• December 26, 2014

Bell County sees increase in convictions

Body cameras, thorough reports help with domestic cases

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Posted: Sunday, January 6, 2013 4:30 am

It’s been more than two years since the Bell County Attorney’s office worked with law enforcement to help officers improve the reporting of family violence.

Now police believe they are reaping the rewards.

The grant won in late 2010 included new body cameras for patrol officers responding to domestic disturbances. The aim was to better document evidence at crime scenes where police officers’ chief witnesses can often not be reliable.

In domestic violence, the criminal and the victim are more often than not closely entwined. Whether family members, spouses or partners, the accused and the victim may feel love for each other after a violent incident.

Prosecutions happen months from the initial arrest. During that time, a victim can become sympathetic to an abuser and refuse to testify.

The grant program sought to decrease that occurrence. By having a scene videotaped, a prosecutor would no longer need to rely on a victim’s testimony.

“I have to dismiss fewer cases and I have had more convictions,” said former County Attorney Rick Miller, who was head of the office until his retirement last week.

At the start, the body cameras were the most exciting part of the program, but they ended up not being the most useful, said Anne Jackson, a prosecutor at the county attorney’s office who oversaw the implementation of the grant.

Many of the 65 cameras distributed among local law enforcement agencies broke.

But what has lasted is new documentation standards for officers that prompt them to document details that may have gone unnoticed in a simple narrative report.

Working with Scott & White forensic nurses, Jackson created a series of family violence response forms for officers that include detailed reports on the types of injuries sustained, appearance, demeanor and voice tone for both the victim and suspect.

Officers also draw the injuries on body diagrams that are similar to the detailed reports forensic nurses use to document injuries for victims of sexual assault and brutal assaults that require hospitalization.

A victim statement form also changed from an open-ended description of what events took place to a series of questions that ask for more specific details about the incident.

Patrol officers with the Killeen Police Department most often encounter family violence. Patrol Commander Eric Fox said the enhanced documentation leads to officers being at a domestic disturbance for longer periods of time.

But it also teaches officers to create more complete reports. Every piece of information gathered can then be used in trial.

“That’s our leverage, and that’s what the whole program is about, to protect people,” Miller said.

Increased convictions in misdemeanor assaults can lead to a decrease in serious assaults. Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin gave the packets partial credit in the 5 percent drop in felony assaults seen from 2011 to 2012.

“We believe that documentation is helping them get those convictions,” Baldwin said.

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