DEXTER, Maine — As a new police chief, Kevin Wintle has no tolerance for an old problem. Wintle declared during his installation ceremony in June that he has seen firsthand the tragedy caused by domestic abuse and his department will have zero tolerance for domestic abuse offenders.
As chief, Wintle believes law enforcement agencies need to do a better job of protecting those who are in an abusive relationship. During his 23-year career, he has twice seen the deadly consequences domestic violence can lead to. Wintle was at the scene of two domestic-violence murder cases: Treven Cunningham and Mindy Gould in 1999 and Amy, Coty and Monica Lake in 2011.
Both cases had a profound effect on Wintle. He was one of the first officers to arrive at the double-murder scene of 21-month-old Treven Cunningham and his 20-year-old babysitter, Mindy Gould. Wintle was also at the scene of the Lake murders when he heard shots inside Amy Bagley Lake’s Shore Road residence.
“Both cases are both close to my heart. The situation with domestic abuse has steadily gotten worse over the years. As law enforcement officers, once somebody lays a hand on another person, we need to take it very seriously,” Wintle said.
The new chief has taken several steps to prepare his department to handle domestic violence cases. The town has budgeted more money for law enforcement training in order to improve the department’s overall professionalism. Wintle has requested more money to send two police officers to all domestic abuse emergency calls and transport all offenders to the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor.
Police officers have a choice of transporting accused domestic abuse offenders to Bangor or allowing a Dexter bail commissioner to set release conditions. Wintle believes transporting all those accused of a domestic abuse offense will allow for “a cooling-off period” so they will be less inclined to immediately return to the scene.
“It is the officer’s call whether to transport the accused to Bangor, but it also depends on our budget,” Wintle said. “I think it would be better to transport anyone arrested on a domestic charge to Bangor. It will give them a little taste of jail and a chance to cool down a bit instead [of] heading right back to the residence.”
Under Wintle’s leadership, the Dexter Police Department has worked with Womancare in Dover-Foxcroft in various domestic violence awareness projects and public forums discussing better methods for protecting victims. During a forum last year, Womancare community relations coordinator Art Jette wondered why the criminal justice system was seemingly geared toward the defendant’s rights but it never refers to victims’ rights.
Jette’s observation led to a project between Womancare and the Dexter Police Department this past spring when Wintle became the interim police chief. The collaboration resulted in developing and equipping the town’s police cruisers with a domestic victims’ rights packet. The project was designed to better inform those who fall prey to an assault about their rights and options in the criminal justice system.
The packet was modeled after one created by the Bangor Police Department. It includes all the information an officer needs to fill out a crime report along with information a victim can use to navigate through the criminal justice system and seek assistance in escaping an abusive relationship.
The packet includes a cover sheet with the report forms. The cover sheet is sent to Womancare if the victim wants to be contacted by a representative of that agency for assistance. Another vital piece of information is a brochure — the size of a business card. It is folded up with all the phone numbers to local law enforcement departments, the district attorney’s office, Department of Corrections and other agencies designed to assist domestic violence victims.
A 6-by-8½-inch blue card also is among the information provided in the packet. One side has information pertaining to domestic violence victims and the other side includes information for people charged with domestic assault or related offenses. The card informs both the victim and accused that the Dexter Police Department will escort them to their residence to retrieve personal belongings if they choose or are forced to leave. There also is information about how victims can obtain a protection from abuse order at Newport District Court.
Jette believes the packet is a way to strike a better balance between the rights of the accused and victims.
In the past, the accused was informed of his or her rights when the officer read from the Miranda card, but victims were often unsure of what their standing was in the criminal justice system.
“We have a well-known criminal justice system, but what we want is one just as well known for victims’ rights,” Jette said. “I think all the information in the packet, which includes the enumerated victims’ rights and emergency phone numbers, will end up doing just that.”
The Dexter Police Department won’t be the only local law enforcement agency using the domestic violence packets.
Womancare is working to provide Piscataquis County law enforcement agencies with the packets. All of the packets are formatted for each department and assembled by Womancare. Jette expects the Piscataquis County packets to be ready for distribution in a few weeks.
Wintle also has worked on mutual-aid agreements with local police departments in Newport and Dover-Foxcroft to provide coverage for emergency situations. He also is working on a similar agreement with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office to provide mutual-aid coverage for neighboring towns of Garland and Exeter.
Wintle believes the focus that law enforcement agencies, civic groups and lawmakers began in the past two years has led to a reduction in domestic violence, violent crimes and deaths related to domestic abuse.
He said the more police departments take a zero-tolerance stand, the more there will be an overall reduction in incidents and victims.