Responding to domestic abuse
Nationwide, an average of three women are killed every day by a current or former intimate partner. And locally, those statistics aren't any less grim.
In 2016, the Oregon Department of Human Services received 6,232 calls regarding domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking within Clackamas County. In 2017, nearly 1,200 women and children sought support through Clackamas Women's Services, which operates an emergency shelter for families fleeing domestic abuse.
But often, victims say, they feel they have nowhere to turn.
Now Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts is trying to change that, with a new training video and other educational material that he hopes to share with law enforcement agencies across Oregon and around the country. Through a partnership with the Oregon State Sheriffs Association, he has connected with PowerDMS — an Orlando-based software company that builds digital solutions for file management and sharing.
"The only way (law enforcement agencies) currently learn is when a tragedy takes place and we find ways to do something different. Or we send someone to a training where they learn and then have to do a debrief where they return and tell us what they learned," Roberts said. "That doesn't make a lot of sense to me."
Roberts believes agencies like his and others across the nation need to start thinking differently about how they train and prepare for high-risk situations like cases of domestic violence.
"As the former director of our multi-agency domestic violence unit, I really saw a lack of understanding about the dynamics that go on with domestic violence cases," Roberts said. "Because these are such high-risk cases, we saw this as a priority. And because there isn't room for mistakes, we're trying to circulate the best training that we can."
Included in that training is an 8-minute video featuring testimony from Angie Cain, a survivor of domestic abuse and an advocate, as well as people like Salem Deputy Police Chief Steve Bellshaw and Oregon Senior Assistant Attorney General Erin Greenwald, who both specialize in domestic violence cases.
The new training video and educational material will be circulated to agencies small and large, according to Oregon State Sheriffs Association Executive Director John Bishop. Whether each agency will use the training is yet to be seen, but Bishop is excited about the new file-sharing system's ability to improve training statewide.
"It was a team effort, but (Roberts) and his agency had the personnel to put it all together. This effort could be huge," Bishop said. "It brings consistency. It helps make sure everyone is properly trained and we're all looking at these issues similarly. And of course, for these smallest agencies that don't have the budget, it brings the training to them."
Some of the training includes effective tips and best practices on how to approach, talk to and empower domestic abuse survivors to seek help, especially when they've been scared into not talking or had their freedom stripped from them.
"A simple thing you can say is, 'Hey, I'm concerned about your safety, and when you're ready to leave I'm here. I encourage you to talk to advocates and do some safety planning,'" Roberts said. "Saying those kinds of positive things helps. You may not be able to prosecute at the time because (the survivor) is refusing to say anything, but a lot of times officers have intuition that something is going on, and you want to give them all the resources you can."
The training video also addresses the topic of strangulation — a crime often linked to domestic abuse. It was made a felony by the Oregon Legislature just this year, and according to Roberts, research shows that domestic abusers who strangle their victims have been found to attack or shoot law enforcement agents at a much higher rate than other criminals.
For example, in the hours leading up to the 2013 shooting death of Oregon City Police Officer Robert Libke, shooter Lawrence Cambra had attempted to fatally strangle his partner, Joyce Ruby Eileen Smith. It's just one of several cases where strangulation and cop-killing have been linked, Roberts said.
Hopefully, he said, the new training material will have a positive impact not only on how officers respond to domestic violence, but also serve as a caution for officers to the dangers associated with coming into contact with a domestic abuser.
"My No. 1 outcome is to save lives. Second is to do a better job protecting those in these types of situations, including women and children," Roberts said. "When I see a tragedy of any type take place in America, the first thing I ask myself is, 'I wonder what kind of training they had on this issue,' because so many things change so fast."