The City of Pittsburgh announced that the Bureau of Police plans to expand its domestic violence unit this year, using a $500,000 grant to improve training and create three new positions within the unit.
“In a way, every single city police officer is a domestic violence responder, because of the high volume of calls,” said Tim McNulty, spokesperson for Mayor Bill Peduto. “But this grant will allow us to expand the work and the training even more.”
Police get more than 13,000 domestic violence calls every year, according to the City of Pittsburgh. The police bureau has one specialist in its domestic violence unit now.
In addition to that detective, the grant will fund a domestic violence sergeant position, an additional detective specialist, and a civilian clerical specialist.
“Now we’ll have more detectives to do investigations, and that’s really important,” said Lorraine Bittner, chief legal officer at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, the group that will work with the police bureau to implement the unit.
Bittner said that Pittsburgh police are “way out front” when it comes to some of their domestic violence policies, like domestic violence training for first responders. This unit, whose expansion is being funded with money from the Nina Baldwin Fisher Foundation, will complement that work.
“These detectives are going to be able to review the [first responders’] reports and follow up, where the first responders might not have time. The detectives can go back and take pictures. So if somebody’s marked [by bruises], a first responder can take a picture on Day 1, but on Day 5 – that’s when somebody might really be bruised and the bruises might show.”
Bittner said the unit will also be able to collect more data on people who commit domestic violence, which she said is “the missing piece” when it comes to investigating domestic violence incidents.
“It’s shifting the focus from not just helping the victim ... but [focusing] on the batterer,” she said. “So when a [victim] goes to the police, wouldn’t it be nice if they could look up his history when they help her do the service? There’s no specialized database for domestic violence defendants.”
This isn’t the first time the Bureau of Police has tried to improve its domestic violence unit. Bittner said the department received a federal grant from 1996-2001 that put a domestic violence specialist in each Pittsburgh police zone. But Bittner said once the grant ran out, the unit slowly shrank.
“This is one of the most important things that police deal with,” said McNulty, the city spokesman, when asked what will happen after the Fisher grant runs out in five years. “We believe the funding will be there long term.”
Pittsburgh City Council must approve the funding, and legislation to do so was introduced on Tuesday morning. A vote is scheduled for the end of January.