GJ officer honored for spreading domestic-violence awareness
Grand Junction Police Sgt. Lonnie Chavez was shocked by the results of a study he conducted tracking domestic violence victims and their abusers. After compiling and comparing some cases, alarming trend emerged: A number of victims seemed to gravitate to abusers, getting out of one abusive relationship only to land in another.
Armed with this information and logging in plenty of off-the-clock hours, Chavez began delving into the complexities surrounding domestic violence, one of the most common calls to which police respond.
Chavez now trains other police officers how best to handle domestic violence calls and acts a liaison with domestic violence advocates to help them better understand enforcement’s role.
Chavez, who has been with the Police Department 14 years, will be honored for his efforts Tuesday in Denver. He was one of two people statewide chosen for the Make a Difference Award for their work spreading awareness about domestic violence. The recognition marks one of the few times a police officer has been honored with the award, said Jackie Sievers, executive director of Latimer House, who nominated Chavez for the distinction.
“He’s very passionate about this,” Sievers said. “We get training on the safety side. It also helps victims understand what’s happening with their case.”
By nature, domestic violence is a sticky issue, Chavez said. Victims are often too ashamed or too fearful of a perpetrator to report abuse. Perpetrators aren’t likely to broadcast their deeds. And, family, friends and even strangers who know of abuse often don’t feel it’s their place to meddle in others’ affairs.
For police, the job is even tricker. If probable cause exists that a crime has been committed, police are tasked with making an arrest after responding to a report of domestic violence. But there could be multiple factors at play, Chavez said.
For example, someone who is regularly being abused might pre-empt an attack by attacking their abuser instead, Chavez said. Police called to the scene might see a person who is usually the victim attacking a perpetrator, but what police didn’t see were the numerous attacks against the victim that preceded it.
Or, the arrival of police can embolden a victim to lash out at a perpetrator.
Chavez encourages police officers who answer domestic calls to dig a little deeper, to talk with both parties to determine what’s really happening in a situation. Body language can offer some clues, he said. That could include a victim unable to make eye contact with an officer, a victim deferring to a perpetrator, or a perpetrator doing all the talking when police arrive. Police officers have to make decisions quickly, especially as pressure mounts to answer other incoming calls for service.
“My goal is to teach (officers) to spend an extra 10 minutes there to make a decision,” Chavez said. “I’m trying to teach them to go a little further.”
Chavez continues to be an advocate for the abused because they are voiceless and the issue is so prevalent. A victim in an abusive relationship can live in fear, controlled physically, mentally, emotionally, financially and sexually. Two cases of domestic violence in the past few years in the Grand Valley have resulted in homicide. Victims are most at danger when attempting to leave a partner or break off a relationship. And, answering emergency calls for help are also the most dangerous for police.
Although all cases vary, abusive relationships are all similar in that victims’ lives are restricted in some way, Chavez said.
“They actually do live in a different world from you and me,” he said.
Chavez said he’s proud that in his career he has witnessed the success of three women who have escaped the cycle of abuse. Still, there’s a long way to go.
“Come Friday, listen to your (police) scanner. Verbals, violation of protection orders, it’s a daily occurrence,” he said. “This valley still has its eyes closed to domestic violence. If you would ask people what this month stands for they would say Halloween. No, it’s domestic violence awareness month.”