News

Domestic violence suspects get 5 a.m. 'wakeup calls'

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

It’s not what you would expect at 5 a.m. –– the Federal Way Police knocking on your door and looking for you or someone you know.

Seven officers, a detective and one lieutenant spent an early morning last week attempting to serve more than 50 domestic violence warrants to suspects around the city.

October is D=omestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Federal Way Police and other local law enforcement agencies focused for several hours Wednesday on finding people –– mostly men –– who had been charged with domestic violence and had a warrant for their arrest. Many hadn’t appeared in court, and a few had fled the scene of a domestic violence incident.

Officers worked an early shift from 5 to 10 a.m. and a second shift, with a different crew, that night during a 4 to 9 p.m. patrol. Police wanted to contact suspects at those times because they might be home.

In teams of two, the officers moved through the city on the cool morning and knocked on the doors of suspects’ last known addresses.

Officers weren’t expecting to handcuff most of the people they were trying to find. Most were either at work or just gone.

Many of the addresses on the warrants were no longer valid because the suspects had moved. Some could be considered bogus, and a few were thought to be typos from the courts.

Officers knocked on the doors of vacant apartments and houses where it appeared nobody was home or family members told them the person they were looking for hadn’t been seen in weeks or months. One mother asked officers to tell her son to call if they found him. Another explained she sent her boy to Alaska because he was getting into too much trouble.

At another stop, the couple inside the apartment said they had lived there for more than a year and never heard of the man listed in the warrant.

Most agencies that have had a domestic violence warrant emphasis averaged about 7 percent in arrests, said Andy Hwang, a Federal Way deputy chief.

A total of 101 attempts were made in Federal Way. Three people were arrested –– almost 3 percent. One man went to the police station after his family said officers were looking for him.

Hopefully, other suspects will give themselves up rather than have the police find them, Hwang said.

Domestic violence impacts people at all socio-economic levels, and serving the warrants helps get abusers –– typically repeat offenders –– from hurting their family members again, Hwang said.

According to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women have suffered physical abuse at the hands of a partner.

Last Saturday in Olympia, survivors of domestic violence, mostly children and women, were recognized by Governor Christine Gregoire for escaping the violence. There was also a display of life-size replicas of people who didn’t survive domestic abuse.

Taking time to round up suspects also helps police. Responding to domestic violence calls is one of the most dangerous aspects of an officer’s job, Hwang said. People are in an emotional state and not thinking about the consequences of their actions, he said. People, including officers, can get hurt.

The calls also take a lot of resources, he added. At least two officers respond to a call.

The warrant emphasis program is three years old; Federal Way hadn’t participated in the past. It had served warrants on its own. Lt. Melanie McAllester said those attempts were usually more successful they were cases the officers worked on. They knew the circumstances, the people and where to find them.

McAllester led last week’s morning team; she was the senior lieutenant on the day shift. About half the normal compliment of officers came in an hour early to serve the warrants.

Earlier in the morning, she and her emphasis patrol officers went over what they were to do. They could knock on doors and ask if the suspect was at home. They could only enter a residence if the occupants allowed them. If they could get in, they were to make sure the person answering the door wasn’t lying or to see if there was evidence the suspect had been there recently.

Anybody arrested was booked. The Police Department has holding cells for temporary stays, but anyone making an overnight stop in the justice system was transferred to Fife if they were male and Enumclaw if they were female.

McAllester separated her officers into teams of two and sent them off to knock on doors. Two other officers manned transport vans if enough arrests were made.

The Federal Way cops were not only serving their city’s warrants but those of other jurisdictions like Seattle, King County and Kent. In turn, those agencies were contacting people in their areas for warrants from Federal Way. Prosecutors and judges were briefed to expect a spike in the number of DV (domestic violence) cases in the days following the patrol.

Officers close to downtown were struggling with their first warrant. They couldn’t find the address. They searched paperwork to see if there was another way to locate the suspect, a man well over six feet tall and weighing 250 pounds, because the address didn’t seem to exist. After 15 minutes, they had to move on to the next warrant.

Another team was searching an apartment complex where several suspects gave their addresses. Officers knocked on doors, sometimes waking the people up and asking of the whereabouts of the suspect. The officers didn’t reveal entirely why they were there, only saying the suspect hadn’t taken care of some court paperwork. It was low-key and most people were chatty with the officers.

One woman, the mother who sent her son to Alaska, picked up immediately why the officers were there. She asked, almost casually, if they were there because of the DV charge. The officers said yes and asked for permission to walk through her apartment before she left for work. She easily agreed.

McAllester monitored other calls for police assistance and assigned officers to respond. Despite the special patrol, her shift’s regular duties weren’t dropped.

Walking back from the apartment where the woman has left for work, McAllester pointed to a car running while its owner was out of site, probably getting a last cup of coffee. It’s the easiest car for a thief to steal, she said, and in big apartment developments like this one it’s prime hunting ground.

Around 8:20 a.m., she peeled two of her teams off the emphasis project to handle active calls, including one that was suspected domestic violence. They were able to return about 40 minutes later.

At one home, officers Stan Gordon and Chris Martin knocked on the door and a middle-aged woman answered. After a few minutes explaining the situation, the officers were let inside. A curtain covering a window was pulled back a few inches and then replaced. McAllester’s radio crackled with a message from inside the house: The officers had found the first suspect. In a few moments, the two officers were walking a young man out. His mother pulled waved at McAllester from the upstairs window. McAllester waved back.

The young man walked peacefully to the squad car in handcuffs with Martin escorting him. They talked quietly about what would happen next, from getting booked to an appearance before a judge. The suspect thought he had taken care of all of his legal issues.

If there were any improvements made to the emphasis patrol, it would be getting the most current addresses of suspects, Hwang said. Often the last address is where the domestic violence happened and the suspect isn’t welcome there.

But Hwang said the proactive approach is welcome.

“(Even) one arrest is good,” he said.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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