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Domestic violence continues to be a concern for local law enforcement

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Abuse, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, is a pattern of coercive control that one person exercises over another. Battering is a behavior that physically harms, arouses fear, prevents a partner from doing what they wish or forces them to behave in ways they do not want.

A warning on the hotline's Web site brings home the atrocious nature of abuse: "If you are afraid your Internet usage might be monitored, please use a safer computer or call a hotline..."

"We see all kinds on this side of the badge," Park Rapids police chief Terry Eilers said of domestic violence.

The number of reports of domestics in Park Rapids in 2008 was down from earlier in the decade but increased from the year before.

In 2008, the department received 17 calls reporting domestic assaults and 19 calls reporting domestic disputes. This compares with 11 and 12, respectively, in 2007.

Sheriff Frank Homer reports the number of calls reporting domestic disputes was up 11 percent in 2008 from the year before, and they are on the rise again this year. Serious assaults decreased by 65 percent, however.

Better enforcement of orders for protection (OFP) has led to a decrease in the number of restraining order violations, Eilers said of the 54 violations in Park Rapids in 2005, compared with 17 in '08.

OFP violations are down countywide, as well. The courts make it clear that violations will send people back to jail, Homer said.

While economic stress may not cause domestic violence, an increase in financial strife can lead to an increase in the frequency or severity of abuse, according to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

Homer agrees. "Loss of jobs is an agitator," he said. Self worth diminishes. Alcohol and drug abuse rises. "That's a huge contributing factor," he said of drugs and alcohol instigating domestic violence.

"They call the police out of fear or anger," Susan Bowland, executive director of the Headwaters Intervention Center said of "situational" reports. "They come to the center when they've had enough. They are ready to change, but they don't know how."

"When the police see it, it's severe," Eilers said. If law enforcement gets involved at an earlier stage, warning the person he/she can go to jail, abuse can be averted or slowed down, he said.

Officers go through extensive training on dealing with domestic assault. "It's a situation where we can get hurt also," Eilers said, the recent death of a North St. Paul police officer an example.

"When we walk into the place, tensions are already high. People have been hurt. Someone is fearing jail," he said.

"We're walking into a home with pots and pans, guns and knives," Eilers said. "But we can't draw a gun walking in. We come face to face with high tension," which can result in a wrestling match.

"The advent of the taser has helped a lot," he said of "stun guns" that immobilize the muscle system for five seconds, allowing officers to gain physical control of the suspect, kick away a weapon and handcuff the subject.

Plan ahead

In all instances of domestic assault, officers give the victim an information card with 24-hour hotline numbers and rights services.

The somber card advises keeping keys, documents, cash, credit cards, medications, children's immunization records and spare sets of clothes in a safe place - to make a hasty retreat.

If the victim no longer lives with the abuser, employers, daycare providers and schools should be advised not to give out information, with copies of the OFP provided.

Plan the safest time to get away, and talk to your children about the plan, the card advises. Identify a safe place.

Arrange a signal with a neighbor, to let them know when you need help.

And if the partner is in jail, the victim may ask to be notified before his or her release.

"Domestic abuse has always been there," Eilers said. "But people are more aware. They are talking about it."

Intervention Centers, hotlines and mandatory reporting by health care centers emerged in the '70s and '80s, Eilers said. And there are more OFPs in the court system.

"There are a lot of networks we can rely on," Homer said. When he began his career in law enforcement 24 years ago, services were "somewhat limited," he said. "The Headwaters Intervention Center serves as a great advantage. It's definitely a plus - for victims and law enforcement."

"We tell them there are people who will help. If necessary, we take them there. Sometimes we have to talk them into it," Eilers said.

The sad part, Eilers said, is seeing repeated incidences. He cited a recent episode where a female showed relief at learning her partner would be jailed for six months for a DUI. He is abusive, but she's afraid to leave.

Talk, talk, talk

Eilers advocates communication among partners and families.

"Communication is missing in families. Lack of communication creates distrust, hard feelings and misunderstandings," he said. "The evening meal has become non-existent. Sit down; be together," he advises.

"We see it go from generation to generation. Someone has to break the cycle. People have to know there are people who will help. You don't have to talk to a professional. Talk to a friend, a family member, a pastor or the intervention center," Eilers said.

"Don't let it get to the point where we come, and it's too late.

"Rise above it by getting help," the police chief said.