A new program designed to help District police handle domestic disputes is being supported vigorously by Police Chief Burtrell Jefferson, although some of his officers have said privately that the program is "unnecessary."
The program, announced recently at a joint press conference by Jefferson and Mayor Marion Barry, will offer additional training to approximately 2,000 police officers and provide the department with a statistical count of domestic incidents.
Known as the Family Disturbance Intervention Program, the project has been the subject of a personal appeal by the police chief.
"The police chief is putting himself on the line," said police spokesman Lt. Larry Solesby. "He really thinks this is important. He has taped a statement to police officers and asked them to cooperate."
While many police officers say they support the program, others contend that additional training probably won't help them handle domestic disturbances because each case requires a different approach.
One especially sore point is the "citizen referral card" that officers are to give citizens whom they believe might need help. On one side of the card is a list of 12 agencies, with telephone numbers, that handle specific problems. The other side of the card provides space for the officer's name and states, "It is recommended that you call the services checked on the reverse side... to obtain professional assistance."
Some officers complain that the card only duplicates the kind of information and referrals they have been providing all along. Another complaint, is that the first telephone number, for the Citizen's Complaint Center, is wrong. Unfortunately, say the officers, the Complaint Center is the agency most often used for referrals.
Solesby said the error came about because the Complaint Center number was changed after the referral cards were given to officers. He said the department is in the process of distributing the correct number.
"I feel it is a copout," one officer, who is stationed at 2nd District police headquarters, said of the referral system. He said he has checked with several citizens to whom he had given referral cards and found that they did not get help from the agencies listed on the card.
"Those agencies can only do specific things, and in many cases, cannot help these people who are in trouble," he said.
In some cases, District policemen said they do not know exactly what each of the agencies on the referral card can do. Police officials say they have issued a circular explaining the functions of each agency.
Soleby said some of the criticism may be because "police officerss are usually pretty conservative and are reluctant to try out new things."
The program, Solesby said, is a result of Chief Jefferson's concern about the high number of police injuries during the handling of domestic disputes. He said national figures show that domestic disturbances are the third highest cause of police deaths and among the highest in causing death and injuries to citizens.
"We know we don't have all the answers, but we have to start somewhere," said Solesby. "The police chief is concerned about citizens and feels police officers should be doing something other than just making arrests."
Since the police department began compiling figures on domestic disputes in mid-December, the department has handled approximately 80 domestic disturbance cases per day.
The training phase of the program, however, has not yet begun. Solesby said that a proposal for the course in domestic disputes drawn up by the staff of St. Elizabeths Hospital was rejected by the police department because it was not comprehensive enough. He said the program is expected to begin soon, and will include psychological approaches to domestic situations as well as training in the use of the referral card. Solesby said the first trainees will be 300 sergeants and 100 master policemen.