Fort Smith officers to staff Crisis Intervention Center

FORT SMITH, Ark – “It’ll open up more resources for our detectives to have, and also make us more accessible to the victims,” said Jason Thompson, deputy chief over the department’s nonuniformed bureau. “It’ll be a lot easier for them to come forward about the crimes whenever we have an office here and we’re a lot more accessible to them. We can work hand in hand with them to get them the services that they need.”

The Crisis Intervention Center is “a team of trauma-informed advocates that specialize in safety and action plans,” as well as the only Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence member and U.S. Department of Justice-approved victim service provider in the River Valley area, according to Police Department news release.

Penni Burns, chief executive officer of the Crisis Intervention Center, said in the history of domestic violence nationally, reporting is significantly lower than the cases that actually take place.

“Sometimes, for a multitude of reasons, victims just don’t want to go to the prosecutor’s office or to the police department,” Burns said. “And obviously, this is an emergency safe shelter, so if the victim is here in shelter and chooses to report, it means accessibility to law enforcement. It may not be safe for them to leave our property and go to the police department to do that reporting.”

Burns said the partnership will provide a calmer structure for the victims, with it being less intimidating for them to talk to an officer on-site in a setting that is not necessarily an office. It will also enable the Crisis Intervention Center to tell victims that it has a resource that it trusts to do what is right for them if they want to take the next step to get out of a domestic violence situation.

“And that’s what community partnerships are supposed to be about,” Burns said. “So we need that out in the public, that we have full faith in each other to make sure that these violent situations are dealt with immediately.”

The new office is paid for through the Crisis Intervention Center, according to Burns.

Mitchell said the office is currently operational. In addition to not functioning as security, the detectives staffed there, Danny O’Connor and Bradley Marion, would not be at the center at all times.

“[The] criminal investigations division does have 24/7 staffing, so there’s always someone on call for a case,” Mitchell said. “We have two detectives right now who are devoted to domestic violence cases, and they will be out here a lot, but it will be open to everyone.”

Fort Smith had 3,411 domestic disturbances in 2019, according to Mitchell.

Beth Goodrich, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said there were 51 domestic-violence homicides in the state in 2019. They were 28 women, 14 men, and nine children.

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