ANNAPOLIS – Domestic violence educator is not her official job title, but that hasn’t stopped Col. Margaret Patten from making it her vocation for eight years.
“Everybody says, `It’s not my job.’ Well, it really isn’t my job, but I make it (mine),” said the chief of research and development for the Baltimore Police Department.
After serving on a domestic violence committee for the city, the 26-year veteran realized how important awareness was. Police officers need to look at violence in a comprehensive way, she said.
In part because of her work, Baltimore patrol officers now look for cases of child and animal abuse when out on a domestic violence call.
By connecting with more agencies like animal control, police can reach victims that they haven’t touched, she said. The agencies need to acknowledge how other forms of abuse are tied.
The team approach works well, Patten said, because it makes a strong case in court and really supports the victims.
Although collaboration is the key to preventing different types of abuse today, there was a time when domestic violence wasn’t discussed, she said. Ten years ago it was largely a family secret, Patten said.
Then cases weren’t even counted, she said, making it hard to determine if there is an increase. In the 1970s, police handled domestic abuse cases very differently, she said. They took no photographs of injuries and didn’t document calls.
Domestic violence complaints are among the most dangerous for police officers. It took Patten years to realize they are exceedingly dangerous for victims as well. “One of my most aggressive calls for service was a domestic violence case for an older couple,” said Patten.
The couple argued and the husband beat his wife and threw her down the stairs. The woman, who did not speak English well, Patten said, must have felt so isolated. The woman later recovered and dropped all charges against her husband, frustrating Patten.
Now, she said, she understands why the woman stayed with her abuser.
“I know all the reasons why these things take place,” she said. Although Patten can recognize the signs of abuse now, the incident still stays with her.
“I often wonder what ever happened to that couple,” she said. Since 1995, the Baltimore Police Department has targeted domestic violence, Patten said. That year, there were 27 homicides from domestic violence.
Each year since, the number of domestic homicides decreased, she said, with just five related deaths this year. “I consider one too many,” Patten said.
Police need a pro-active, aggressive approach, she said. Even an argument is reported and documented, she said, and the domestic violence unit tracks all assaults.
As the years pass, she said she sees the difference she is making. Last year, Baltimore received more than 34,000 domestic violence calls. Every one of those people is alive today, Patten said.
Looking forward, she said she would like to focus more on outreach efforts. More presentations to domestic violence groups and talks with young children on inappropriate, aggressive behavior are next on her agenda. “There are so many things you can do with it,” she said. Any progress makes her part-time job worth all the effort.