New tool to battle domestic violence State uses federal funds to buy cameras for police

September 24, 1998|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Police officers and prosecutors in 32 jurisdictions across the state will have another weapon in the battle against domestic violence, courtesy of federal funding: instant photographs to document the damage done by an abuser.

Police, prosecutors and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend gathered yesterday at Maryland State Police headquarters in Pikesville to announce the distribution of 400 Polaroid Spectra cameras and film to law enforcement. The announcement was followed by a training session for about two dozen officers who will use the $250 cameras when they respond to domestic-violence calls.

"Evidence, evidence, evidence is what a prosecutor needs -- these pictures give us evidence," said Patricia C. Jessamy, Baltimore state's attorney. "We must have evidence sufficient to convict. I think the pictures will say what, a lot of the time, women refuse to say."

The cameras have a significant advantage over traditional 35-mm ones, officials said yesterday. Because each picture is developed within moments of being shot, officers at the scene can determine immediately if the picture is complete and in focus.

Photographs are vital evidence in domestic-violence cases because in many cases, the victims won't testify. So common is victim reluctance, in fact, that advocacy groups urge police to treat domestic-violence cases the way they do homicides: evidence at the scene, not the victim, will tell the story in court.

"We tell officers, 'Assume you're not going to have a victim,' " said Jodi Finkelstein of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence coalition. "It's one of the best things a prosecutor could have. If you don't have the victim to testify, you can show the judge or jury exactly how hellacious it was."

Finkelstein and others said that often domestic violence victims won't testify out of fear of retaliation or because they believe promises by the abuser that it won't happen again.

There were 24,021 cases of domestic violence in Maryland in 1995 (the last year for which statistics were available), Finkelstein said -- an increase of nearly 20 percent over the 20,378 the year before.

Jessamy, Townsend and police emphasized yesterday that domestic violence reaches far beyond the family involved.

"Domestic abuse is not a private family matter -- it's a crime," Townsend said in a brief speech to announce the camera purchase, funded by an $80,000 grant from the federal Violence Against Women Act.

The officers who attended the training session said the cameras would help them document domestic crime.

"I think this will do very well," said Detective Cindy Woolford of the Baltimore Police Department, as she handled the camera during training. She turned to her partner, Detective Dale Weese. "You could have used this last week," she said, explaining that Weese had worked on a severe child-abuse case in which the victim died.

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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