Lessons from a brutal murder almost seven years ago have spurred the creation of a unique police unit created to stifle family violence in Red Deer.
On Sunday, Sept. 28, 2003, 40-year-old Josif Fekete shot and killed his estranged wife, Blagica, and their youngest son, three-year-old Alex, in the lobby of their apartment building. Fekete then turned the gun on himself.
Three years later, as a result of a fatality inquiry into the shooting, the Red Deer City RCMP started building a domestic violence unit charged with co-ordinating efforts to intervene when trouble is brewing and help stop their problems from escalating.
A lot of people, including police officers who had dealt with Josif and Blagica, knew little bits about what had been happening with the Fekete family, says City Councillor Buck Buchanan, who was a corporal in the Red Deer City RCMP at the time of the shooting.
But nobody knew enough to recognize that the pot was about to boil over, Buchanan said on Tuesday following a presentation by members of the Domestic Violence Unit to the city’s Crime Prevention Advisory Committee.
Even the Fekete’s two older children were unaware of how badly the situation between their parents had deteriorated, said Buchanan.
Three and a half years since its creation, the five police and three civilian members of the Domestic Violence Unit endeavour to learn everything they can when notified of a domestic dispute and then work with everyone in the family to help them resolve their issues, said Cpl. Sandy McEchnie, unit leader.
That includes monitoring of offenders who are under a judges orders to stay away from victims’ homes and workplaces.
Civilian members include two social workers and one community support worker. All unit members work closely and share files with other agencies involved with family violence intervention, including the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter and the Central Alberta Women’s Outreach Society.
McEchnie said the philosophy is quite different from his days as a first responder, when police would go to a domestic dispute, split the couple up and then go for coffee.
“If I knew then what I know now about domestic violence, I shudder at the number of people that were kind of left high and dry, just because we didn’t have the education or the knowledge,” said McEchnie.
“A prime objective now is to reduce repeat offences and enhance the safety of their victims while holding them accountable for their actions.”
The unit’s case load has gradually climbed since it was first created, and has now plateaued at about 110 to 115 incidents per month.
McEchnie said he hopes to acquire GPS-equipped electronic monitoring devices so his unit can keep close track of the most dangerous offenders. An alarm would notify police if the wearer enters a restricted area, such as the neighbourhood of a victim’s home or place of business.
Insp. Ray Noble, operations officer for the detachment, said the monitors would be used only in extreme cases, including offenders who can’t be held in custody, but who do pose a strong risk of harming others.
Efforts of the unit are a high priority for the Red Deer City RCMP, said Noble.