March 1, 2012

Pottstown police aim to curb domestic violence

“It doesn’t matter how good of a police agency you have when it comes to domestic violence ... those are crimes that happen in the privacy of people’s own homes. Good police work isn’t going to prevent domestics from happening,” he said. However, he emphasized, educating people about domestic violence and providing resources to victims, “those are things that can be done to reduce incidents of domestic violence.”

By Brandie Kessler

Posted: 02/26/12

Mercury file photo Pottstown police chief Mark Flanders.

POTTSTOWN — The Mercury had no sooner confirmed a murder in the borough Feb. 2, than rumors began to fly about the motive of that killing.

Comments on, The Mercury’s website, and its Facebook page immediately began referencing “PottsVegas,” and the misguided belief, summed up in one comment that the killing was “prolly over a measly 20 dollar drug exchange.”

Although some people made comments defending Pottstown, stating that crime can happen anywhere, the overwhelming majority of comments painted a picture of a community littered with crime, drugs and murder.

But just as police confirmed the Feb. 2 murder — the first murder in the borough in more than four years — stemmed from an alleged domestic incident in which a 31-year-old mother of two was allegedly strangled by her boyfriend, police also say Pottstown’s reputation and the statistics regarding crime within the borough’s borders don’t jibe.

Police Chief Mark Flanders recently spoke out about the reality of crime in Pottstown, and the necessity to stop giving credence to the misinformation when real issues, like domestic violence, deserve the attention.

“Crime is proportionate to population across America,” Flanders said. “We’re no different. (But) our crime rate is perceived to be high with no consideration to our population.”

With more than 22,000 residents in the 5.1-square-mile borough, Flanders said there’s bound to be crime, much as there is crime every place that people live.

“Crime is unacceptable, but it’s a reality,” he said.

Another thing that is unacceptable, he said, is the perpetuation of misinformation regarding crime in Pottstown.

“When I hear people say ... ‘there’s a murder that happens every weekend (in Pottstown),’ it’s totally not true. We haven’t had a murder since 2008,” Flanders said. “When I hear comments that drug dealers are killing each other left and right, no, that’s not accurate.”

Flanders said that through his career in the borough, “most of the homicide investigations have involved individuals who had a relationship with one another,” meaning they were married, dating, friends or acquaintances, and the murder was not a random act of violence.

That is once again the case with the Feb. 2 murder of Alicia Schmidt, allegedly at the hands of her boyfriend, Edwin Carrero II. Police found Schmidt’s body in the basement of her residence after they responded there to follow-up on a report. According to court records, Carrero made an early morning phone call to his ex-wife and told her he may have killed Schmidt. He stated he choked Schmidt and pushed her down the stairs. He then asked his ex-wife to give him “a half hour to an hour” before she called police.

Carrero was captured by authorities on Feb. 7. He allegedly fled from Pennsylvania in Schmidt’s vehicle, and he was arrested at a Florida resort casino after he was observed in Schmidt’s vehicle. He is awaiting extradition back to Montgomery County where he will face murder and related charges.

Although Flanders would not speak about the Carrero case, as it is his department’s policy to not comment on ongoing investigations, Mercury archives indicate the relationship between Carrero and Schmidt is typical of relationships where domestic violence is present.

Court records and Mercury archives indicate Carrero was arrested in December 2010 for a prior incident at Schmidt’s residence on Cherry Street. During that incident, Carrero allegedly stole Schmidt’s vehicle after an altercation in which he told her if she called the police and he got arrested, he would “do my time and then get out and come after you.”

Speaking in general about incidents of domestic violence, Flanders said it’s not uncommon for domestic violence incidents to evolve and escalate.

“Generally speaking,” he said, “when we investigate serious crimes of domestic violence,” meaning those that fall into the Part I category of crimes, such as homicides and aggravated assaults as opposed to harassment or stalking, “typically there is a history.”

And that previous murder in 2008? Also domestic violence.

One challenge of policing domestic violence, Flanders said, is that it’s not something that responds to policing.

