Domestic Violence Calls Stretch Police Staffing

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Two domestic violence cases in the past week have illustrated the scheduling and cost juggle posed by the most statistically dangerous of police calls.

In one case, a report of an assault in progress at 2:03 a.m. on Sunday drew all three of the police officers on duty — the first arriving within seven minutes of the call.

The other officer on duty and the supervising sergeant also responded, leaving no one in reserve in a department coping with three vacant sergeant positions and several vacant patrol officer slots.

In the other case, police responded to a call in Star Valley reporting that a woman’s separated husband had sexually abused and assaulted her, kept her in her home for several hours and brandished a gun he threatened to use on himself. Officers arrested the woman’s husband in Payson after talking to her and to witnesses.

The case consumed the equivalent of three eight-hour shifts, including the investigation and the husband’s arrest. It also came in the midst of negotiations on extension of Payson’s $280,000 annual contract with Star Valley to provide police protection in response to emergency calls.

Both cases illustrate the complexities of responding to domestic violence calls, which result in more officer deaths and injuries nationally than any other category of call.

The case this weekend started with a frantic phone call to 911 by a woman who said her daughter’s boyfriend was attacking her in a house in the Payson Ranchos area. The dispatcher took the call at 2:03 a.m. and the first officer arrived on the scene at 2:10 a.m., according to Payson Police Sgt. Don Kasl.

Officers arrested Jose Alonso Sifuentes-Figueroa on the scene. He was charged with assault and criminal damage, because he yanked the phone out of the wall.

The call revealed that the department’s short staffing hasn’t cut response times, but poses problems in handling more than one incident at a time during those normally quiet, graveyard shifts, said Kasl.

The council had previously authorized a roster of 33 officers, but the department never reached that level. Presently, the department remains three sergeants and several patrol officers short of full staffing. The town’s budget crisis forced cancellation of all capital projects and a 37 percent cut in parks programs, but also a freeze on police hiring despite the vacancies.

As a result, the budget crisis prompted the department to change its scheduling system, to stretch the number of officers as far as possible. Previously, the schedule was based on keeping together three-man squads — with one sergeant and two officers as a unit. But with only three sergeants, the schedulers had to give up on teams — and sharply reduce the overlaps between shifts.

“Used to be, we had the squads — and a couple of hours of overlap of shifts to pass information along,” said Sgt. Kasl. “It’s still in the experimental stage, but so far it’s working pretty good — it’s just that one officer might be working for three different sergeants in a week.

The second recent domestic violence case demonstrates the way in which a case can soak up time, which has been an issue in the still ongoing discussions between Payson and Star Valley about the proposed contract extension.

Payson police received a phone call from two Department of Public Safety officers, who had responded to a call from a woman they knew reporting she had been threatened, assaulted and effectively held prisoner by her estranged husband, who was armed with a gun at the time.

The two DPS officers went to the woman’s house and talked to her for several hours before convincing her to call in the Payson Police Department.

Payson Officer Jared Meredith and two other officers arrived at the woman’s home on Moonlight Drive at about 6 a.m. on Jan. 21.

The woman told them her husband, who she was divorcing, had forced his way into the house, got her gun and threatened to shoot himself. In the course of several hours of argument and trauma, she claimed he had sexually abused and attempted to sexually assault her. She said her two children were in the house at the time.

He finally left, whereupon she called her friend, who was a DPS officer.

Payson police talked to other witnesses, who confirmed key elements of the woman’s story, said Officer Meredith.

Another police unit then went to the man’s home in Payson. He offered no resistance and was “cooperative,” said Meredith.

Although the man had left the gun at his wife’s house, he had a number of other guns, which police confiscated.

“You never can be too careful on a domestic violence case, especially when there’s a weapon involved,” said Meredith.

“When there’s domestic violence, there’s some sort of emotional breakdown and you don’t know where or when they’re going to try to hurt someone else.”

Based on the woman’s testimony, evidence at her house and statements by other witnesses, officers arrested the man.

The Roundup is not using the suspect’s name, because it is the same last name as the alleged victim.

Police are seeking charges of assault, sexual abuse, attempted sexual assault and criminal damage. Meredith said police had one previous report of problems involving the couple.

Meredith said that investigating the case involved at least six officers or the equivalent of three or four eight-hour shifts.

Meredith said the woman wavered about whether she wanted her husband arrested, although she wanted “to do something.”

Payson police have adopted a policy that requires an arrest in a domestic violence case whenever there’s probable cause an assault has taken place — even if the victim doesn’t want to testify. Domestic violence advocates have long pushed for such policies, arguing that the fear and mixed feelings of the victim often prevent police from taking action — with sometimes fatal results.

“We had witnesses advising as to what had happened,” said Officer Meredith.

“On a domestic violence case, when you’ve got evidence something occurred — then it’s not up to the victim anymore. It’s up to the prosecutors.”

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