It’s a goal found right there in the preamble of the Constitution: insure domestic tranquility. And with some notable exceptions, such as the Civil War, we’ve done a decent job of it as a nation. But when it comes to families, not so much. Domestic violence remains a serious, sometimes lethal, danger in too many homes. A new program being undertaken in Schenectady could help.
Police hate these calls, and there are many of them in a city like Schenectady, with high levels of poverty and family instability as well as alcohol and drug use. (That’s not to say domestic violence is limited to the impoverished: It cuts across all classes and happens even in the “best” of families.)
At one time, domestic violence wasn’t treated seriously enough. The cops would arrive, separate the parties, and tell the aggressor to go cool off somewhere and come back later. An arrest would be made only in cases of serious injury or when the victim was willing to press charges, something that people in abusive relationships often are afraid to do.
The “pro-arrest” policy adopted by the department 20 years ago, in which the aggressor is always arrested, was an improvement. Not only did it remove the immediate threat, it made future violence less likely by showing aggressors that assault and battery isn’t just a matter between the two parties, but something society will not tolerate — even if the victim is willing to turn a blind (or black) eye.
Unfortunately, some abusers don’t give up. After their involvement with the law (short or long, order of protection or not), they’ll return to the house and do it again — this time a little angrier and more dangerous. Sometimes they’re intent on murder, as were two Schenectady men in the last couple of years — with one actually committing the act and the other stopped by police before he could. Or the Niskayuna man now accused of killing his estranged wife in Lake Luzerne.
What’s needed is a way to assess the threat and take extra precautions for those who pose a high risk, and that’s the purpose of the new program in Schenectady. Some indicators of potential lethality, as found in the same kind of program in Massachusetts, are threats to the victim, threats to a pet, threats of suicide by the abuser, and previous use of strangulation.
The Schenectady Police Department, along with the YWCA, will be developing a risk assessment program for all abusers. Some restrictions that authorities will be considering when the risk is considered high are tougher bail conditions, a Lifeline-type warning system that would allow the victim to contact police with the touch of a button if the attacker shows up, and GPS monitoring. In Massachusetts, GPS devices were placed on dozens of arrestees over an eight-year period, and none committed another assault.
This last option may not be allowed in New York state under existing laws. If new ones are needed, then let our local legislators introduce them. It’s enough that someone has been attacked by a partner once, they shouldn’t have to endure another injury or die the next time.