“It doesn’t matter how good of a police agency you have when it comes to domestic violence ... those are crimes that happen in the privacy of people’s own homes. Good police work isn’t going to prevent domestics from happening,” he said. However, he emphasized, educating people about domestic violence and providing resources to victims, “those are things that can be done to reduce incidents of domestic violence.”

Flanders said he considers all incidents of domestic violence serious “because, if left unchecked, it’s going to escalate.”

Flanders said that although it’s a mistake to say there are a lot of murders in the borough, he would agree with someone who says domestic violence is a problem in the borough.

“In Pottstown, we have traditionally handled what I think is a lot of domestic calls,” he said.

The peak of such calls came in 2005, when the Pottstown Police Department handled nearly 2,000 calls for domestic violence. Since then, Flanders has addressed the issue of domestic violence differently.

“From 2005 to 2008, we started training our officers better,” he said.

There was new information regarding the psychology of domestic violence incidents, and there was also a push from advocates and agencies helping victims for law enforcement to do more.

Flanders recalled the days when very little was done to address domestic violence.

“When I started in police work (33 years ago), ... typically we split the parties up. We’d tell one party, typically the man, to go somewhere for the night to go cool off.

“Police didn’t get involved in family business,” he said. “That was the wrong approach.”

Flanders said the approach was not only ineffective, because the abuser knew there would be little consequences to their actions, but it often exacerbated the problem.

“Why would you report something if you know you’re not going to be taken seriously,” Flanders said, referencing victims of domestic violence. Furthermore, why would you report an incident to police if you knew the consequences could result in more abuse?

Pressure from organizations that advocated for victims of domestic violence affected change, going to legislators and law enforcement officials, Flanders said. “It forced us to get involved in family business.”

Thanks to those who pushed for change, there are now more programs that help victims, Flanders said. Among those programs in Montgomery County are Laurel House, the Women’s Center of Montgomery County and the Domestic Abuse Response Team (or DART) program. There are also programs that address batterers, like The S.A.F.E. Project, which stands for Stop Abuse Foster Empowerment, run by social worker Chuck Gallun.

Flanders said these programs also enable police to do a more effective job. For example, the DART program sends a volunteer to provide support to a victim of domestic violence as soon as they’re notified there is an issue. That support, Flanders said, is invaluable It “provides us with the ability to have a responder come out immediately to be with a victim. It’s given law enforcement to provide services we couldn’t before.”

Flanders recalled the frustration that he and many of his colleagues felt years ago.

“When I started in law enforcement in the late 1970s, the generation I was hired with, many were frustrated,” he said. “There were no consequences (for perpetrators of domestic violence.) There was a lot of work (done by police,) but no consequences.”

Today, “I think we’re in a much better place in that regard. But I think we have a long way to go,” Flanders said. He said he feels the “number one tool” to continue making strides against domestic violence is education. Addressing youth, in particular, is of extreme importance, he said.

It’s also important, Flanders said, that people speak up when they see, hear or suspect something is happening, even if it’s happening behind closed doors.

“If somebody observes domestic violence occurring, I hope they would give us a call and get us involved,” Flanders said. He noted that a neighbor who reports hearing abuse next door need not worry that they will be found out as the person who called police. “We don’t make it a habit of telling the names of people who call us,” he said.

Acknowledging that some people don’t want to involve the police, Flanders said there are resources victims can use that don’t mean going to the police. “There are a lot of places you can go without anybody knowing,” he said.

If you know someone who is dealing with domestic violence, help is available. Montgomery County Women’s Center can be reached at 610-970-7363; the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County can be reached at 610-431-1430; Berks County Women in Crisis can be reached at 610-372-9540; and Laurel House can be reached at 610-277-1860. The SAFE Project can help abusers stop being abusive. The Children’s SAFE Project can help kids who witness or are affected by violence in the family. For information on these programs call 610-326-9250 ext. 1197.

Follow reporter Brandie Kessler on Twitter @I_M_BrandieK

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