Southfield response team helps victims of domestic violence

By: Andy Kozlowski | Southfield Sun | Published October 13, 2021

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SOUTHFIELD — In early 2020, Southfield Police Chief Elvin Barren unveiled a plan called the “Community Harms — Directed Policing Model.” It was a new approach to policing in Southfield, with a focus on quality-of-life issues. One of Barren’s top priorities under the plan was addressing the issue of domestic violence — something experts say can be found in every community.  

Barren — who became Southfield’s chief in 2019 after a 21-year stint with the Detroit Police Department, where he retired as the deputy chief — knew that it would take a collaborative effort between police and other stakeholders to tackle such a complex issue.

So he reached out to HAVEN — a Pontiac-based nonprofit specializing in domestic violence, providing safe shelter, counseling, court advocacy, financial aid and other services to abuse victims. HAVEN even has programs that help to rehabilitate abusers, who are often struggling with emotional issues of their own.  

In talking with HAVEN, Barren learned of the Coordinated Community Response Team — a system where police receive specialized training that allows them to identify abusive situations and forward those cases to advocates at HAVEN. The advocates know how to discreetly intervene and safely extricate victims from dangerous situations, and provide support to them afterward.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Southfield’s team, which is fitting, since October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In that time, officers were dispatched to more than 1,000 domestic violence incidents in the city.

In each case, there are two officers who complete a “danger assessment” form while on scene, outlining any concerns. A thorough documentation is then completed and presented to investigators and prosecutors, at which point it goes through the courts, as well as HAVEN. The team also recently added a unit specializing in the issue of strangulation — one of the most violent expressions of domestic violence, often escalating to serious injury or death.

On Oct. 3, the city held an event called the 2021 Walk to Raise Awareness of Domestic Violence. Around 400 people toured the trails near Civic Center Campus during the event, which was organized by the Domestic Violence Committee, another group started by Barren, focused on community outreach and education about abuse.

Both groups have been a success, the chief said.

“Here’s our goal,” Barren said in a phone interview. “One, you have to let victims of domestic violence know that there are resources available. And two, we want to put the perpetrators on notice that we’re paying attention, and we will hold them accountable.”

He described the complexity of domestic violence, how there might be physical symptoms, but sometimes a victim appears outwardly fine. This is because domestic violence takes many forms and is not limited to physical assault.

“It’s about control,” Barren said of abusers. “They control their victim through financial abuse, verbal abuse and psychological abuse, and often children are placed right in the middle. It all contributes to what we consider a national crisis. And we want to provide the resources necessary to pull the victims out of these situations.

“These are very difficult situations, where the victim often loves the abuser — but we are not going to give up,” he continued. “Our efforts will continue on a yearly basis with our walk and other awareness events, and on a daily basis with our team responding to calls. We respond very quickly, because we know that time is critical. Domestic violence situations involve a lot of emotion, and the emotion drives the physical abuse and the homicides. We train on mental health evaluation, as well as on de-escalation tactics, so that police can resolve these incidents with minimal injury to anyone.”

Melissa Sinclair, the social action program director at HAVEN, described the stakes for victims and the difficulty of leaving their situation.

“Intimate partner violence is incredibly nuanced, complex, and often difficult to get out of alone without the help of others. Leaving an abusive relationship is the single most dangerous time and is often why survivors stay, in addition to the love, care and life they have built with their abuser,” Sinclair said in an email.

“Often, survivors find themselves isolated from their friends and family, as that is one of the main tactics abusive partners use to keep the survivor under their control. In addition, many survivors do not disclose the abuse to loved ones,” she said. “That is why it is critical to have CCRTs in every community, so that if survivors do call the police, they are met with law enforcement officers and court personnel who are aware of the dynamics of intimate partner violence and who are trained in best practices for the response to and handling of the cases.”

Sinclair said there are red flags to watch for if you suspect domestic violence is occurring. Abusers may limit the freedom of their victim, put down their partner in front of others, or make excuses for their partner’s behavior, claiming that they’re stressed, drunk, having a bad day or simply joking around — all so that others don’t suspect anything is actually wrong.

Inappropriate dress, such as long sleeves in warm temperature or clothing that covers the arms and legs more often than not, could be another way that the abuser controls the victim. And if one has to ask for permission from their partner to go out — say, to visit the store or a loved one — that, too, can be a sign that they’re a victim of abuse.

Kenson Siver, the mayor of Southfield, said he’s proud of the team.

“Domestic violence is not unique to Southfield. It is a community problem,” Siver said via email. “I applaud the 46th District Court and Police Chief Elvin Barren for their efforts to address the issue of domestic violence. Chief Barren has brought together a coalition of community groups to work to break the cycle of abuse.”

If you or someone you know is being impacted by domestic or sexual violence, call HAVEN at its confidential 24/7 crisis line: (248) 334-1274. To learn more about Coordinated Community Response Teams, contact Melissa Sinclair at msinclair@haven-oakland.org. 

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