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New program changing how Cincinnati police respond to calls of domestic violence

Posted: 12:10 PM, Feb 04, 2018
Updated: 2018-02-04 17:16:56Z

CINCINNATI -- Less than two weeks before Christmas, police said 20-year-old Zachary Allart walked into a McDonald’s in Anderson Township and shot his ex-girlfriend , Jayla Frost, twice in the head before shooting the restaurant’s manager, Denise Higgins, in the back. 

Hours into the new year, officers found Lee Ann Smothers' dead body naked behind a dumpster in a Sharonville trailer park. They found blood coming from her nose and mouth. A prosecutor later charged her husband, Brian Smothers, with murder and abuse of a corpse.

Just this time last year, police said Nicholas Roesler  stabbed his 27-year-old ex-girlfriend  Colleen Perry to death in the back of a car before carrying her up to a Blue Ash apartment. 

These are just a few of many cases of domestic violence that community leaders say are plaguing our region. Since 2015, the local nonprofit Women Helping Women has reported a 70 percent increase in domestic violence deaths. The organization aids survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking.

Now, it's leaders say they're fighting back in a new way: Starting Monday, they'll be working with the Cincinnati Police Department to launch the Domestic Violence Enhancement Response Team -- also known as DVERT.

Through DVERT, members of the organization will send an women's advocate with police to the scene of a domestic violence call. 

"Police go out, deal with the perpetrator. We go out and respond through a trauma-informed response for the needs of survivors and children,” Women Helping Women CEO Kristin Shrimplin said.

How a survivor of assault is treated immediately after abuse impacts their path to recovery, Shrimplin said.

She said DVERT’s ultimate aim is to prevent homicides from domestic violence.

“We know that most domestic violence homicides happen when the survivor is planning to leave or in the process of leaving. It’s the most dangerous time,” she said. “So, we want to be able to show up in that moment of severe crisis and facilitate whatever the needs of the survivor, driven by that survivor.”

Abusive partners killed nine women in Cincinnati in 2017. The county saw 12 of these deaths, total.

Calls to police in these situations can turn violent, too. Damion McRae shot Cincinnati Police Officer Kenneth Grubbs multiple times in a Walnut Hills apartment courtyard in March 2017 while the officer was responding to a domestic violence call.

Since its initial inception, a flurry of interest for positions with the DVERT team has poured in, Shrimplin said.

Each police district in the city will have an advocate assigned, responding to what they determine are high lethality cases. A $120,000 grant allows five advocates to be available at any hour, every day.

The state covers this grant.

“If the individual has been threatened to be killed, or their children have been threatened to be killed. If there's a weapon present…if the survivor has had multiple calls to that residency or if the abuser is identified in the system. (If) we see that this person has victimized people on a repetitive basis, those are the calls that are going to take priority,” Shrimplin said.

Over the past few years, Women Helping Women has also seen an increase in both the need for its services and the amount of time survivors are using them, Shrimplin said.

“Some of the complexity of the violence has intensified,” she said. “Survivors are understanding they have a right to have their needs be meant.”