DOMESTIC IN PROGRESS

Not long after Claremore’s Officer Joshua Hewitt started his shift Thursday he received a call of a possible female yelling ‘help me.’ Hewitt said between 911-call hang ups, neighbors reporting domestic disputes, and victims calling for help, domestic violence calls are ever present.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a four part series on domestic violence in Rogers County. Statistics show 85% of domestic violence victims are women. For the purpose of this article, when law enforcement uses female pronouns, it is to represent all victims.

The whole thing can spin out of control in a matter of seconds.

In the blink of an eye, a fight can go from bad to worse, from verbal to physical.

The already too high number of domestic violence calls are showing evidence of a pressure packed global pandemic and Rogers County is no exception.

County-wide the number of domestic violence related 911 calls is up compared to this same time frame last year.

Data provided by Rogers County Sheriff's Office shows the number of domestic violence calls from all county law enforcement agencies combined.

In 2019 Records show:

January- 77

February- 64

March- 66

April- 76

May- 97.

The same period in 2020 records show 81, 70, 87, 75 and 34 respectively, though the month of May isn't over yet.

"For the county, the number is trending up but for the city of Claremore domestic calls are actually down 11.64% year to date," said Claremore Police Department's Deputy Chief Steve Cox.

"I'm scared to think of the number of domestics, child neglect, child sex abuse that aren't being reported right now," Cox said. "Calls are down, but that in no way means domestic assault isn't happening. If they're stuck at the house with the offender, they can't call…When people are out and about, co-workers, friends and family see something, signs of abuse, and they report it. With people isolated at home, that's not happening as much. The abuse hasn't gone away, the victims just have less opportunity to call for help."

Safenet Services said those calls from people in crisis are still happening, just at a much lower volume.

From May 2018 to April 2019, a total of 2,417 calls were made to Safenet's crisis line. From May 2019 to April 2020, a total of 1,394 calls were made.

On the call

It wasn't long after his shift started that Officer Josh Hewitt was dispatched to a call:

"Reporting party said they heard a woman's voice crying out 'help me!'"

"When it comes to calls like this, we know it could be nothing, it could just be kids playing—but it could be something," Hewitt said. "We plan for the worst when it comes to domestics. He knows we're coming, he's feeling trapped, emotions are high. That's why it's one of the most dangerous calls police go on."

This time neighbors said they hadn't heard anything suspicious and no other concerned citizens called in with suspicious.

"Even so, we don't clear out right away. We may drive slowly through the neighborhood giving anyone who may be in distress the opportunity to know we're there, that help is there if they need it," Hewitt said.

In any domestic call Hewitt said getting there as quickly and safely as possible is their first priority "because we know things can change in an instant. A verbal fight could be physical before we can get there."

Often, he said, calls come in from a third party—a concerned friend, or neighbor who has heard something alarming.

In these calls, Hewitt said, the offender may not know police are coming and they do what they can not to alert him to their presence until they have to.

They may not pull up directly in front of the residence with lights and sirens blazing.

"Sometimes when people see us it's enough to diffuse the situation. But not always. Sometimes it causes people to act out worse out of fear so if we can shorten the amount of time for the offender to act out, that's safer for everyone," Hewitt said.

When it comes to domestic violence calls, law enforcement hears it all:

It was a one time thing. He didn't mean to. He's under a lot of pressure.

She pushed me and I put my arms out and accidentally hit her.

Statistically, domestic violence doesn't end the first time police are called. National statistics indicate that on average, a victim attempts to leave seven times before finally leaving for good.

"And we'll come back seven times if that's what it takes. We ask people not to blow it off as nothing, not to excuse it, or think their situation is special. Most of the time, if it happens once, it will happen again," Hewitt said.

Protective orders "more than a piece of paper"

Just shy of 200 protective orders have been served in Rogers County so far this year.

"We hear people say a lot 'a protective order is going to make it worse' or 'it's just a piece of paper' and that couldn't be further from the truth. People know that if there's a PO in place, and they choose to come back, they could be going straight to jail," he said, adding that it gives law enforcement a leg to stand on in enforcing safe boundaries between the victim and the offender.

“As police officers we want to emphasize the importance of protective orders for victims of domestic violence,” said CPD Chief Stan Brown. “It is a vital part of the process to help ensure the victims are given opportunities for separation from the abusive situation. It is also important in that it helps to facilitate in the criminal prosecution of repeat stalker and/or abusive persons. Resources offered to victims in abusive situations can be enhanced or accelerated if a protective order is issued by the courts.”

Taking care of the victim

"No two domestic calls are the same, but our first goal is to always get the victim to a safe place," Hewitt said. "I always ask 'How can I help you?' and 'What do I need to do to keep you safe?"

He said sometimes that's dialing the number to Safenet himself and sometimes it's taking a victim to a family member's house for the night.

"Not long ago we worked with a woman who had called us for a domestic and she'd had enough. She got a protective order…We followed her home from work every day for a while," Hewitt said. "We're happy to do that to help if people just take the steps and let us know."

He added, "We will help you get resources that we believe in, that we've seen work. We'll help you go back and get your stuff…Whatever you feel like the roadblock is to getting away, and staying away, we'll help you."

He said local law enforcement works hand-in-hand with services like Safenet and Grand Lake Mental Health and has seen their effectiveness first hand.

"Sometimes people are hesitant to take that step," Hewitt said. But Safenet isn't law enforcement…this isn't something that's going to follow you for the rest of your life, it enables you to live your life."

Look for part 2 of this series in the May 30 & 31 edition of the Progress.

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