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On domestic violence, Emanuel follows Daley’s lead

Updated: January 5, 2014 6:23AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has blamed his predecessor — without mentioning Richard M. Daley by name — for everything from the financial crisis and lopsided parking meter deal he inherited to the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals that cost the city millions.

But when it comes to eradicating the plague of domestic violence, Emanuel is following in Daley’s footsteps.

For 22 years as mayor and eight years before that as state’s attorney, Daley threw the kitchen sink at the insidious problem he called 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.

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

He even threw his support behind a legislative package designed to assist victims of domestic violence 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 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.

Now, Emanuel and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez are trying to reinvent the wheel by creating a domestic violence task force.

It’s charged with developing “state of the art training” for police officers with a particular focus on “accurate and detailed case reporting,” responding to the often

dangerous calls with “empathy” and on providing a more “pro-active response” to high-risk incidents.

Every night, Chicago Police respond to 500 domestic violence calls. Every year, 40 of those calls turn deadly.

By coordinating the city’s “balkanized” response, Emanuel is hoping to bring down a murder rate that has already recorded 95 fewer victims than last year.

Daley tried virtually everything, and still fell short.

By 2008, he seemed to throw in the towel by folding the Office of Domestic Violence into an enlarged Department of Family and Support Services that controlled a laundry list of social services.

Emanuel can only hope his crackdown is more effective.

“I’m not going to make a promise I can’t keep…I don’t believe we’re going to eliminate this,” the mayor said.

“But I do believe they’re going to know for the first time that, if you pick up the phone and make that call, you have somebody here who’s going to stand by you. And there’s a high chance that, if we do our job right, there’s going to be one less homicide victim

because of domestic violence.”

The mayor noted that the first person a battered woman talks to about her personal prison is a police officer.

“Are they doing a good job? Yes. Can they do better? Absolutely. I want `em to be world class… How they respond will determine whether that girlfriend, that

wife, that mother, decides to take the most important step of their future, which is a step out that door,” Emanuel said.

“If the police officer is not sensitive to…the sense of fear, the sense of vulnerability, we will not do the job we need to do as a city. And if the police officer is not trained, we’ll not have the ability to prosecute and protect this woman.”

Alvarez added, “We’d love to be able to eliminate this crime. But we all know that’s probably impossible.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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