Editor’s Note: The Norway Police Academy offered the public an opportunity to learn about law enforcement and what it does from those who do it. The Norway Police Citizen’s Police Academy began in April and each week we will feature a class from the eight-week academy.

Week 1 – Child abuse/domestic violence – ADA Alexandra Winter and NPD Detective

Gary Hill

On April 9, the Norway Police Department welcomed seven citizens to its inaugural Citizens Police Academy. Chief Robert Federico welcomed the students sharing how the academy was funded by a grant and involved instructors from five law enforcement agencies – Norway, Paris and Oxford police departments, the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office and the Maine State Police.

Norway Police Chief Rob Federico welcomes the first class to the Norway Police Department Citizen’s Police Academy. Advertiser Democrat photo by A.M. Sheehan

He explained a bit on what it takes to be a certified law enforcement officer such a background investigation, psychological and physical exams, a polygraph, 80 hours of online learning followed by an exam and then another 80 hours at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in order to just work part time.

For those wanting full-time they must go to the academy for 18 weeks of intensive training, come back to their “home” department for an additional four to six weeks of “boots-on-the-ground” training with a department Field Training Officer.

Federico then introduced the evening’s instructors Norway Detective Gary Hill and Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Winter. Their topic? Child abuse and neglect and domestic violence.

Hill launched the topic noting the difficulties law enforcement faces when dealing with both.

The challenges, Hill said, include the credibility of the victim and witnesses, disclosure date (did it happen years ago?), inconsistent statements, children who don’t talk and victims who protect suspects (abusers).

Also, lack of physical and/or biological evidence, difficulty identifying defendant or when the parent is a suspect, when a caregiver isn’t helpful all play into the difficulty to build a strong case.

“We are responding with an open mind and believe the victim,” he noted. In the case of children, he explained, they are taken to a Child Advocacy Center where a skilled forensic interviewer trained to deal with children in order to reduce secondary trauma of having to tell their story will speak with them.

Law enforcement and the district attorney’s office can hear but only the child and the interviewer are in a room together.

Hill noted that reporters of harm to children are usually parents, friends, other children and neighbors. There are also those who are deemed mandatory reporters by law which include teachers, child care workers, school counselors, clergy, doctors, law enforcement, etc.

Because sexual and physical abuse occurs in private, said Hill, they need corroborating evidence. Sights, sounds, smells can make it real for a jury, seemingly insignificant details can make all the difference, behavioral changes in child’s mood or demeanor.

Physical evidence, he explained, can be obtained with search warrants, through school and medical records and with interviews.

Behavioral and emotional indicators of abuse might include aggression/acting out, acting younger or older than age, change in dress or grooming, eating problems, inappropriate sexual behavior, self-injurious behavior, depression, unusual/excessive fears and sudden drop in school achievement.

Victims should be examined in a medical setting within 72 hours. Most hospitals, Hill said, have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) who is trained in examining and collecting evidence. Unfortunately, he noted, most sexually abused children have normal exams.

DV

Winter took the baton and explained what the attorneys have to deal with in domestic violence cases. She noted her job under a federal three-year grant, allows her to focus on prosecuting domestic violence cases.

She explained that in order for an assault to be a domestic violence assault there must be bodily contact and it has to be by a household member such as boyfriend, spouse, ex-boyfriend or spouse, step parent or other members of a household.

The case, she explained, must have a reasonable likelihood of success at trial in order for it to be pursued. She must be able to make a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The police, she said, only have to have probable cause to bring charges which is a much lower standard of proof. Further, police can bring charges without the cooperation of a victim if they reasonably believe an assault has occurred. This right is department-specific, she noted, but the majority of the departments in Oxford County have a mandatory arrest policy.

Hill added that both the Maine Police Chiefs Association and the criminal justice academy support mandatory arrest.

Winter said that education has changed the public’s view of domestic violence and such organizations as Safe Voices are available to help.

“The overall goal for all of us,” she said, “is for people to recognize domestic violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum … it affects all of us … children, community … and when we recognize domestic violence and can help, it benefits all.”

She noted domestic violence happens to all demographics and isn’t just physical but can be psychological as well. It does not discriminate.

“It is really about one partner needing to control the other,” she explained.

Further, she explained, it is not limited to physical but often starts with emotional abuse. Threats, isolation and intimidation, denying blame and gas-lighting (making victim believe things are not really happening or it is their fault) and economic abuse (controlling access to money) are all tools in the perpetrators arsenal.

Often the use of “male privilege” is used, although she was quick to point out domestic violence is equal with both male and female perpetrators/victims.

“Domestic violence is never black and white,” she said, “but a complex and emotional turmoil that is never simple.”

“When a victim attempts to leave is when the abuser is most dangerous because they are losing control.”

“Maine reviewed 15 homicides in 2018,” she cited, “and 12 involved a change in relationship between parties.”

Winter noted it often takes multiple attempts for a victim to leave and abusive relationship. A common tactic of the abuser is to threaten suicide or to take the kids away. Victims often feel shame, embarrassment and guilt. They almost feel safer staying close to abuser because they will know when things escalate and, sometimes, how to deescalate them.

Both Hill and Winter spoke of how often physical abuse may not show on the victim’s body. For example, with strangulation, bruising is rarely seen because it takes so little effort to cut off the airway and blood supply to the brain. (It is called strangulation not choking as choking happens internally and strangulation is external.)

Strangulation, said Winter, only became a criminal law statute in 2012 “and we have to prove intent to impede the airflow and do serious injury.”

The duo ended the class urging participants to pay attention and if they suspect domestic violence, not to be afraid to call the police, district attorney, 911, etc., and to offer support to the victim.