A domestic violence call can be a dangerous and complicated process for all involved.
Today, two Trenton Police Department officers experienced this first-hand. While returning a domestic violence victim to her home, a suspect opened fire on 15-year veteran Jimm Letts and 30-year veteran Edgar Rios, sending both of the officers to the hospital.
Authorities say the officers were returning the victim to her home at 59 Hobart Avenue after she had spent hours at the police station filing a domestic violence report.
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Filing and following-up with domestic violence reports can be a daunting task for police departmens with limited resources.
Executive director of Womanspace Inc., Patricia Hart, said her organization's volunteers help to fill a void in the state's domestic violence response services.
"A domestic violence call is a complicated call," Hart said. "Most often law enforement usually has to focus on law enforcement. So, they might not necessarily have time to sit and support the victim. We can do something they can't do. We can be in the room for as long as it takes to help her talk through it, to let her know what her options are, and help her with a lot of different things."
For the past 15 years, Womanspace Inc. of Mercer County, N.J., has been helping the Trenton Police Department -- and other departments in the state -- with providing counseling to domestic violence victims. Womanspace recruits and trains volunteers to work alongside police as a part of its Domestic Violence Victim Response Team (DVVRT).
"After 80 hours of training, our volunteers will respond at the time of a domestic. When the officer brings the victim back to the police department, our volunteers are there to speak with them and to help inform them of their options," Hart said.
When viewed as a ratio of its occurrence, one act of domestic violence occurs every 7 minutes and 5 seconds in New Jersey.
The officers responding to domestic violence calls often face what Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini referred to as a particularly volatile situation, compared to other crimes.
"With domestic violence situations, even if you had the full compliment of 350 police officers, this still would have occurred, because the volatility of a domestic violence situation versus ofther types of criminal events sets it apart," Bocchini said.
Bochinni spoke to NBC10 reporters this morning from the scene of the shooting in Mercer County where the two officers were shot.
Trenton Police Superintendent Ralph Rivera, Jr. echoed Bochinni's sentiment.
"As we know in domestic violence situations, you could have a million officers out here, but in these domestic cases, you can’t stop them if someone is out to hurt someone else," Rivera said.
In 2011, Trenton police responded to 1,301 domestic violence assaults reported in Mercer county. That number was down slightly from 1,391 of the same incidents reported in the same county the previous year.
Statewide, in 2010, 74,244 domestic violence incidents were reported. In 2011, the number of reported incidents dropped by five percent, to 70,311. But according to state police statistics, domestic violence incidents involving murders increased five percent, from 38 in 2010 to 40 in 2011. Overall, women were victims in 76 percent or 53,155 of all domestic violence offenses that year.
"Statistically it is usually the woman that is the victim, but we help male victims as well," Hart said. "It can be very emotionally draining for all involved, so we try really hard to give them as much assistance as possible."
The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act signed into law in New Jersey in 1991, made it manadatory for every law enforcement department in New Jersey to have a domestic violence response team.