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Domestic violence calls among the most dangerous for police, response policies vary by department

Posted at 5:14 PM, Oct 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-24 17:14:09-04

The murder of Officer Justin Leo from the Girard Police Department is further evidence that domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous for cops.

Leo, 31, was shot during a domestic call Saturday night and died at a Youngstown hospital. The gunman was shot and killed by Leo's partner.

A 2016 study by the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund reported more than 20 percent of officers killed in the line of duty were murdered during a domestic dispute.

Frank Williams, president of Akron FOP #7, said the unpredictable nature of domestic calls makes them very concerning to the 430 officers on the force.

"Statistically speaking and just from personal experience in talking to the officers, it's probably one of the most serious incidents they can respond to because it's unknown. You don't know what you're getting into when you arrive on scene," Williams said.

Williams said the department prefers to have two officers respond to domestics, but that's not always possible and there is no department policy requiring backup.

"I just don't know if that's practical here because we're going in so many directions," he said. "I think if you had to wait for a second officer, I think that would just potentially, could have a victim that could potentially get hurt."

When Officer Leo was shot, two officers were at the scene. 

Statistics provided to News 5 revealed Akron officers have responded to 10,008 domestic-related calls in the last 12 months. 4,431 were coded as verbal only. The rest were coded as either one party was gone, no injury or injury. Out of all the calls, 2,763 reports were issued.

Uniontown Police Chief Harold Britt said his department, which has 19 officers, has a policy calling for two officers to respond to all domestic calls.

If a victim is in clear danger, an officer can act solo, but in most cases, backup comes from either another Uniontown cop or from neighboring Hartville or Springfield Township police.

"It's for officer's safety. That's our number one concern is officer's safety," Britt said. "I think some of the domestics are getting more aggressive."

In July, Uniontown Sgt. David White was shot four times during a domestic call.

Body camera, released to News 5, shows the veteran officer approaching Ryan Probst in a garage.

"Don't move for that gun. You understand me?" White said. Moments later, gunfire was exchanged.

White survived and his partner shot and killed Probst.

Chief Britt said White followed policy and waited for backup before going towards the home.

"If he went in by himself, he probably could have been killed on the scene," Britt said.

News 5 reached out to several local police departments to inquire about the number of officers on the force and whether there is a response policy for domestic calls.

Canton police has 156 officers and prefers to have 2 officers respond.

Copley has 30 officers and always has two officers respond.

Rittman has 15 officers and has a two-officer policy response.

Brimfield has 16 officers and dispatches a minimum of two officers for domestic calls, but if the department is understaffed, it will call for mutual aid.