NYPD chief to domestic violence victims: ‘There is hope’

Deputy Chief Kathleen O'Reilly heads the NYPD's Domestic Violence Prevention Unit. Credit: NYPD
Deputy Chief Kathleen O’Reilly heads the NYPD’s Domestic Violence Prevention Unit.
Credit: NYPD

Speaking to the chief of the NYPD’s Domestic Violence Unit, it is apparent that one of the most frustrating aspects of that job is a statistic they have seemingly little control over: 70 percent of the victims killed in domestic violence incidents never contacted the police.

“We all know domestic violence is an under-reported crime,” Deputy Chief Kathleen O’Reilly said. “There’s a pool out there that are still afraid to come in and report, or that we’re not able to reach.”

That’s her next big goal, she says: outreach.

“I think that’s where our next step has to be,” she mused. “To let people know that we have these wonderful services and that there is hope, and that we’re there to help.”

A 23-year veteran of the NYPD, O’Reilly has led this unit for a little over two years. She speaks quickly and plainly, goal-oriented and driven, but palpably empathetic when discussing the victims she works with.

She is emphatic about instructing her officers “not to be judgmental or question a person’s motive for staying in an abusive relationship.” She says it’s important for officers to understand the factors that influence those decisions when working with victims: situational reasons like economic dependence, social isolation or lack of housing alternatives; emotional reasons, like an insecurity about being alone, shame, or love; or religious, cultural or family pressures.

One of the first things she did when she took over the unit was to prioritize. The NYPD responds to 250,000 domestic violence incidents a year. The Domestic Violence Unit’s prevention officers can’t visit each home.

“We have to triage on who we visit,” she explained.

The unit always visits elderly victims at least once a month, and makes sure to visit child victims and children who are in homes where they witness violence. They also keep a “high propensity list,” those most likely to be re-victimized. There’s no hard and fast criteria to determine who gets on that list: It could be an escalation from a previously reported incident, or a location where repeated calls are being made. She places her trust in her domestic violence prevention officers in the field to determine who is most vulnerable.

“Sometimes it could be the gut instinct of one of our domestic violence officers,” she said. “He sees something that doesn’t look quite right in the household, for example.”

There are numbers to be pleased about: there was a 28 percent reduction in domestic violence homicides last year, and a 21 percent decrease this year. It seems the unit’s 75,000 yearly home visits are doing some good.

“We don’t know how many lives we save just by knocking on that door,” she said. “I truly believe that, I think we’re making a difference in domestic violence in great strides.”

O’Reilly emphasized one part of the NYPD’s approach that she was especially proud of: their contribution to facilitating what is called “evidence-based prosecution.”

All 34,500 members of the NYPD are trained to treat domestic violence incidents like homicide scenes, she explained. In a homicide, the victim is of course unable to testify against the perpetrator or otherwise assist in the prosecution. Cops are told to approach domestic violence incidents with the same assumption, in order to enable prosecutors “to convict abusers without the cooperation of a victim.”

“As long as we gather the evidence, they can move forward with their case,” she said.

The only time O’Reilly hesitated in discussing her unit was when she was prompted to describe the kinds of injuries they see.

“We see everything,” she said after a pause. “We see a wide variety — specifics, I can’t speak to. We see it all.”

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

News

Mets mascot Mr. Met target of Bill Clinton…

Mets mascot Mr. Met has told how he ended up in the crosshairs of a Secret Service sniper rifle. The man behind the Mr. Met…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

National

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child

Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child.

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

Television

Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…

Television

Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Sports

2014 Boston Marathon preview: Elite American, International runners…

2014 Boston Marathon: Elite American, International runners to watch

NBA

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams…

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams have the best shot at a championship. The Thunder, Clippers, Heat and Rockets lead the way.

NFL

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.