Force taking proactive approach to domestic abuse: officer
An RNC initiative to get a tighter grip on domestic violence has an officer keeping a close eye on 50 cases that have the potential to end in tragedy.
© — Telegram file photo
For the first time, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has dedicated a full-time officer to the position of domestic violence co-ordinator who is responsible for analyzing calls for service and conducting risk assessments to determine if an abuser is likely to kill his intimate partner.
Const. Suzanne FitzGerald told The Telegram this week she has 50 active cases for which she has concluded that, without some form of intervention, the women could end up as victims of domestic homicide.
“We’re not saying we can predict a homicide. Nobody can. What we are saying is what we do know about that intimate partner relationship. We have serious concerns about the well-being and the potentiality for there to be either lethal or pre-lethal violence, and those particular cases, we believe, have a potential to lead to pre-lethal or lethal violence,” she said.
FitzGerald, who becomes involved in only the high-risk cases or ones that may lead to domestic homicide, said identifying some of the context surrounding how these incidents occur could lead to risk-management strategies to try to prevent it.
“That is what we are doing now, which has never been done with the RNC before.”
She said the new proactive approach involves looking for 19 specific risk markers which are typically present within other homicides.
“Ontario has done the most expansive research in terms of domestic homicides. They have found, within 85 per cent, there were seven consistent risk markers. So that is profound when you think about the element of possible predictions of these types of homicides,” said FitzGerald.
Gail Tobin, executive director with Iris Kirby House — a shelter for women, with or without children, who experience relationship abuse — said the numbers are shocking.
“We met with (FitzGerald) and talked about some of our issues. Obviously, from our perspective, we’re very pleased the RNC has dedicated a full-time position to domestic violence,” said Tobin.
“It’s very much needed, especially given today’s heightened concerns and the things that have been happening. The numbers are increasing and we’re seeing more women lose their lives to domestic violence. It’s very concerning,” she said.
There have been several recent high-profile cases in the RNC’s jurisdiction where women have died at the hands of partners, estranged partners or former partners, such as David Folker, who was convicted Nov. 8 of second-degree murder in connection with the death of Ann Marie Shirran, the mother of his son.
There are others before the courts, and there have been at least three murder-suicides — one in St. John’s, one double murder-suicide in Conception Bay South and one murder-suicide on the province’s west coast.
Most recently, on Oct. 15, Brian Dawe shot and killed Julianne Hibbs and her fiancé, Vince Dillon, at Villa Nova Plaza in Conception Bay South. Dawe subsequently shot himself in the Anglican Cemetery on Kenmount Road.
Debbie Hibbs told The Telegram in a previous story that her daughter was abused by Dawe for 15 years before Julianne managed to leave him. They had been apart for about five years before he killed her and Dillon.
- Read more special articles:
- App assesses level of relationship danger
- Murder statistics reveal disturbing trend
- More needs to be done to prevent homicides: criminologist
- Abuse hurts the whole family
Hibbs said the law was powerless to help her daughter, because Dawe’s abuse and control happened in private.
“The law does not act to prevent crime,” she said at a recent vigil held for her daughter and Dillon, surrounded by her by husband Philip, daughter Ashley and son Christopher.
“The law only acts after it has happened. The law is supposed to protect us, but the law — in this situation —only protected the criminal. Our daughter’s freedom was taken away, yet Brian Dawe committed no crime. Julianne lived under threat for 15 years, yet Brian Dawe committed no crime,” she said.
Hibbs added it was only when Dawe took Julianne and Dillon’s lives that Dawe became a criminal — after it was too late.
FitzGerald said when the police were contacted about the Dawe case 17 years ago, the age of consent was 14, and Julianne Hibbs was older than that.
She said an officer was working with the family and there were several other attempts to help make her safe.
“Unfortunately, it was a situation where police couldn’t become involved because there wasn’t anything criminal. And there wasn’t any of the tools in place at the time as we have right now,” she said.
FitzGerald said the RNC is completely changing the way it responds to domestic violence calls.
She said it has been identified as a core objective and the force is implementing 30 recommendations she put forth in a report to the chief in February, which includes her work as well as professional and public awareness campaigns and officer training, which is well on the way.
Tobin said from her organization’s point of view, the RNC’s new outlook on domestic violence is absolutely necessary.
“Just to know they’re educating police officers, developing tools to use when they respond and they have assessment tools they can work with … and then (FitzGerald) is following it — so for us it is someone else in the community who is doing that work as well,” she said.
Tobin said it also shows women that the police are trying to help.
FitzGerald said there are a number of things happening within the RNC specifically with domestic violence, and over the next year people will see innovative initiatives coming out of the force that are perhaps the first in the country.
FitzGerald said the police have to do absolutely everything within their power to try to make a difference.
“The one thing about this particular work is that we’ll never know. We’ll never know if we have saved a life,” she said.
“What I can tell you, knowing how many women have moved on and have called to say everything is going great — they haven’t had any contact with their abusers, they haven’t had any issues, and they’re safe and their children are safe — that makes it all worthwhile.”