New Aspen area approach to domestic violence helping |

New Aspen area approach to domestic violence helping

A year ago, the Aspen Police Department started a new partnership that has changed the way officers deal with incidents of domestic violence in the community.

Instead of referring victims of domestic violence to a local nonprofit that specializes in helping them, officers now call the nonprofit’s 24-hour hotline from the scene and offer victims the opportunity to seek help right then, said Aspen Assistant Police Chief Linda Consuegra.

“It’s not forced,” she said. “We try and sell it to them to make that connection.”

And whether they decide to accept assistance at the time, officers also forward information about the domestic violence situation to Response, the nonprofit, and tell the victim that someone from the organization will contact them within 24 hours, Consuegra said.

“It’s made a difference for us,” she said. “We can provide services to them quicker and it makes it more accessible to them.”

Christine Nolen, Response executive director, agreed that the program, which also involves the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Basalt police and Snowmass Village police, has been a success.

“We would never have known about these people if (the police-initiated notification) was not put in place,” Nolen said. “We’ve made inroads in helping that segment of the community knowing we are here.”

Response offers confidential, non-judgmental services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and won’t call law enforcement unless it receives information about juveniles being abused, she said.

So far this year, Aspen police officers have responded to 51 calls involving domestic violence, said Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn. Out of those calls, officers made 13 arrests for domestic violence-related charges, he said.

That compares with 72 domestic violence-related calls for service at this time last year, Linn said. Aspen officers responded to a total of 90 domestic violence-related calls in 2015, according to online Aspen Police Department statistics.

Officers responded to 103 domestic violence-related calls for service in 2012, the highest number since 2004, according to the statistics.

And while some years yield higher totals of domestic violence calls than others, Nolen, Consuegra and Linn all agreed that the problem generally remains the same, statistically speaking, year in and year out.

“I think domestic violence calls have always been consistent,” Consuegra said.

Nolen said that while Response’s client numbers are up this year, the number of cases remains more or less the same.

“I don’t think there have been wild swings (over the years),” she said.

Still, the character of their clients is changing a bit, Nolen said, noting that the organization now receives more Hispanic and LBGTQ clients than in previous years.

District Attorney Sherry Caloia also said she thinks the number of domestic violence cases in Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, which make up the 9th Judicial District, has remained consistent.

“I don’t think it’s becoming more of a problem in the valley,” she said.

Garfield County receives between five and 10 domestic violence cases per week, while the Aspen area receives between five and 10 a month, according to Caloia and Sarah Talbott, a Pitkin County court prosecutor.

All involved with the problem of domestic violence noted that it cuts across socio-economic, cultural and age lines and can affect any segment of the community.

Caloia said there’s one main thing she’d like people to know if they become involved in a domestic violence situation.

“I just want people to walk away,” she said. “You’re not going to win the argument. The biggest thing people can do is walk away and cool down.”

Nolen said she wants people to know that domestic violence doesn’t always take the form of brutal, physical contact. It often starts with smaller, less physical incidents of pushing or verbal abuse, she said, “but it always escalates.”

Linn and Consuegra said they’d like people to know that services are available and victims are not alone or at fault when domestic violence occurs.

“There’s help and they can reach out,” Consuegra said. “So many households will never call the police.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and much more information is available at Response’s website or by calling the organization at 970-920-5357. Response’s 24-hour, seven-day-a-week confidential hotline can be reached at 970-925-SAFE (7233).