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The Family Protection Unit

The Family Protection Unit (FPU) of the Westminster, CA Police Department is set up so that each position involved in the unit compliments each other. The domestic violence detective is assigned to handle all incoming domestic violence oriented cases. This would include stalking cases if the stalking detective were not available, whether the case is classified as a domestic violence stalking or found to be stranger, or that of the acquaintance variety.

The domestic violence detective works closely with the unit’s in house probation officer. This partnership would include random searches and probation interviews. The domestic violence detective also coordinates with the unit’s in-house social worker and the assigned victim adomestic violenceocate. The domestic violence detective is also cross-trained in sexual assault investigation. Both the domestic violence and sexual assault detective are on call 24/7 seven, to better assist patrol in the quality of their investigations.

These two detectives also avail themselves of an innovative system that can be used by all Orange County sexual assault detectives in the Child Abuse Services Team (CAST). Detectives bring young sexual assault or abuse victims to this unique unit housed within the Orange County Juvenile Justice complex. There, a forensic child-interview specialist conducts an interview, which is both video and audio recorded, while the detective, the on-call sexual assault deputy district attorney, and often a social worker view the interview from an adjoining room. If the child was sexually assaulted, a specially trained physician is then brought in on the case. All this, helps to eliminate any defense issues and enhances prosecution.

It should be noted that all patrol officers in CAST carry small portable tape recorders they can activate during any call. Officers on domestic violence and sexual assault cases use them most often. This greatly enhances the prosecution of these types of cases.

The sexual assault detective is assigned all sexual assault cases such as aggravated rape, child molestation, etc. He coordinates closely with the domestic violence detective who is his assigned partner. He also works closely with the unit’s social worker and domestic violence adomestic violenceocate. All suspected stalking cases are submitted to the stalking detective for evaluation. He coordinates primarily with the domestic violence detective, with whom he is partnered. He will assist the sexual assault detective if the need arises. He will coordinate primarily with both the domestic violence adomestic violenceocate and the domestic violence probation officer. On occasion he will get involved with the unit’s social worker.

Involvement by the Orange County Deputy District Attorney is where the unit really becomes unique. The FPU has its own in-house deputy district attorney that handles all of its cases in a vertical prosecution fashion. In other words, the deputy district attorney files the case, handles it through preliminary hearing, and then takes it to trial if necessary. All of the cases are submitted to him for filing. He also approves all search warrants and responds on many crime scenes. His singleness of mind and purpose has greatly enhanced both The FPU’s filings and convictions.

Unlike many jurisdictions that must find a district attorney that is not busy to review their case, he becomes a close partner in both the investigation and prosecution of each of the cases the unit handles. The Gang Unit also has an in-house deputy district attorney assigned to their unit. He also vertically prosecutes all the gang cases. Having two department based deputy district attorneys allows other detectives the opportunity to run cases and strategies by these prosecutors, thus increasing the quality of our investigative output.

The unit includes an Orange County Deputy Probation Officer trained in domestic violence and fluent in Vietnamese, due to the fact the area incorporates Little Saigon and the largest Vietnamese population in the United States. She coordinates heavily with the domestic violence detective on probation searches and other client management techniques. This coordination oftentimes leads to probation violation arrests as well as other crimes discovered during the course of the investigation.

The Orange County social worker assigned to the unit is responsible for responding to homes to conduct evaluations on parental fitness. The social worker and domestic violence detective coordinate on cases on a regular basis. The social worker may also work with the sexual assault detective concerning molest situations. In this instance, the social worker will handle child protective placements as well as assist with getting them evaluated by a physician when the need arises. The social worker will also get involved in the formal courtroom child hearings on both removal and placement.

The program’s victim adomestic violenceocate comes to the unit from The Women’s Transitional Living Center. The adomestic violenceocate coordinates the following: obtaining food, income, and shelter placement for the victims; assisting victims in obtaining restraining orders; going to court appearances with the victims; going out on criminal investigations with the domestic violence detective; sets up counseling for the victim, and; coordinates with everyone in the unit.

The Police Service Officer (PSO) handles a great deal of our case management and case preparation within the unit. This officer assists the unit’s district attorney with preparation and dissemination of discovery materials. The PSO also keeps a data board with all the unit’s current cases posted on same.

The FPU is still in its grant stage with about another year to run; therefore, it is constantly monitored and evaluated by the police department’s planning and research division. This two person team keeps the administrative captain, and chief up-to-speed on what exactly is transpiring in the unit.

Stalking Protocol

Due to the fact that the unit has been actively working stalkers in our community since 1991, it developed a stalking protocol early in the game. The protocol has proven to work not only for Westminster’s unit, but those agencies that have adopted all or a part of it. Because all stalking is handled through the FPU, we thought it apropos to share the protocol with you. The language and reasoning behind each step of the protocol is fairly lengthy, therefore additional information beyond this article on stalking and the FPU is available upon contact with our agency.

