ELMHURST – The Elmhurst Police Department has seen a rise in reports of domestic violence, and it continues to take action on the issue.
The trend could be indicative of a lessening stigma around domestic violence reporting, as opposed to an actual increase in crime, Police Chief Michael Ruth said in a phone interview Feb. 7, after addressing the issue at a Jan. 29 city of Elmhurst strategic planning meeting.
Domestic violence crimes reported in the city have included violence between siblings, those in dating relationships and married couples, as well as children striking parents, he said.
"We're seeing the gamut," Ruth said.
He said the Police Department started reporting domestic violence in a separate category from other assaults before 2005 to help better identify emerging trends and issues and to take a more strategic look from a prevention standpoint.
According to a December 2017 records management executive summary, there were 136 domestic assault reports in 2015, 166 in 2016 and 181 in 2017.
Conflict situations may quickly escalate when an aggressor is used to getting his or her way, Ruth said.
"Some people have an inability to handle conflict, and they have anger management issues," he said.
Ruth said domestic violence is difficult to prevent, but the Police Department incorporates crisis intervention training and strategies for dealing with offenders and helping victims. The department also did an in-service training for first responders in October 2016 on how to best respond in crises and incidents involving people with mental health issues, and it is scheduling an in-service training for March or April in de-escalation.
The department also works with outside groups such as Family Shelter Service, a DuPage County domestic violence nonprofit based in Wheaton.
Heather Jamieson, court and victim advocacy coordinator at Family Shelter Service, said the organization has a good relationship with the Elmhurst Police Department, and it provided training for the department in February 2017. Jamieson said the nonprofit helped 12 Elmhurst residents get orders of protection from July 2016 through June 2017.
Betsy Carlson, safe connections coordinator at Family Shelter Service, said with the occurrence of celebrity cases and social media movements, people are becoming more aware of what is and is not acceptable, and victims are empowered to get the help they need.
However, domestic violence is still underreported, she said.
"Domestic violence is one of the top crimes in DuPage County, and it's a very underreported crime because people are afraid to call the police for various reasons," Carlson said.
She said police officers in DuPage County are required to report calls to Family Shelter Service. The nonprofit will then contact the named victims to check in with them to see if they have any questions and find out if they were informed of the order of protection process. The organization also provides the phone number for its 24/7 hotline number to counseling services and emotional support, Carlson said.
She said the numbers are "pretty steady" in DuPage County overall, with Family Shelter Service taking about 6,000 phone calls annually from county police officers.
Victims may choose not to call the police because their abusers make them feel like the police won't do anything, she said. Victims also may have experienced a different result from calling the police than what they had hoped, or they could be embarrassed if a police car shows up at their residence or worried they could be deported in an immigrant situation, Carlson said.
In response, the nonprofit is educating the community about domestic violence so residents feel more comfortable calling the police, she said.
Carlson said the organization tells victims the best way to stop the escalation of abuse in dangerous situations is to get the police to intervene. If the police can let the abuser know the behavior is inappropriate or get the abuser to leave the residence for the night or the day, the victim has time to get help and may feel more empowered to do so, she said.
"I think we work really well with the Elmhurst law enforcement ... I think the officers really want to work collaboratively with us as far as getting victims into services," Carlson said.
Family Shelter Service offers shelter, assistance with orders of protection, case management, support groups and a confidential 24/7 hotline, among other services. For more information, visit familyshelterservice.org. To reach the hotline, call 630-469-5650.