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Erickson reflects on 2 years of helping victims

JPD, city hope for a new grant to fill her position

Posted: March 25, 2012 - 11:03pm
Julia Erickson, a police crisis intervention specialist, poses for a portrait at her office at the Juneau Police Department station in Juneau, Friday.  Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Julia Erickson, a police crisis intervention specialist, poses for a portrait at her office at the Juneau Police Department station in Juneau, Friday.

Roughly 178 women in Juneau this year, and 898 last year, have received the following phone call:

“Hi, I’m Julia Erickson from the Juneau Police Department. I know that you were involved in a domestic violence incident last night, and I want to check in and see how you’re doing today.”

Erickson, a former safehouse shelter director, was hired in the summer of 2010 to be JPD’s first PCIS, which is short for Police Crisis Intervention Specialist. The two-year temporary position was funded by a federal grant that expires in June.

Erickson’s job begins after first police responders leave the scene of a domestic violence call. She works directly with the victims to address their needs, determines what kind of services they require and stays with them until their safety is secured.

“A lot of what I do is very individualized, and it really depends on the needs of the women, or the victim, and what she needs in terms of to promote her safety, her peace of mind,” Erickson said. “That might mean getting the children back. It might mean getting a protective order. It might mean understanding the court process. ‘What is an arraignment hearing? What’s he being charged with when I really just wanted him to get help, and now he’s going to jail? This isn’t what I wanted.’ There’s just a lot of things that can happen as a result of a police response.”

Before Erickson was hired, follow-up duties fell to the officer originally assigned to the case, said JPD spokesman Lt. David Campbell. Each officer at JPD is specially trained on how to respond to domestic violence assault calls, but a PCIS was needed to be more consistent, Campbell said. It also frees up officers who have to be able to respond to calls of service, he said.

“I think what she does is very important and vital,” Campbell said, adding “It’s a kind of situation where we’d like to continue (the position) if we can.”

In 2010, 17 percent of all arrests were for crimes involving domestic violence, according to JPD’s 2011 annual report.

In 2009, JPD made 142 domestic violence assault arrests, and there were 352 domestic violence or stalking protective orders issued, 42 of which were violated.

With such an obvious “extremely prevalent” problem, JPD applied for a U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs grant in 2009 as an effort to break the “cycle of violence,” a brief in one of the annual reports explained.

“Domestic violence and related family crimes continue to be extremely prevalent and therefore costly to the City and Borough of Juneau,” the report says. “Our ability to break the ‘cycle of violence’ remains questionable without some kind of intervention for the victims’ families.”

Hiring a social work professional as an employee of a police department, an idea based out of a successful program in Scottsdale, Ariz., could help ensure victims are provided referral and other social program assistance, as well as a central point of contact for family crisis issues, the report says.

After securing the money, they found Erickson, whose background is in mental health and chemical dependency, to do the job.

Erickson, 60, who was born in Arvada, Colo., and raised in Milwaukie, Ore., has her bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in counseling. She is a former mental health clinician and case manager supervisor at the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health. She also has worked in the mental health field in Las Vegas within the corrections system. For two years, she ran a shelter in Henderson, Nev., outside of Las Vegas, called S.A.F.E. House, short of Stop Abuse in the Family Environment.

In her position as the PCIS, she has borne witness to the abuse that usually occurs in secret behind closed doors. The physical abuse — broken bones, bruises, black eyes — is difficult to stomach, she said.

“But the emotional abuse, just that eroding of self-esteem. A woman believing she deserves to be hit, that she doesn’t want to leave, she thinks that this is the only relationship for her, that she can fix it. Those are all really hard for me to see,” Erickson said.

She said it usually takes a woman — “woman” because about 90 to 95 percent of the domestic violence cases she sees in Juneau are a man against a woman, she said — about eight years or so in an unhealthy relationship before she realizes she has to leave.

“That’s statistics,” she said. “That’s pretty much nationally accepted.”

The core the problem boils down to lack of respect, and what’s usually referred to “power and control,” she said.

“You’re trying to control somebody else by your actions through aggressive behavior,” she said. “That might be physically aggressive. It might be verbally aggressive, There’s just a variety of ways that people can try and control each other.”

She added, “I think that people come to relationships with their own set of baggage, so some people are really — they’re not in a healthy place themselves to start off with. And so they choose partners that they can easily manipulate, and they choose partners that they believe will protect them, that they’re taking care of them when really they’re trying to control them.”

Sometimes when she calls a recent domestic violence victim, the response is a dial tone.

“That’s not uncommon,” Erickson said in an interview at her office at the JPD station this week. “‘No, I don’t want to talk to you. No, I just want to forget about the whole thing. That was an awful night, I want to forget about it.’”

Other times, they answer and rely on her to assist in making crucial life-altering decisions.

“As someone described it to me, the decisions after an assault are not black and white. It’s not as easy as, ‘Should I stay or should I go,’” she said. “Each one of those decisions, or each thing, triggers just a thousand other decisions that have to be made — How am I going to support myself, where am I going to live, what’s going to happen to my children, how will they see their dad, how will he see me, I just want cooling off time, maybe this isn’t the right thing.”

She says, while tough, the job has been rewarding, especially when she sees women making positive, healthy choices.

She said, “I think we all have the potential within us to be victimized, and I think we all have the potential to hurt others, and I think that we just need to own up to those things and be responsible with ourselves and each other. I mean, nobody’s perfect. Doesn’t mean we’re all going to be law-breakers, doesn’t mean we’re all going to punch somebody, but you know we’re always working toward something better.”

She added, “We’re all just human. We’ve learned bad habits and by the grace of God, we wake up the next day and start again.”

Erickson took the job knowing it would sunset in two years. She’s leaving on March 30 to work as the mental health court coordinator for Juneau’s new mental health court program, which will begin taking cases in early April.

Campbell said the $147,543 Department Of Justice grant hasn’t expired yet (it expires in June), but it was “spent out,” meaning all the money that was in the grant has been spent.

The city is trying to secure more funding to continue the PCIS position. City Manager Rod Swope said the city submits funding requests to the state Legislature each year, and $111,000 was requested to fund a new PCIS for another year.

That list, which is approved by the Assembly, was sent to legislators about three to four weeks ago, Swope said.

“Now it’s just a matter of whether or not they’re able to find the money to fund it,” he said.

Erickson responded “absolutely” when asked if the position is necessary.

“There’s just a million questions that suddenly come up that need to be answered, and that’s really where a PCIS can be effective,” she said.

She added, “Once the first response is over, and they’ve kind of got things sorted out for the night, then they need some follow up to try to break up that cycle.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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