ago, with the problem continuing, they added a domestic abuse response team. But some deadly cases occurred.
On Feb. 23, 2012, Ramcumar Bandhoo killed his girlfriend Rafeena Rahaman and himself after he was released on misdemeanor domestic violence charges.
More recently, Julio Colon served 20 days in jail on a domestic violence charge. On May 3, six weeks after he was released, he tried to kill his boyfriend David and was stopped only when police shot him to death. In that case, police were able to intervene in time only because a maintenance worker overheard Colon taking his boyfriend prisoner.
But hundreds of other domestic violence suspects did not try to kill after they made bail and were released.
The trick is figuring out which ones are which, and a Massachusetts group has had great success.
From 2005 to 2012, a team in Newburyport, Mass., has used a “lethality assessment” system to determine which suspects are too dangerous to be trusted with complete freedom.
In Massachusetts, suspects can be fitted with GPS devices before conviction as a condition of release. The Newburyport team successfully argued for those devices to be placed on dozens of arrestees over the course of eight years.
None of those suspects committed another assault during the program, the team said in a 2012 report.
Kilcullen is convinced. He and the YWCA are working to implement that system in Schenectady.
“The escalation really follows an identifiable pattern,” he said.
The biggest indicators of dangerous suspects are those who made threats to kill and those who used strangulation, according to the Newburyport team. It found that those attackers were the ones who most often went back to attack again.
Among the details: a threat to kill includes a threat against anyone, even pets. A threat of suicide is particularly dangerous, because many domestic violence murders end with the attacker committing suicide, said Kim Siciliano, the YWCA women and family services director.
Unemployment is a red flag, too.
“That means he’s accessible all day and can hunt her down,” she said.
Once the assessment is created, police will use it to gauge every person arrested on a domestic violence charge, Kilcullen said.
They’ll rely on the victim for most of the information. The aggressor generally refuses to talk to police, Kilcullen said.
Once a dangerous suspect is identified, that information will go to the YWCA’s high-risk team and the District Attorney’s Office.
The high-risk team will work to protect the victim through various measures, including a house-based warning system similar to Lifeline. That system would let the victim call police with a touch of a button if the attacker shows up.
Meanwhile, prosecutors will try for more restrictive bail conditions in court.
District Attorney Robert Carney said his office will use the assessment to argue for higher bail.
But he said that the bail would likely not be very high in cases that have only minor charges, like harassment.
Still, he said, it’s a valuable tool “for judges that are trying to predict which of the cases they see are the most serious.”
Siciliano wants GPS monitoring for the suspects who score at the highest probability of danger.
That worked in Massachusetts, but it’s not clear whether it can be done in New York.
Siciliano said the high-risk team will push for GPS monitoring.
“Then you know where they are,” she said.
Kilcullen is hoping the assessment will help police weed out people like Colon and Bandhoo before they try to kill their significant others.
“The score could’ve indicated we had a potentially lethal arrangement,” Kilcullen said.
Wendi Gapczynski-Bekkering, the YWCA high-risk coordinator, put it more bluntly.
“This is to prevent a homicide from happening,” she said.