WILTON — Over the past two years, the Police Department has seen a drop in domestic violence cases, Chief Heidi Wilcox said Wednesday.
“It’s down a lot,” she said, although she’s waiting on official statistics to quote the percentage.
Wilcox attributes the drop to a stable department where “people are starting to trust us.” She also said the way her officers stay on top of bail checks has people moving on.
When the department responds to a complaint, officers are using a new response assessment tool called the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, she told selectpersons Tuesday during her quarterly report.
ODARA, researched and compiled in Canada, consists of 13 basic questions. The questions indicate the likelihood that an abusive partner, who has already committed an assault, will do so again or commit a worse crime, she said.
Based on what the victim tells the officer, the officer gives the suspect a score of 1 to 13. From this score, the officer can give the victim a percentage of likelihood that the person will come back.
“We trained and successfully initiated use of this system in October, being the first agency on board in Franklin County,” Wilcox said. “I’m pleased we were the first to jump on board and get a head start.”
This has given us time to work our way through it, she said. Other local departments are training in ODARA and starting to use it, she said.
The state has passed legislation that mandates all departments use a standardized, evidence-based risk-assessment tool for domestic violence offenders by Jan. 1, 2015, according to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence website.
Wilcox said her department knew it was coming and needed to upgrade forms. She researched what other departments used and incorporated the questions into a form suited for Wilton.
Wilcox was trained in ODARA and held training for her department. She presented the officers with case scenarios, involving factual reports from other departments, and they rated the situation based on this evidence, she said.
The third time the department used the tool in a real case, the situation resulted in the highest score of 13 because the person assaulted a woman while she was pregnant, she said.
Previously, the officer could talk with the victim and warn them of a potential return, but the tool gives facts to help explain to the victim what it all means, she said.
The questions help raise red flags, and also question whether the person has barriers to victim support, such as poverty or the lack of a vehicle.
Other risk factors in the questions include substance abuse, a history of prior violence other than domestic abuse, threats of harm or killing, prior domestic assault with a police record or failure to comply with bail conditions, she said.
There are also questions about whether there is a biological child from a previous relationship or more than one child in the household. These tend to be factors, she said.
The assessment tool also directly helps the department, because the scores are used by bail commissioners who have also been trained in ODARA, the District Attorney’s Office and the courts, she said.
Bail commissioners are already asking if the department has the information available, she said.
With the information that an assailant is more likely to reoffend, the person may have a harder time getting out of jail, Wilcox said.