By Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety
Probation and parole officers have an unrestricted view into the homes and lives of offenders, which puts them in a unique position to identify domestic violence situations. Unfortunately, many officers don’t have the proper training to identify red flags of domestic violence—more accurately called intimate partner violence or IPV. Even if they do identify something that may indicate IPV, officers don’t have the training to know how to best respond.
This training gap troubled John Hegger, a training administrator for the Division of Community Corrections within the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NC DPS). “We wanted training to help staff identify signs of IPV in the hopes that they can identify more cases by finding abusers and then helping victims in need,” he said.
Hegger quickly realized the department’s existing training on this topic was inadequate. “When I started as a probation officer in 2009, domestic violence training consisted of a video with a quiz and that was it,” he said. “Once you passed—unless you sought out more training on your own—you didn’t get any additional training on it.”
Hegger’s prior law enforcement experience as a training officer helped him quickly transition into a full-time training role with community corrections in 2011. He eventually became a statewide training administrator in 2017. He started evaluating NC DPS courses and found that officers were still watching that same video. “I wanted training that was new and fresh that included today’s terminology,” he said.
He started looking for existing training to incorporate into the state’s learning management system. He reached out to several non-profit organizations, as well as local, state and federal agencies for resources to help him build and design an IPV training course, but didn’t find anything. Finally, he stumbled across a training module offered by the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA).
After taking the APPA course, Hegger knew that the relevant, focused material was what he was looking to incorporate into NC DPS training, so he sought out the author of the training, American Military University (AMU) criminal justice professor, Dr. Ron Wallace.
“Dr. Wallace and I discussed all these great ideas and it was really exciting, but at one point reality hit and I started thinking about how we were going to do it as an agency. Funding is often challenging for any public safety agency,” he said.
When Hegger mentioned cost barriers, Wallace didn’t hesitate. “North Carolina was where I started my career in probation and parole, so I told them I would do it for free,” he said. Hegger then proposed the training to his administration, who thought it was a great idea. “We are excited about the partnership with Dr. Wallace and the opportunity it affords our officers to receive vital training related to domestic violence recognition and intervention, as well as enhancing safety for victims,” said Tracy Lee, Director of the Division of Community Corrections.
Wallace spent about 80 hours creating the first training module, which is an overview of IPV. “It’s an introduction to IPV, how prevalent it is in North Carolina, and why it’s important for those in community corrections to understand this problem,” said Wallace. The module is presented as a slideshow with Wallace narrating. Throughout the 45-minute module, there are several knowledge checkpoints as well as a final quiz that staff must complete to ensure they understand the information.
[Related: What Does Domestic Violence Look Like?]
In March 2018, the first module was released as required training to more than 2,000 NC DPS agency staff, including probation and parole officers, as well as support staff such as office and administrative employees. “We wanted to include support staff because they might see something in our lobby or while they’re out in public, and they can pass along that information to our officers who can help keep an eye on the situation,” said Hegger.
Wallace and Hegger are currently collaborating to develop the content for the second and third modules. These modules will be video-based using actors to depict realistic scenarios that staff and officers are likely to find themselves in, including an office setting and a home visit scenario. “These next modules will include more specifics about signs of IPV in a realistic setting,” said Hegger. “They will also show officers what they should do versus what they shouldn’t do, and the ramifications of both responses.”
The partnership between NC DPS and American Military University to create these trainings shows how seriously the department takes issues involving IPV. “Through this training series, our officers and staff are getting up-to-date information that can help them not only help others, but keep offenders and themselves safe, while increasing public safety as a whole,” said Hegger.
About the Author: Leischen (Stelter) Kranick is the editor of In Public Safety, an American Military University sponsored website. She has spent six years writing articles on issues and trends relevant to professionals in law enforcement, fire services, emergency management and national security. To contact her, email IPSauthors@apus.edu.For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.