A holistic strategy to domestic violence in Marion County is helping police and prosecutors revolutionize their response to a perennial problem that too often carries fatal consequences.
The so-called Baker One Initiative uses techniques developed in Charlotte-Mecklenberg, North Carolina, by police officers who were analyzing domestic violence fatalities and trying to determine what opportunities existed for earlier intervention that could have prevented the deaths. Among the factors identified, the analysis found that most people reporting domestic violence had filed an average of nine previous police reports. Instead of thinking of geographic locations as crime hotspots, Baker One teams began to think of the people themselves as hotspots. In responding to these human hotspots, they also recognized that no one agency could solve such an insidious problem — and that a pro-active response to a community's most-worrisome offenders could help save lives.
A little over one year ago, people in Marion County began a countywide effort to try to implement a Baker One approach locally. The initiative identifies the top twenty-five most concerning domestic violence offenders in each of IMPD's six districts and will soon expand to surrounding townships.
"As law enforcement officers, our job is to protect and serve," said Linda Major, the deputy prosecutor who oversees the Baker One domestic violence response for the Marion County Prosecutor's Office. "The Baker One Initiative addresses how we can protect and serve, without necessarily relying on or expecting the cooperation of a victim of violence."Too often, Major explained, a victim will not cooperate with law enforcement out of fear for life.
She recalled one the first domestic violence cases she handled for Marion County, almost 20 years ago. In a private meeting, her client outlined a story of serious abuse. Major told the woman, 'OK, we're going to go into the courtroom and request a no contact order and a high bond so that you and your kids can be safe.' The woman responded, "If you think I'm going to go into that courtroom and tell the judge what I just told you É give me some of what you're smoking because I'll need it to get through the next beating." Major watched the woman proceed to the courtroom and deny all questions of abuse and concerns for her safety. "You could have given her an academy award," Major said. "She answered all of those questions about prior abuse and safety so convincingly – as if her life depended upon it.And for all I know, it did."What safety and survival looked like to that victim is completely different from how law enforcement understands it.
The Baker One Initiative recognizes that because of the dangerousness of domestic violence situations, domestic violence victims are often not capable of making the decisions necessary to save their own lives. Baker One offers coordinated response plans that help responders, advocates and other partnering agencies identify what can be done to encourage safety and accountability on these dangerous cases.
As a part of Baker One, responders now carry a purple form with them when they arrive at domestic violence scenes. This "purple sheet" guides the officers in evidence collection and helps victims' advocates identify the level of threat at hand as they work to try to ensure the victims' safety.
"When officers get to the scene, there is a small window of opportunity to get everything needed to achieve accountability," Major said. "We have two goals toward homicide prevention: offender accountability and victim safety. The information gathered by responding officers and documented on the purple sheets is designed to accomplish these goals.
The purple sheets contain a checklist of lethality factors, the more of them checked, the higher risk the situation is likely to be. Objective criteria, reviewed and analyzed by an IMPD District Coordinator, is used to determine which offenders qualify for the Baker One list. After someone makes the list or is released from prison, if a year goes by with no further reports, that person is removed from the list.
Each IMPD district has a Baker One Team responsible for ensuring the effective outreach, investigation, and filing of Baker One cases. This close-knit team consists of IMPD, Prosecutor's Office and Julian Center officers, deputy prosecutors, paralegals and advocates. One tool used by the Baker One detective involves outreach efforts, such as visiting the offender with a card listing the resources they could choose to use to try to work toward healthier relationships. The detective also shares information on the higher-risk individuals at roll call so that patrolling officers can be on the alert for potential cases stalking or violations of no-contact or protective orders. IMPD also has a Baker One website that compiles the Baker One lists from all the districts and includes all the purple sheets collected. Among other things, the site helps law enforcement track offenders who move from one district to another.
Cases where an offender may be doing something seemingly innocent, such a riding a bike or sitting in the lobby of an office building, take on new light when officers realize he might be biking on the block where his victim lives or sitting in a building where she works.
"The important thing about a protective order is that ... it allows for early intervention by law enforcement to hold offenders accountable for behavior threatening to victims," Major said. "It is not an effective order if no one is there to enforce it. Recognizing the connection between violations of no-contact and protective orders and lethality, agencies would be well advised to have effective, consistent policies in place to deal with violations. The policies should be geared to offender accountability.
"When someone gets a protective order, that means there has been a finding that the respondent posed a credible threat to the safety of the petitioner. If that is correct, then any violation of that protective order should be treated as a threat, which is why any violation is a crime."
Protective orders and no-contact orders are great tools not just to help with victim safety, Major said, but they can also help with more effective offender accountability and homicide prevention.
The Baker One Initiative and IMPD's increased use of the purple sheets are geared to increase convictions and offender accountability, she said. A analysis to quantify those results is currently underway.
Still, she added, plenty of challenges remain.
"Domestic violence cases and sex crimes cases that have a domestic violence or family violence component are really the only type of cases where a defendant has the keys to the property room, so to speak," Major said."No matter how much a defendant talks nicely to or threatens the drugs, they will still be drugs at the time of the trial. This is not the case with an abused loved one or family member."
"If I were to say to a drug offender, 'I want you to come back to court in 30 days. Here are keys to the property room, but don't touch my evidence – I need it for trial,' I'd be fired and disbarred. But on a regular basis, when no-contact orders are lifted, or even left in place, an offender has the ability to change the evidence with love, or threats, or whatever they know will work on the person that they know like the back of their hands. What abusers would not take advantage of the opportunity to not be held accountability for what they've done?
Major has been prosecuting domestic violence cases for long enough now that she is seeing the cycle of violence play out among a second generation, where kids who witnessed abusive situations in their homes have become either victims or abusers themselves.