Addressing a community problem; Fick teaches fellow officers how to investigate domestic violence

Addressing a community problem; Fick teaches fellow officers how to investigate domestic violence Fick by M. Jill Karolevitz Shawn Fick, a detective with the Vermillion Police Department, has a new duty that has taught him � as he teaches his fellow officers � another facet of human nature.

Along with his law enforcement responsibilities, Fick teaches his fellow officers how to investigate domestic violence.

"State law requires that law enforcement officers attend training on domestic abuse every four years," Fick said. "I volunteered to teach it here because I've been on a number of domestic abuse calls and I wanted a better understanding."

The training is also required for state's attorneys and deputy state's attorneys, he added.

Fick attended school June 4-8 in Minot, ND.

"The training was put on by a federal law enforcement training center based in Georgia, which holds these sessions all over the country," he said. "It was a 40-hour, in-depth, thought-provoking seminar."

When Fick returned home, he condensed his training manual � nearly 6 inches thick � into a more manageable packet of materials for those he would instruct here in Vermillion. The local sessions were held Aug. 7-8 for police officers, the sheriff's department, USD Public Safety officers, Clay County communications staff and the state's attorney's office.

"Domestic violence calls are the most frequent calls we receive � even here in Vermillion," Fick said. "It's important for us to be prepared because the situation can become violent so quickly. A domestic violence victim is more likely to be killed than an officer in the line of duty."

Fick teaches that domestic violence is a unique crime, involving the most intimate of partners.

"Most importantly, it's a choice. Domestic violence cannot be blamed on substance or stress. It's a choice," he said. "So officers have to put themselves into a different mind-set � especially if they are called to the same house three to four times a year.

We simply cannot become complacent because the incidents can typically escalate, from verbal abuse to serious violence."

Fick asserts myriad points in his training, including the definition of domestic violence:

" ? a pattern of coercive behaviors that involves physical abuse or the threat of physical abuse. It may also include repeated psychological abuse, sexual assault, progressive social isolation, deprivation, intimidation or economic coercion. It is perpetrated by adults or adolescents against their intimate partners ? "

Fick talks about the dynamics of domestic violence, which include threats, coercion, intimidation, verbal attacks, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming, using loved ones, abusing authority and economic control. Fick also touches on

how and why domestic violence occurs and why victims stay after abuse has occurred.

The investigation is also a big part of training.

"We need to take more time to talk with the victims," Fick said. "Often, they say something to an officer, then recant for one reason or another � fear or belief that the family should stay together at all costs. So the investigation often takes on a situation like that of a murder case � officers may not have a victim to testify, so they have to look deeper into the situation."

One of the key points in Fick's training sessions is that the victim is the best expert at determining his or her own level of safety. But officers can offer assistance in several ways, including:

? assist in obtaining appropriate medical attention;

? arrange transportation to domestic violence shelters if the victim expresses a concern for safety or an officer determines a need exists;

? stand by for removal of essential items of personal property;

? share safety plan options with the victim.

"I try to stress to officers that unless they've been a victim, they can only empathize, not sympathize," Fick said. "Victims only know if it's best to stay or leave."

After his own training, and providing training to his fellow officers, Fick says he now looks at domestic violence in a different light.

"I understand it more than I did before," he said. "Even though I'm always taken aback by both the victim and the attacker, I know domestic violence is not something that happens in a split second. It builds up over the course of years. And it's not an addiction. It's a choice.

"Domestic violence happens in all walks of life," Fick continued. "We hear more reports from those who are less fortunate in their life's circumstances. But it also occurs in people of higher social standing. But that's when it's kept quiet."

In addition to leading training sessions, Fick is also the liaison officer to the Vermillion Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"We are fortunate to have the coalition here in town," he said. "They offer many services to victims including a hotline and resource information."

Fick will also speak to community groups.

"Domestic abuse is a community problem," he said. "And the more the community is aware of it, the more we can limit the victimization."

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