THUNDER BAY -- City police is continuing its crackdown on domestic violence.
The Thunder Bay Police Service formed a specialized six-member domestic violence unit last June and presented its first year report to the police services board Tuesday.
Insp. Sylvie Hauth oversees the unit and said it has had a substantial impact on how cases are investigated, especially when dealing with the victims.
“From a victim perspective having the dedicated unit provides a more tailored approach,” Hauth told local media after her presentation to the board. “You have some continuity dealing with only six officers as opposed to quite a few on the road in giving us a better end package going before the courts.”
The perception around domestic violence has changed drastically in the past decade, both how it is reported and investigated.
City police reported 1,107 incidents in 2004 but that number has been on the rise, with 2,337 incidents last year.
Even prior to the formation of the unit there was an increased priority in the last decade on thoroughly investigating domestic violence complaints.
“A lot of it has been through the change in requirements,” Hauth said.
“The Ministry (of Community Safety and Correctional Services) changed the guidelines in terms of our adequacy standards of how domestic violence needed to be investigated. I think there was a very big campaign in putting domestic violence out in the open, that it was not just a private issue that was dealt with in the home.”
In 2013 there were 607 people charged with 1,072 domestic violence related offences. Of those, there were 506 cases where men were charged, 93 where women were charged and eight were both received charges.
Hauth said the goal for investigators is to charge the primary aggressor and that they try to avoid bringing criminal proceedings against both parties.
More than 50 per cent of those charged last year, 317, had been previously charged with a domestic violence offence. That number is down from 364 in 2012.
A smaller focus will allow the six officers, who have become experts in the field, to build a rapport with those who are involved on multiple occasions.
“Having a dedicated unit I’m hoping will have a significant difference as we move forward because we’ll get to know the families and some of the repeat offenders and hopefully working with the Crown attorneys in terms of seeing those numbers keep going down,” Hauth said.
Previously, uniformed patrol officers would conduct the entire investigation of a domestic violence complaint, which normally takes anywhere from three to eight hours.
Now, two officers respond to the initial call before calling in the unit. The uniformed officers are able to return to their normal duties within an hour, allowing for more of a front line presence.
The investigators are trained to conduct video interviews with the victims as well as the accused. That allows the Crown to build a more concrete criminal case.
The more complete nature of the case has led to an increase in those accused submitting guilty pleas and taking away the need for a trial.
“We’re starting to see because the officers are putting together a more complete package it’s very difficult for the defence to shoot holes,” Police Chief J.P. Levesque said.
A quicker resolution to cases prevents the victims and families the stress of testifying about the incident in court, something that Hauth said creates a sense of “re-victimization,” as well as cost savings for the police in officers not having to make court appearances.
In addition to the investigators, the unit has a Bail Safety Program Constable who is stationed at the Thunder Bay Courthouse to liaison between the victim, Crown, and support groups.
That constable is responsible for providing input on whether the accused should be granted bail and if so, what conditions should be in place.
They also work with community groups to provide assistance to victims and work to find preventative measures to prevent incidents in the first place.
Hauth said there will be no changes to the unit within the next year.