City police expand domestic violence reduction program

Baltimore police are expanding a program aimed at curbing domestic violence, thanks to a $750,000 federal grant, officials said Monday.

The grant will allow a pilot program, called the Domestic Violence Reduction Initiative, in three police districts — Northeastern, Northern and Southern — to be expanded to include the entire city, said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

"It's a problem that can't be solved by City Hall alone," she said.

The grant would also provide overtime pay for the police department's Family Crimes Unit, which serves warrants and high priority protective orders and meets with victims at their homes. It would also fund a portion of the salary of a city employee who coordinates the program and makes sure officers perform a "lethality assessment" on victims. Officers will also begin conducting a Spanish language version of the lethality assessment.

As of August 2011, police in the Northeast, Northern, and Southern Districts completed more than 3,900 lethality assessments, during which police ask victims of domestic violence a series of questions to determine the amount of danger they're in, such as whether their attacker has access to a gun. The officers then call the House of Ruth to help with the most serious cases. The House of Ruth has successfully made contact with about 2,000 victims.

About 600 victims are using House of Ruth services, such as shelters, counseling and legal help, because of the assessments, said Dorothy Lennig, director of the legal clinic at House of Ruth Maryland.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said officers have served 1,100 warrants so far this year and the grant would allow them to serve even more.

The mayor praised Sheryl Goldstein, her director of criminal justice, for obtaining the grant.

"We get to protect women and families and we got to do it on someone else's dime," Rawlings-Blake said.

Using a $339,000 state grant, the city also plans to open a supervised visitation center in which parents may exchange custody of children.

The center is scheduled to open next year.

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