Baker One program helps IMPD manage domestic violence runs

Officer Thalheimer has sobering memories of a teenage girl at one home begging her mom to leave her abuser.

Ten years ago, WTHR launched our "Shattering the Silence" campaign against domestic abuse. At that time, we took to the streets to see how abuse threatens our neighborhoods.

A decade later, we head back to the streets where we learned about a new police project to track down abusers and keep our families safer.

Domestic violence police runs are unpredictable and dangerous. Eyewitness News rode along with Officer Jason Thalheimer ten years ago in Indianapolis Metro Police's East District to find out just how dangerous.

"I could hear loud screaming from inside the residence. She had scratches and what looked like a bite mark on her," he said, describing a victim of domestic violence. He confronted the cycle of domestic abuse almost daily on the job. At the time he told us up to 50 percent of his runs were domestic-related.

A decade later, Eyewitness News went back out on patrol with Officer Thalheimer. I was disheartened to learn he still spends the biggest percentage of his job on domestic abuse runs - anywhere from 45 to 60 percent.

"Unfortunately, I haven't seen a whole lot change; still the vicious cycle that you always see," said Officer Thalheimer.

But his perspective has changed. Officer Thalheimer is now a father with two young children, and he worries more about the kids caught up in the chaos of abusive homes.

"When I leave I always make it a point to talk to the kids; you know - this isn't how adults are supposed to act," he said.

Officer Thalheimer has sobering memories of a teenage girl at one home begging her mom to leave her abuser. He recalls the girl's words:

"'I might misbehave, but I'm not pulling guns on you and I'm not beating on you and I can't take this anymore.' And I sat there and I've never seen that before," he said. "Domestic violence takes so much policing manpower."

Something else he had never seen until now is a new police project in Indianapolis aimed at stopping the violence. It's called Baker One, modeled after a successful North Carolina police program.

"Baker One is a program designed to prevent domestic violence homicides," said Sgt. LeEtta White, IMPD.

Within the last year, all IMPD Districts have received Baker One training which targets the most dangerous abusers. Its first tactic may surprise you. Police give the abusers resource cards for help.

"We want to stop the behavior and so we're offering them something else and so we're offering parenting classes. We're offering counseling," said Sgt. White.

But if the abuse doesn't stop, police won't stop until they catch the abusers.

"If you have drug charges, if you have other charges pending, they will use everything against you to get that conviction to get you off the street," said Sgt. White.

With Baker One, police and the prosecutor's office have no tolerance for any offense a violent abuser commits.

"You don't cross at a crosswalk, you could be given a citation," said Officer Thalheimer. "We're pulling out all the stops, legally."

The most dangerous abusers are on a Baker One list which alerts police. Officer Thalheimer arrested a Baker One suspect days earlier for allegedly abusing his girlfriend.

"She told me everything that happened, about how he had strangled her, held her in the house for five days, threatened her at knifepoint," said Thalheimer.

But Officer Thalheimer just learned the victim recanted her story, claiming her abuser forced her to. So he headed back to the victim's home to urge her to file a protective order.

Unconvinced, Officer Thalheimer reminds the victim how dangerous her situation is.

"I don't want to have to keep coming back here and locking him up because it's only a matter of time before I'm not going to be taking photographs of you. It's gonna be crime scene here doing it. Not me," he said.

So will she stop her abuser by filing charges and getting a protective order?

"She hasn't gone to the prosecutor's office yet, so I don't know if she's gonna follow through on it," said Thalheimer.

Thalheimer says Baker One, at least, allows officers to keep a closer eye on violent cases. He moves on to monitor more domestic abuse reports.

One of his runs turns out to be a neighborhood dispute with some of the same dynamics as a domestic run.

"They threatened to shoot up my house," a resident told him.

In spite of Baker One, Officer Thalheimer will confront the constant quagmire of domestic abuse almost every day - much the same as it was ten years ago.

"I'm not going to say it's completely futile, but it's just an uphill battle," he said.

In time, IMPD believes the Baker One project will significantly reduce domestic violence crimes because it's a team effort involving the Prosecutor's office, the Domestic Violence Network, and the Julian Center Shelter.

Shattering the Silence - Learn to spot the signs of domestic abuse and find out where to go for help.