Laurel police officer recognized for victim advocacy

For Laurel police Maj. Robert Althoff, it's not his commitment to traditional police work that sets him apart, it's his dedication to community. More specifically, his commitment to victims of domestic violence.

"Major Althoff has always had a passion for and a concern for working with victims and just really being there when the victim is ready," said Arleen Joell, president of the Prince George's County-based victim services organization Community Advocate for Family and Youth.

"Having someone in the police department that is also an advocate is important, and not very common," Joell said

Althoff's commitment to victims over the past few years led Joell and employees and volunteers at CAFY to choose Althoff to receive the organization's 2014 Award of Distinction. Althoff was one of several award recipients at CAFY's 10th annual Victims' Rights Celebration at the Partnership Activity Center in Laurel May 1.

Beginning in 2011, when Laurel police first started working with CAFY, Joell said Althoff "embraced the idea" they were bringing to the table and served as a true catalyst for change.

"When I first met him, his concern was for family violence," Joell said. "He had that vision."

Joell pointed to two initiatives Althoff helped implement with the city that assisted victims of domestic violence. The first, called the lethality assessment program, is a system developed by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence that gives police officers resources to help victims.

"We needed to get our officers trained in domestic violence and to recognize the liability if they don't do anything," Althoff said.

The program gives officers a series of questions to ask a domestic violence victim to determine if the victim is in imminent danger and if alternative housing needs to be arranged.

Althoff said the program gives police the tools to make sure victims are being protected after the first responders leave the scene.

Deputy Police Chief James Brooks, who spoke at the ceremony, said Althoff was a major part of the city's effort to re-examine domestic violence incidents, and that implementing the lethality assessment program was key.

"We have a check sheet, and we really look at what's truly going on in that incident," Brooks said. "It gave us an opportunity to dig into these things."

Brooks said that when he was a patrol officer, police weren't doing enough after the initial call to ensure a victim's safety because the awareness and resources were low.

"After all that winds down, what happens to that victim when we leave? For years that was kind of a void for us, we really didn't have many resources, but you kind of moved on from it because that's what we did. We had to put it out of our minds because we had the next call to go to," Brooks said.

Althoff also helped implement a regular, open monthly meeting for victims to seek support at the city's police department.

"No matter who showed up and whatever their need was, they could get it addressed," Joell said. "Someone was here to help them provide the right direction. That was a proactive approach the city of Laurel Police Department took."

Althoff said the city's redoubled efforts came as incidents of domestic violence, and the effects it can have on families, "became more evident."

He said it is important for officers to realize the ripple effects of domestic violence on children within the family.

"Going through the emotional trauma of seeing their mother and father fighting, even to the point where one might be taken away in handcuffs, that can give them a bad reflection of the police," Althoff said. "Why are we locking mommy or daddy up?"

He added that children who come from families with domestic violence could be more likely to commit the crime themselves, and it's important they get help.

On receiving the award, Althoff said he was humbled and surprised.

"I'm truly blessed that I made a difference," he said.

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