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Change to violence unit is efficient, sheriff says

More training for all deputies, who handle most domestic cases, will make the department work better, he says.

By TAMARA LUSH

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Phasing out the Pasco County sheriff's domestic violence unit and shifting those cases to patrol deputies could take a year or more, agency officials said Wednesday.

But once 200 patrol deputies each receive 24 hours of domestic violence training, the agency will handle those calls more efficiently, Sheriff Bob White told the Domestic Violence Task Force.

"What we hope to accomplish is to make more arrests and make more arrests sooner," he said.

White and Capt. Alan Weinstein gave a general explanation of the upcoming changes during the meeting and answered questions from some of the 30 people in the audience.

Members of the local chapter for the National Organization for Women were critical of White's plan, and said they are going to watch how the agency handles domestic violence in the coming months.

"We have a model unit," said Dorris Kovalick of NOW. "Why are you trying to change something that isn't broken?"

Weinstein said that the agency's approach to domestic violence is "evolving," and explained that patrol already handles the majority of domestic violence arrests -- and should be better trained to deal with those incidents.

Last year, patrol deputies made 1,199 domestic violence arrests, while the special unit made 125 such arrests.

White said that patrol deputies only receive two hours of domestic violence training a year, which sometimes hinders the investigation.

"It's important that we do a better job of doing that initial investigation," White said.

Mary Ann Freeman, who works in a batterer intervention program at Alpha Counseling Service, said she welcomes the changes.

"My staff is thrilled that we're going to have more people in the street who have more training," she said.

The unit's sergeant, Gary Albin, and the three detectives will eventually be transferred to the major crimes squad, and will continue to investigate domestic violence cases.

Albin and local battered womens' shelter employees will train the patrol deputies, White said.

- Tamara Lush is the police reporter in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6245. Her e-mail address is lush@sptimes.com.

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