Saskatchewan

Regina police 'taking domestic violence a lot more seriously'

Although the half-dozen domestic violence support workers Cpl. Kyla Young of the Regina Police Service deals with daily had not always been happy with the treatment victims received at the front desk of the station, they are noticing the efforts to improve responses.

More education needed for police on ‘dynamics of abuse,’ says PATHS

Cpl. Kyla Young says sometimes she interviews victims of domestic violence herself, so that it's 'less daunting for them than to have to show up at the front desk and have to go over their story again.' (Trent Peppler/CBC)

Cpl. Kyla Young remembers the mother who came to the front desk of the Regina Police Service headquarters with a mop handle.

The woman said it matched the bruises on her daughter after another beating from her boyfriend.

Young, the domestic violence co-ordinator with the Regina police, took the handle as evidence, along with two other statements from the mother that year even though her daughter was not willing to make a formal complaint herself.

I think there's a huge need for more education among police officers on the dynamics of abuse.- Jo-Anne Dusel, PATHS provincial co-ordinator

When she was, two years later, police had all the evidence the prosecutor needed.

"We were able to lay six additional charges on this offender, and it was beautiful because we had the paper trail of every time mom came in," Young says. "It was the evidence we needed."

It's Young's job to bridge the gap between police and community groups that provide services to domestic violence victims.

She encouraged a Regina mother to file a complaint with the Public Complaints Commission after she felt police did not adequately investigate her concerns. The woman said she has been the victim of stalking, harassing and threatening behaviour acted out by her now ex-partner.

She says it's not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to refuse to co-operate with police at first, which is why Young considers it one of her most important jobs to get police files to Family Service Regina, a support agency.

Young says even if charges are not laid, support workers follow up with every person involved in the file.

Once that happens, she will often get a call saying, "We have a victim. She's ready to talk now."

Young brings them to her office to do the interview herself: "It's a lot less daunting for them than to have to show up at the front desk and have to go over their story again."

Not just black eyes and broken bones

Jo-Anne Dusel, provincial co-ordinator for the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan, says victims need all the help they can get sharing their stories.

"I think there's a huge need for more education among police officers on the dynamics of abuse," she says.

For instance, Dusel says when officers show up to a domestic violence incident — there are about 500 a month in Regina, according to police — it is the woman who is "agitated, angry and argumentative because it's finally safe for her to do so."

Dusel says police officers tend to believe the person who is most calm.

Jo-Anne Dusel says it’s important police realize domestic violence does not always involve a black eye or broken bones. (Neil Cochrane/CBC)

"The woman is demonstrating the effects of trauma. The perpetrator is calm because they've been in control the whole time," Dusel says.

"When you aren't familiar with the dynamics of abuse, you don't see that playing out."

We're just taking domestic violence a lot more seriously.- Cpl. Kyla Young, Regina Police Service

​Dusel says it's also important that police realize violence does not always involve a black eye or broken bones.

"With the many hundreds of women I've worked with in my 20 years, all of them would say that the bruises heal, the broken bones heal but those emotional scars, they stay. They affect you at your core," Dusel says.

"Police have been prosecuting the visible signs but they're not really getting at the real root of the damage, which is psychological trauma that these women are experiencing."

Target tech, says Dusel

Dusel thinks there needs to be more done to clarify what constitutes threatening or harassing behaviour using technology, such as cellphones.

She says too often police question who sent the messages.

"People need to be held accountable," Dusel says. "Put a precautionary principle in place where if someone's safety is at risk we take their word for it and investigate thoroughly."

Rebecca Stepan says her ex-husband sent her this text in November 2015. She went to Regina police with her concerns. (CBC News)

Insp. Corey Zaharuk says Regina police do take electronic evidence as seriously as any other.

"We want to understand who it was coming from. We want to gather that evidence, capture it, assess it, have a supervisor look at it and then send it out for further investigation," he says.

Police efforts noted

Although the half-dozen domestic violence support workers Young deals with daily had not always been happy with the treatment victims received at the front desk of the police station, they are noticing the efforts to improve responses.

She says support workers used to say: "Is it worth me picking her up, bringing her down to the police station if they're not going to take this seriously?"

But recent changes and renewed training for front desk officers is paying off, Young says.

"That attitude is really changing. We're just taking domestic violence a lot more seriously and it's been working really well."

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