The Fort Smith Police Department announced Wednesday (Oct. 21) it will staff an office at the Crisis Intervention Center in Fort Smith. Aric Mitchell, FSPD public information officer, said the office would help FSPD provide safety and services to the thousands of adults and children in the community annually affected by domestic violence.
Detectives Danny O’Connor and Brad Marion, who investigate domestic violence cases, will man the office, though both will continue to work on other cases as well. Other detectives will be available to the center as well, Mitchell said.
Detectives from the FSPD criminal investigation department will have access to all the information they need to investigate crimes while working in the office at the crisis center. The move comes at no cost to the department with the crisis center providing the office and covering the costs associated with it, said Penni Burns, crisis center CEO.
“The phone lines, computer lines are already here for them as is the office space,” she said. “They will have access to computers, printers, anything they need.
Burns added that safety precautions will be in place, so no information gets into the “wrong hands” and all victims’ rights are followed. Detectives will work hand in hand with the crisis center. The partnership will open up more resources for the detectives and make them more accessible to residents of the center, said FSPD Deputy Chief Jason Thompson.
“It will be a lot easier for them to come forward about the crimes whenever we have an office here,” Thompson said.
Mitchell noted the officers would not be there for security as the crisis center has its own security team.
FSPD responded to 3,411 domestic disturbance calls in 2019, 164 of those involved a weapon. The Crisis Intervention Center, the only State of Arkansas Domestic Violence Coalition member and Department of Justice-approved victim service provider in the Fort Smith area, took an additional 895 hotline calls in 2019, Burns said. So far in 2020, the crisis center hotline has taken 783 hotline calls, she added.
In Arkansas in 2019, there were 51 homicides associated with domestic violence. Of those, 28 were women, 14 were men and nine were children, according to Beth Goodrich, executive director of Arkansas Coalition against Domestic Violence.
Burns said that it is well-known that reporting is lower than the actual cases that occur.
“Sometimes for a multitude of reasons victims just don’t want to go to the prosecutor’s office or the police department,” Burns said. “Obviously this is an emergency safe shelter. If the victim is here and chooses to report and needs accessibility to law enforcement, it may not be safe for them to leave the shelter and go to the police department and do that reporting. So having an officer here on site for them to talk to, usually a non-uniformed officer, is less intimidating.”
Victims will be able to talk with a detective in an “intimate spot, not necessarily an office setting” at the center, which will help provide a calmer structure for them, she said.
“They already have trust in a relationship with us, so we can say we know the people for you to talk to if you want to go to the next step. We have a resource for you on site that we trust to do the right thing for you,” Burns said.
She added that in the case of an emergency at the center, staff will continue to call 911. The detectives will not be who they immediately contact. Detectives will be there to run victim services, she said.
“We need people in the Fort Smith area to know that the Crisis Intervention Center is leading the charge for victim services. We want to provide the resources that you need to lead a violence-free life, to lead a life of health and safety,” Burns said.