Smart911 program can help victims of domestic violence
by BRIAN NADIG
The city’s Smart911 program can help domestic violence victims by providing police with information that can help officers respond more effectively when someone is in danger.
Concerns about domestic violence were discussed at the Nov. 21 meeting of the 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District Beat 1623, where a woman was fatally shot on Nov. 2 by her ex-husband during an incident in front of their two children in the 4700 block of North Linder Avenue. The meeting’s guest speaker was Chicago Police Department domestic violence operations coordinator Aileen Robinson.
During a domestic violence incident, a victim may have little time to communicate with the 911 operator, but the Smart911 program allows the operator to forward the victim’s profile to responding officers, Robinson said. The profiles can include information such as pictures of known offenders and their aliases.
"You can put all sorts of information in there that can help the police," Robinson said.
District community policing sergeant Sherry Alvarez-Pena said that any Chicago resident can sign up for the free service at smart911.com, and that the information does not have to be related to crime concerns, as medical information can help paramedics. "All of this is private and confidential," she said.
The city offers a comprehensive set of programs and services to help domestic violence victims, but they often face tough obstacles, Robinson said.
"Domestic violence is a priority one call, same as shots fired," Robinson said. "There’s 511 domestic violence calls (on average) a day. That’s dispatched cars citywide."
When police make an arrest for an order of protection violation, the suspect is charged with a felony and must go in front of a judge before being released on a bond compared to 15 years ago when most offenders were charged with a misdemeanor, Robinson said.
However, even with the changes, suspects usually receive "a low bond" of about $100, and they can be sometimes released within a few hours, although they are ordered to have no contact with the victim for at least 72 hours, Robinson said. "Domestic offenders are not serving a lot of time," she said.
In some instances victims do not seek an order of protection because it could result in losing access to their children, who could still be living at home with the other parent, Robinson said. The victim can seek an order in which the mother and father still live in the same house, but the offender would be subject to arrest if he or she displays certain behavior, such as intoxication, she said.
It is not usual for victims to seek legal assistance, but those needing free or low-cost services often have to wait 2 weeks just to find out if a service will be available for them, Robinson said.
In the Chicago area there are a total of 130 beds in domestic violence shelters, and they are "filled all the time," Robinson said.
In addition, victims who want to bring their children to a shelter have a very limited number of options, Robinson said. The shelters also do not accept pets, but some animal organizations will help with the care of victims’ pets, she said.
To combat domestic violence, the city needs help in promoting awareness about the issue and informing the public about the services available for victims, Robinson said. "We need help from the community," she said, adding that there are concerns that the state could see a reduction in federal funds for anti-domestic violence services.
Meanwhile, police said that the man who fatally shot his ex-wife and then killed himself in front of her home on Linder did not have a conceal and carry permit, and the gun was obtained from out of state, according to police.
The woman recently had an order of protection re-activated, as the man had sent threatening photographs to relatives, police said. A few days before she was killed, the woman filed a report about the threats, and it was sent to the detectives division for a follow-up investigation, police said.
An outdoor roll call and a vigil have been held on Linder since the incident.