New Unit Seeks To Reduce Domestic Violence

Hartford Police Officers go over a suspect's profile during a warrant sweep Sept. 22. The new unit is tackling the persistent problem of domestic violence. (RICK HARTFORD)

It's 5 a.m. and about two dozen city police and probation officers are gathered at the department's Jennings Road headquarters.

They're armed with oustanding warrants. The target: nearly 20 suspects wanted on multiple domestic violence-related charges.

The large-scale response in late September was the first organized by the city police department's new Domestic Violence Response Unit.

The unit, which consists of two detectives and a lieutenant, began its work in April. It was formed by Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts after an analysis of crime statistics showed that domestic violence accounted for almost a quarter of all aggravated assaults in the city in 2008 and a third of them in 2009. Those numbers prompted the department to look back further, revealing that domestic violence had increased in the city 216 percent over five years.

Roberts attributes much of the increase in domestic violence to the bad economy and the fact that many families are made up of young people unprepared for the pressures of relationships and parenthood.

Since its formation, the unit has been collecting and pursuing case files. Det. Iris Perez also works to build a rapport with battered women and, in a few cases, men. "I contact about 15 to 20 victims a day," Perez said. She said that many victims are hesitant to talk at first.

"They ask, 'Why are you calling me?' " Perez said. She tells them she's there to provide support and information about programs, the process and the law.

"They always want to know about restraining orders," she said, "where to apply and what happens if he comes around. They know that by calling me, they are going to get a real answer."

Busy Morning

After the morning briefing, officers divide into two groups. One will take the southern half of Hartford and the other the north. Both groups are backed up by armed SWAT teams.

By 5:45 a.m., Team North, led by Det. Phil Fuschino, is approaching a three-story apartment building outside 48 Capen St. It's still dark and quiet as team members head to a second-floor apartment. A light goes on and for a few moments the muffled yelling of a woman can be heard. A short time later officers emerge, empty-handed.

"He's not here," said Fuschino, the other detective on the domestic unit.

Fuschino, an eight-year veteran, said he volunteered because it was something the department hadn't done before, at least not as an official domestic violence unit.

"We always knew it was there because we dealt with it," he said. "I feel like I'm making a difference."

By 6 a.m. Team North is outside 14 Eastford St., where they are looking for Floyd Johnson, 48, a man they say has a violent past that includes robbery and violation of protective orders. Johnson isn't there, but a resident tells police he might be around the corner at 21 Rockville St.

As they approach the house on Rockville less than 15 minutes later, officers are cautioned that their arrival may have been announced. Officers spread out around the exterior of the house while the homeowner — after repeated knocking — answers the door. She says she doesn't know who is in her house. But movement through a window at the rear of the house prompts officers to enter. They find Johnson, arrest him, and charge him with two counts of violation of a restraining order, third-degree criminal attempted robbery, evading responsibility and two counts of violation of probation.

Handcuffed and leaning against the hood of a car, Johnson acknowledges that he knew there was a warrant for his arrest.

"You know what? I'm glad you caught me," he tells officers. "I was tired of running anyway."

The woman who answered the door, Lashonda Allen, 24, was charged with interfering with police.