When Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry was a 20-something law enforcement officer in St. Martinville Parish, he responded to a domestic violence call that has since guided how he deals with an issue that’s critical in the state.
Landry, a Republican who is seeking re-election but has no announced opponents in this year’s race, found a man who was viciously beating his wife in their trailer. He calmed the situation and handcuffed the man, only to be beaten over the head with a frying pan by the woman and domestic violence victim.
“I’m thinking, ‘What just happened?’” Landry said in a recent interview. “It can be very disorienting for an officer not trained in how to handle it.”
In recent weeks, the Louisiana Department of Justice, under Landry’s leadership, has been doing just that. They’ve held a series of training sessions for prosecutors, law enforcement officers and advocates around the state to better educate them on how to handle often complicated domestic violence situations.
According to the nonprofit Washington-based Violence Policy Center’s most recent statistics, Louisiana ranked second in the country in 2016 for the number of women killed by men in domestic violence situations. That report found that Louisiana’s rate of women murdered by men has increased steadily over the past five years, and now the rate is 2.42 female murder victims per 100,000 women.
About 300 people have attended the Department of Justice's recent domestic violence training sessions throughout the state. Many are held in more rural areas, where law enforcement offices are less likely to have resources for such training. The DOJ events are free.
"We're just trying to play our part," Landry said.
Ponchatoula Police Chief Bry Layrisson attended a recent statewide domestic violence training event put on by the DOJ.
“I like the fact that Mr. Landry is offering this statewide,” he said. “It’s very important that those of us in law enforcement and all the parties that we are all on the same page with the current laws and the programs and resources we can offer to them.”
Landry and those who have worked closely with him on the issue, including domestic violence coordinator Wanjennia Atkins and adviser Monica Taylor, can easily spout off the latest regulations and findings about domestic violence in Louisiana: People who are strangled at some point are more likely to die. The state has put new restrictions on domestic violence perpetrators having guns. There are only so many hours that you have to remove a victim from the domestic violence situation before they are at an exacerbated risk of death.
"All of these crimes happen in the shadows," Taylor said. "It takes people who are trained and understanding to respond to it."
"We've tried to fill that void and become a very supportive office," she added.
Louisiana lawmakers have put several laws into place in recent years to try to curb domestic violence, including ones that ban domestic abusers from carrying guns, give authorities more leeway in arresting perpetrators of domestic violence and strengthen penalties for domestic assault.
“As a chief of police it’s important for myself and my officers to stay on top of all of this," Layrisson said. “Domestic violence is one of the most serious things we deal with in law enforcement, and the resources are changing on a regular basis.”
A recent training session held in Alexandria included meetings with Atkins, the DOJ's domestic violence coordinator; a domestic violence 101 from a statewide advocate; a tutorial on internet stalking in domestic violence cases; and an expert discussion on protective orders.
Landry said he's been overwhelmed by the outpouring of appreciation from local law enforcement.
“It’s one of the most dangerous things we deal with on our jobs from an officer safety standpoint," Layrisson said.
Landry said one of the things about his efforts is that he's not asking for more laws or changes in laws.
"We want to bridge the gaps that are out there," he said. "There is a gap."
He sees his office's role as bringing together law enforcement, prosecutors and advocates for domestic violence victims.
"The closer you can get the officer in the field to understand what prosecutors need, the better the outcome," Landry said.