Expert panel calls for creation of domestic violence first responders in Sask.

Regina's police chief says for the first time this year, officers were trained on a trauma-led investigative approach to domestic violence and sexual assault.

Panelist says it could help those in rural areas, far away from police resources

Nineteen recommendations have been made on how to prevent domestic violence deaths in Saskatchewan. The Ministry of Justice says it accepts all of them. (iStock )

An expert panel tasked with recommending how domestic homicide deaths in Saskatchewan could be prevented wants to see everyday citizens undergo training to become first responders to these conflicts.

Jo-anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition House and Services (PATHS), was one of the 13 experts who prepared Saskatchewan's first domestic death review, released Thursday. 

The report took an in-depth look at six cases of domestic homicide from 2005 to 2014. As a result, it made 19 broad-based recommendations in the areas of education, assessment and intervention. 

One of the recommendations is "develop a first responder team in all communities across the province with expertise in domestic violence."

Jo-anne Dusel of the organization PATHS was on the panel tasked with reviewing six domestic violence deaths in Saskatchewan. She says it will be up to the provincial government whether it accepts the recommendations. (CBC News)

Some help is better than waiting

"There's a lot of people living in rural areas in Saskatchewan who know that if they were to call 911 or their local RCMP it could be hours before any help arrived, " Dusel said Friday. 

Dusel envisions people with a background in health care, social work or counselling taking specialized training on the dynamics of intimate partner violence and conflict resolution to help if someone experiences a domestic conflict.

"The last thing you would want them to do is to rush in and put themselves in harm's way, but somebody who would know right off the bat, 'You know, what is the closest law enforcement, how do I contact them. What is the level of risk in this current situation and what is the best way to respond?' " Dusel said. 

She said such first responders would not be a substitute to law enforcement, but additional sources of help and support. 

"Having some assistance available is better than having like a two-hour lag time before anyone is able to respond."

Panel looked at police response

Dusel said police response to domestic violence was examined during the panel's review of six cases. 

"There were some cases where the police response could definitely have been better. There were other cases that police were never even involved in the situation yet it ended in homicide."

She said it recommends all police departments across Saskatchewan use a consistent risk assessment tool, saying right now most use the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODERRA), which contains 13 questions. 

"It's not consistent across the province and it's certainly not consistent that the ODERRA is actually done in all cases," Dusel said. 

Regina police chief Evan Bray says the service has made "aggressive" changes to how it responds to domestic violence calls and complaints. (CBC News)

New trauma-led training

Dusel said the report speaks broadly to educating all front-line workers, including police, on domestic violence. 

Regina's police force ushered in a series of changes last fall to how it handles domestic violence cases. 

Chief Evan Bray said around 300 front-line officers were trained this year on a trauma-led investigative approach to both sexual assault and domestic violence calls. 

Both Dusel and Bray said this style of training teaches officers the impact trauma can have on a victim's recollection of facts. 

Bray said on average, police respond to 17 domestic violence calls a day. 

"It's a significant resource effort by our police service," he said, explaining he wants to see more services offered to both victims and ​perpetrators after a call ends or an arrest is made.