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Emanuel, Alvarez unveil new plan to combat domestic violence

Updated: April 22, 2014 6:17AM

Chicago Police officers will identify households at “high risk for domestic violence” and target those families for special attention — ranging from phone calls and “well being check-ins” to social and legal services and “priority prosecution”--under a pilot program unveiled Thursday.

The experiment will be confined to the Shakespeare District, 2150 N. California.

Patrol officers there will be asked to complete a newly-created “assessment form” developed by the domestic violence task force created three months ago by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

By answering a series of detailed questions, officers will pinpoint victims at an “elevated risk of injury” and target them for special attention by police, prosecutors and by the city’s Department of Family and Support Services.

The full-court press may include everything from phone-calls, in-person “well-being check-ins,” and counseling to legal representation and a “Targeted Abuser Call” program in the state’s attorney’s office that “prioritizes prosecution” of offenders with a criminal background.

Emanuel and Alvarez also disclosed that the new “domestic violence-specific” training protocol for police officers is under way, with recently-promoted sergeants and lieutenants undergoing seven hours of training.

Six of Chicago’s 22 police districts have also received training on ways to improve domestic violence case reports so vital to prosecution.

“For the first time, this program will give us the ability to more easily identify and offer assistance to the most vulnerable domestic violence victims in the city,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a news release.

“Everyone on the task force has a role to play in responding to domestic violence but by working together to respond to our highest-risk cases, we can all be more effective.”

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said his officers respond to hundreds of domestic violence calls each day, “each of them a highly stressful situation that is often very dangerous for everyone involved,” including the officers.

“Our work through this pilot effort — in partnership with service providers, victims’ advocates and prosecutors, can make a meaningful change in the lives of victims and begin to break the cycle of violence,” he said.

The laser-like focus on domestic violence is nothing new in Chicago.

For 22 years as mayor and eight years before that as state’s attorney, Richard M. Daley championed domestic violence initiatives and branded the problem a “national plague.”

He led the fight to create a Domestic Violence Court, created the Mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence and chose a prominent women’s advocate to coordinate the city’s fragmented response to what he called a “far too common problem that society refuses to admit.”

Daley also tripled city funding for domestic violence programs after a surge in calls, created a toll-free, 24-hour hotline for victims of domestic violence and moved domestic violence to the top of the Police Department’s agenda with liaison officers in each district and increased training for the rank-and-file.

He even threw his political support behind a legislative package designed to protect future victims of domestic violence victims that spills over into the workplace — by requiring companies to provide unpaid leave to battered women and insurance companies to cover them.

In spite of that full-court press, the Chicago Police Department was accused of failing to take domestic violence complaints seriously, in part because some police officers are involved in abusive relationships themselves.

That apparent indifference was on display on the night in 2002 when Ronyale White was murdered by her estranged husband after her frantic calls to 911 went unanswered.

The first two officers dispatched to the scene were the last to arrive at White’s home. The city subsequently agreed to a $4.25 million settlement with White’s children.

In mid-December, the Emanuel administration was ordered to rehire — and give $234,000 in back pay to -- an $80,256-a-year budget analyst fired in October 2011 for violating the city’s residency requirement after being forced out of her Chicago home because she was a victim of domestic violence.

The Illinois Department of Labor sided with Valerie Tolson after concluding that Tolson was given “lip service” in her request for a residency “waiver” and that City Hall “had no clear and established policy” for making “workplace accommodations” for victims of domestic violence, as required by state law.

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