The world is filled with an air of uncertainty right now due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic that is gripping the world. Tensions are high, people are scared, and we are all searching for answers. Although most people can cope during these difficult times by making the best of a bad situation, an unfortunate side effect of the pandemic has been an increase in Domestic Violence 911 calls nationwide. With so many people forced to self-isolate, confining themselves to their homes or apartments, domestic tensions can easily become a proverbial powder keg ready to blow at any moment.
Many agencies nationwide are seeing a spike of roughly 20% increase in domestic violence related calls from February to March. Those numbers are likely to rise as social distancing mandates are extended, resulting in these calls becoming more prominent and increasing demand upon the call center until this pandemic is over. Already one of the most volatile calls to receive for a responder, the Department of Justice states that 40% of officer fatalities are due to a domestic related call. Now, add on the possibility that a person(s) at these incidents might have COVID-19. This compounds an already stressful challenge confronting the responding officer and heightens the need for efficient gathering of scene information by the telecommunicator.
As always, accurately assessing risk from information gathered during 911 calls can play a crucial part in protecting responders. Given the tensions that often surround these situations, it can be hard to come by. The call could be coming from a child in the home unwilling to antagonize adults nearby, a neighbor that hears something from another apartment but is reluctant to become too involved, or a victim trying hard not to reveal to an abuser close by that they are calling 911. The more information that can be gathered from the caller, the more likelihood the most applicable resources will be promptly and safely dispatched.
How can a telecommunicator combat and overcome these potential barriers of communication? One way is through training and keeping up to date on the current trends of the industry. Currently, a lot of attention is focused on screening calls to assess the risk of COVID-19 exposure before responders are sent. The CDC offers well-documented guidelines for dealing with a coronavirus patient and the actions recommended to be followed by PSAPs. But could these agencies be at risk of overlooking some of the warning signs indicating a possible domestic violence event? Many agencies may regard that their approach to handling domestic violence calls need not change because these are calls that they routinely expect to receive. The profound impact from the COVID-19 outbreak upon communities, their inhabitants, and the support services those people depend on should not be underestimated. It would be unwise to drop their guard regarding preparedness and telecommunicator training given those impacts.
Another consequence of COVID-19 has been the transition for many people to be able to continue working despite social distancing policies causing the closure of non-essential business offices. Using the internet and audio-visual conferencing tools has helped with the transition to stay connected. These systems also offer an opportunity to PSAPs seeking access to training resources for existing hires or to retrain short term hires brought in to cover vacancies caused by the result of actual or suspected COVID-19 exposure. By being proactive and adapting to the changing operational environment, together with utilization of online resources and training tools, PSAPs have the means to maintain the standard of care the communities they serve have come to expect.
Along with the CDC website, there are many other resources available to an agency that offer training services and information enabling them to stay up to date with current Domestic Violence Intervention trends.
By preparing for what can happen, and most importantly, maintaining a positive outlook within the call center, surviving the challenges of these tough times will be manageable. In doing so, PSAPs will remain able to deliver what is best for the caller on that other line, and the responders they dispatch, which after all despite everything else is what matters most.