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Cleveland Police Expand Program to Better Investigate Domestic Violence

A bicycle mounted Cleveland police officer rides along the street during an inaguration day protest in downtown Cleveland. Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
A bicycle mounted Cleveland police officer rides along the street during an inaguration day protest in downtown Cleveland. Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.

The Cleveland Police Department is taking new measures to standardize the department’s response to incidents domestic violence. The new initiative expands on previous programs and looks to standardize domestic violence investigations.

All officers are now using the Domestic Abuse-Law Enforcement, or DALE, assessment. It includes a series of 11 questions that help officers determine whether a victim is at high risk.

These include questions on past abuse, use of drugs and alcohol and if there are weapons in the household.

If a victim answers yes to seven or more of the questions their case is deemed high risk and is handled by a high risk team. The newly formed city-wide team includes detectives, advocates and prosecutors.

In addition, a special docket in the municipal court has been added to handle these cases.

Jill Smialek is the manager of the Cuyahoga County Witness and Victim Service Center. She says the program allows for better understanding and handling, of domestic violence situations.

“What we’re doing is taking a domestic violence incident but really kind of exposing the context in which it happened and assessing a victim’s risk,” says Smialek. “And then making sure that every criminal justice partner who touches that case is aware of the high risk factors.”

Smialek says these new measures break down barriers victims previously faced when pursuing justice.

The DALE assessment is not new to Cleveland. In 2016 with help from a federal grant the city used the assessment in districts one and five over a 2-year period. These two were the only districts not included in the Cleveland Program, a decade’s long initiative to better investigate domestic violence in the city.

According to a study by Case Western Reserve University, DA-LE was used over 2,800 times over the 2 years.

Nearly half of those cases were classified as high risk, including those that both met the threshold of seven questions and those marked for further review.

Over the 2 year period in districts one and five over 1,200 cases were classified as high risk

Based on the study’s findings, and based on domestic violence cases reported in Cleveland, nearly 3,000 cases across the city would be considered high risk under this initiative.

Smialek says while that number is high, it is not concerning since these are cases already being reported and investigated.

“It’s not as huge of an increase as it may seem,” explained Smialek. “Because if you look at it…though the end of the (Cleveland) project, we were already getting every case in districts two, three and four and high risk cases in one and five. So, now what we’re doing is adding non-high risk cases from one and five.”

Last October Cleveland received a federal grant from the Department of Justice for the expansion of the high risk model, which included funds for ongoing training and two more detectives.

Carter is an award winning multimedia journalist specializing in audio reporting and photojournalism. His work has appeared in NPR, The Washington Post and The Portager, where he works as a photo editor and reporter. His reporting centers around working class issues and the LGBTQIA+ community with a focus on voter disenfranchisement.