During an intensive five-day warrant sweep last week, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department arrested 52 domestic violence offenders with outstanding warrants, adding to its total of almost 1,800 domestic violence arrests for the year.
The department has responded to 3,686 domestic violence calls this year, with 75 percent of those verified to be cases of domestic violence.
The department’s domestic violence task force, headed by Sgt. Terry Parish, works these cases 365 days a year, with three detectives, one support specialist, a Pima County attorney detective and two probation officers.
But for this sweep they had 11 extra detectives on hand, including additional adult probation and county attorney investigators. Up to six teams were deployed each day, tracking almost 200 suspects during the entire operation.
Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the department took the opportunity to tackle the more than 1,000 outstanding domestic violence warrants in the system while sending a message that domestic violence won’t be tolerated.
While this particular effort focused on eliminating outstanding domestic violence warrants, most of the time, that’s only part of the goal.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this, we have to break the cycle,” Parish said. “The most important part of our job is the message we send to the victim.”
The domestic violence unit takes a multi-prong approach to arresting the offenders while empowering the victims to break the cycle, its specialized program seen in only a handful of law enforcement agencies nationwide.
They conduct several types of follow-up visits, but the task force ensures that the initial call isn’t the only contact the victim has with the department. They send a proactive message that they will be there as many times as needed to make sure the offender stays away.
“Enforcement is easy,” said Sheriff Chris Nanos. “We do that every year and we’re chasing our tails. What we need to do is prevent new victims.”
Nanos is hoping the department can put together a program to bring into schools, teaching kids at an early age about healthy relationships. He’d like to see the parents involved, saying that an integral part in ending domestic violence is for mothers and fathers to demonstrate healthy behaviors and attitudes to their children.
“At an early age, we need to teach them that how you treat people matters,” Nanos said.
Focus is on victim
Even employees outside the unit play an important part in empowering the victim, as they’re the first point of contact after a 911 call is made.
“Patrol handles the initial investigation, which is going to be one of the most in-depth parts,” said Deputy Daniel Ruiz, who works on the northwest side.
Ruiz, who started out with the department as a corrections officer in 2008, has been a patrol deputy since 2012.
He used to work on the south side, but says that his current district is the busier of the two districts when it comes to domestic violence calls.
Within 15 minutes of the start of his shift, a call comes in from a nearby apartment.
When Ruiz arrives, he makes a check of the area for the suspect, whom the caller said fled the scene.
Ruiz knocks on the door, announcing his presence. A young woman opens the door, a bassinet sits in the living room with an infant sleeping inside.
Ruiz immediately asks the woman if she’s OK, a tone of genuine concern in his voice. The 18-year-old woman says she is, then tells Ruiz what led to the 911 call.
Her boyfriend, who recently turned 21, began staying at her apartment about a month ago, shortly before their daughter was born. In the weeks since his birthday, he’d begun drinking regularly, which, compounded with a newborn, had led to an escalation of fighting in their two-year relationship, she says.
He had arrived home from work less than an hour before, and immediately started drinking, she says.
Ruiz looks around, noticing a half-dozen empty beers scattered around the apartment. There are also clothes strewn across the bedroom and a knife on the kitchen floor, along with various other kitchen utensils.
She says he knocked the clean dishes off the kitchen counter, explaining the knife on the floor. The argument turned into shoving, at which point her daughter started crying and she called 911.
Ruiz photographs an abrasion on the back of her shoulder, as she tells him that she grew up around a lot of fighting and didn’t want the same for her daughter.
He tells her that a warrant would be issued for her boyfriend’s arrest and conditions of release would be set by a judge and most likely include barring him from returning to the apartment.
Because he had clothing and possessions in the apartment, he had established standing in the eyes of the state and would be allowed to return until the conditions were set after his arrest.
Ruiz asks if she felt safe if her boyfriend were to return to get his belongings, to which she hesitantly replies “yes.” He urges her to consider staying somewhere else but doesn’t push the issue.
She begins crying when he told her that the Department of Child Safety had been called and would be conducting a visit, as is a requirement for every domestic violence call where children are involved. She asks if she would lose her daughter, and Ruiz replies that he didn’t know.
He stays with her until employees from Pima County Victims Services arrive to tell her about her options, such as counseling or even staying in a shelter, should she need it.
The Emerge Center Against Domestic Violence is an agency that the task force and County Attorney’s Office work closely with, as it provides resources and emergency shelter for victims and survivors.
On every domestic violence call, deputies discuss contacting the county’s Victim Services Division, asking them if it would be OK for them to stop by or call. Deputies can also request that they respond to the call, as Ruiz did in this case.
Ruiz goes about his shift, answering other calls, but returns to the woman’s apartment later when he gets a call that the DCS is stopping by.