Uniform and desk officers are requested not to take stalking crime reports in the field. Our officers are trained in how to identify stalking, and how to notify detectives of the incident via note or through the body of a report they are dealing with.

The detective sergeant, who is also well versed in stalking, triages all the cases that come into the detective division. If he finds a possible stalking case, he forwards it to either the detective in charge of stalking or the domestic violence detective.

The stalking detective conducts an in depth threat assessment interview with the victim. Once the threat level is determined, the detective develops a profile on the stalker, which includes a complete background as well as a search for other victims that the stalker has stalked in the past.

The stalking victim is then cataloged. This includes, fingerprinting a complete set of photographs, and a logging and photographing of all marks scars and tattoos. If the victim has children at risk they are also photographed and fingerprinted. We also photograph the cars the victim may drive on a regular basis. Cataloging is done so that we can put out quick information on the victim or her children if they are kidnapped. The detective in charge of the case is then required to keep in contact with the victim to both gather additional information as well as to keep him or her aware of what is going on in their particular case.

The victim is supplied with and trained on the use of a Westminster Police Department stalking log. The victim should enter dates, times, and descriptions of what the stalker does to the victim into the logs. The department also encourages victims to tape record calls from the stalker. The detective handling the case develops a stalking chronology and then writes his basic crime report from all the information gathered. The average crime report is between 200 to 500 pages long.

Search warrants are developed in each stalking case. Due to the increase in the use of the Internet by stalkers, their computers and other sources of digital storage are seized. These computers are processed by an in-house computer forensic team. Over the years, the department has developed a list of items to be regularly searched when issuing request warrants. Each additional case also brings with it other items detectives might want to look for.

The department attempts to serve a search warrant at the same time of the stalker’s arrest. Prior to either being initiated, the FPU attempts to make a tape recorded phone call to the stalker. Stalkers are usually more comfortable on the phone, give more information, and officers do not have to issue Miranda rights. Once taken into custody, all interviews are video taped. FPU tries to serve search warrants prior to the stalker being interviewed. A tremendous amount of information can be gleaned form these searches, which helps in the interview process.

The FPU keeps completed stalking cases in red books.

The majority of stalking crime reports are kept much like our homicide books. The homicide books are black and stalking casebooks are red. The department keeps the books on the stalkers who feel are most likely to re-offend. This helps not only us, but other agencies who encounter these same stalkers.

Protocol Results

The stalking protocol was first put into effect in 1994. Since the stalking law’s inception, the FPU has found that what morphed into our protocol was the most simple and effective way to conduct a stalking investigation. The protocol has been modified slightly over the years, but for the most part it has remained pretty much the same.

Over the years we have worked numerous stalking cases. Our goal is to try and prevent any case that has the potential to become a full blown stalking scenario stopped before it gets there. Therefore we may file other lesser charges than stalking initially, in an attempt to get the potential stalker on supervised probation.

Keep in mind that other felony crimes such as burglary, criminal or terrorist threats, are part and parcel of many stalking cases; therefore these crimes are charged in our complaints as well. To date, all of the defendants charged with stalking have pled guilty prior to trial. Most of defendants pled guilty to all felony charges. Some have pled guilty to more than one strike count, at least two have pled to three strikes.

Chief Andy Hall’s vision of developing a specialized unit that reduces the number of times the department has to respond to the same domestic violence problem has been realized. His model has also proven that the use of multi-agency participation in one unit also enhances, prosecution, longer jail terms, and perhaps produces the best work product of all, better service to the victim and the community on the whole.

Michael Proctor has worked for the Westminster Police Department, Westminster, CA for 31 years, both as an officer and now as a reserve police detective assigned to the Family Protection Unit. He is the author of How to Stop a Stalker. He can be reached at duckworks@cox.net.

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2005

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Article Images

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Forensic Services Intern Erik Rosado taking digital fingerprints of a victim of domestic violence.
Officer Eddie Esqueda booking a suspect arrested for criminal threats and spousal abuse.
FPU Sexual Assault Detective Scott Storey and FPU Victim Adomestic violenceocate Luisa Balderas review their notes after conducting a CAST interview at the Orange County Department of Child Services.
Police Metro Detective, now Sergeant Tom Richard assisting FPU victim adomestic violenceocate Luisa Balderas who is generating paperwork for a domestic violence protective order.
Traffic Officer Donald Web checking on a suspicious vehicle parked at the Asian Garden Mall, possibly involved in a domestic violence case.
FPU Detective Cliff Williams and Special Investigation Forensic Computer Detective Tom Rackleff conducting a forensic exam of a stalking suspect’s computer hard drive.
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