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Published February 14 2012

Domestic calls become more dangerous part of police job

FARGO – Responding to domestic violence calls has become an increasingly dangerous part of the job for police officers, with the death of a Bismarck sergeant last July being one example, Mark Wynn says.

Wynn, a retired Nashville, Tenn., lieutenant and nationally known trainer on domestic violence issues, told more than 60 Fargo police officers participating in a two-day course that knowing how to better handle domestic violence situations benefits more than just the victims.

“If you can somehow make the victim safer, you’re making yourself safer,” Wynn said Tuesday.

Thirteen law officers were killed last year in the United States while responding to domestic violence calls, and thousands more are assaulted every year, Wynn said.

“It’s not the most dangerous (call), but it’s in the top 10, and we sometimes don’t make that connection,” he said.

Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes brought Wynn to town for training that complements the ongoing campaign “Domestic Violence: It’s Everyone’s Business,” launched in November by Fargo police, Prairie St. John’s and the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, all of which are taking part in the training.

Ternes said Fargo crime statistics for 2011 won’t be released until probably next week, but they’re expected to show increases in assaults and aggravated assaults, with the growth spurred by rising domestic incidents, he said.

Domestic disputes are among the most dynamic and dangerous calls an officer answers, Ternes said, as he, too, cited the July shooting death of 56-year-old Bismarck Sgt. Steven Kenner, the first North Dakota officer killed on duty in 15 years.

However, because officers deal with the same parties over and over again in domestic violence cases, there’s a tendency to grow complacent, Ternes said.

“It only seems reasonable to me that we should be finding new and innovative ways to break that cycle,” he said.

Domestic violence victims rarely make clean breaks from their abusers. It’s more of a process, and police can only do so much, Wynn said.

“We basically put people in jail. There has to be a supportive community that picks that case up from there and takes it on to the next step,” he said, giving examples such as domestic violence courts, strong probation and intervention programs and shelters and transitional housing for victims.

Among other topics, the training course tackles how offenders try to trick officers into believing they’re the victims and how to identify and respond to children in domestic violence situations.

Children exposed to domestic violence are four times more likely to be arrested for other crimes, said Wynn, who spent 10 years of his childhood with an abusive stepfather – the reason he got into law enforcement.

“This kind of crime has generational impact,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528