No one is home, but the victim answers her phone. Having taken the advice of Ruiz and Victim Services, she’s gone to stay at her mother’s house for the night.
All domestic violence cases are handed off to Parish for his review after the patrol report is filed. If he finds probable cause for an arrest, he’ll give it to a detective who can issue a “PC alert” similar to an arrest warrant, except it’s not issued by a judge. It gives the detectives probable cause to arrest the suspect and get him or her away from the victim.
Other law enforcement agencies in the county, including the Oro Valley and Marana police departments, also get the PC alerts in their system. Because the Tucson Police Department operates on a different computer program, PC alerts don’t appear in the smaller departments’ systems.
PC alerts have a 21-day lifespan, “so if we can pick an offender up on a PC alert, we lessen the chance for the suspect to reoffend and get him away from the victim,” Parish said.
According to Detective Michael Buglewicz, about 90 percent of the task force’s involve PC alerts, which save time when compared to seeking arrest warrants that must be issued by a judge after the County Attorney’s office reviews the case.
“When the suspect isn’t arrested after the 911 call, they often return to where the event occurred, giving them time to talk the victim out of going to court,” Buglewicz said.
After a suspect is arrested and appears before a judge, the County Attorney’s Office reviews the case before filing charges, but PC alerts save the attorney’s office the initial review to obtain an arrest warrant.
From January 2011 to May 2014, sheriff’s domestic violence detectives arrested 1,000 offenders strictly from PC alerts. This year, 248 PC alert arrests for domestic violence have been made by the department.
It’s shortly after 9 a.m. when Buglewicz parks in front of the gated home on the southwest side of town. He and Detective Javier Chavarria open the gate and approach the house.
A shirtless young man opens the door and approaches them, holding a cup of water.
Buglewicz asks the man his name. When he responds with a different name than the man they are seeking, Buglewicz shows him a page-size photo of his face and asks if that’s him. The young man pauses before saying it’s his twin brother. But he is unable to produce identification.
The water cup falls onto the dusty ground as the man is handcuffed. He starts crying quietly, unaware that the fight he’d had with his mother and stepfather would lead to his arrest.
Buglewicz says that not everyone is aware that domestic violence doesn’t include only intimate partners, but also relatives.
On the way to the Pima County jail, he explains what will happen from there, irritated at first as he asks the man why he lied to him but softening as the conversation progresses.
The detectives arrest two other men off PC alerts in the next two hours, both of the offenders at work. Neither tries to resist and the men are treated respectfully, with Buglewicz even offering to charge one man’s phone for him on the ride to jail.
Checking in on victims
Some days, the detectives of the domestic violence task force spend hours tracking suspects but never make an arrest.
That might seem discouraging, but they know their time wasn’t wasted since their jobs are just as much about the victim as the offender.
After a person has been arrested and released from jail on a domestic violence charge, the next step is the compliance check, a weekly routine for Buglewicz and Detective Mark Milam, another member of the task force.
But although its name would indicate a focus on the offender — making sure he or she is abiding by the conditions of release — it’s just as much about the victim.
“After someone makes contact with us, we want to make sure to reaffirm and reinforce that contact,” Buglewicz said.
Compliance checks are done once a week in the evening or at night, when people are home from work and the offender is most likely to be there. Most weeks, the detectives make about 10 compliance checks.
The checks are for the victim as much as they are for seeing if someone is violating a condition of release. The detectives want victims to know that someone is there for them.
“We have a 100 percent success rate with convictions based on compliance checks, because we’ve caught the offender breaking the law,” Buglewicz said.
Because the word is getting out about compliance checks — either through the jail population or within the community — arrests for compliance check violations have gone down since they were initiated roughly a year ago.
On this particular visit, the offender isn’t at the house and hasn’t been back, his mother tells the detectives. Buglewicz tells her that they’re also there to check on her. She is visibly surprised but smiles as she invites them into the house, insisting they sit down to talk.
She thanks them and they begin to talk to her about what will happen next. They explain the conditions of release and what she should do if she wants to change them, then ask her if she’s spoken to Victim Services, which she says she hasn’t. They suggest that she think about doing so, since the division can provide various levels of support.
The detectives tell her the court process and some of the possible outcomes, including court-ordered counseling for her son. “You mean someone’s finally going to help him?” she asks, crying openly for a few minutes.
Her son has been in and out of prison for more than 30 years and recently was diagnosed with a mental illness, she said. In the past few months, she noticed his anger had been escalating, until the night that she called 911 after he pushed a dining room table into her.
More than 30 minutes later, the conversation ends in laughter, and she hugs the detectives on their way out, assuring them that she’ll be safe. “God bless you for what you do,” she says as she waves to them.