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Police attack domestic violence

Cheryl Pistone fled North Carolina to escape her abusive husband, but he found her in Florida.

Living out of a hotel room in Tampa, he followed Pistone and threatened to take their children.

Pistone, 32, found help through Tampa police and the Family Violence Squad, recently created in an effort to better tackle child abuse, elder abuse and domestic abuse.

On Valentine's Day, a Tampa police detective arrived at the hotel to serve Pistone's husband with a domestic injunction, forbidding him to come near her or the children. He has since returned to North Carolina.

"That made me feel good," Pistone said of the help she received from Tampa police. "To let me know he couldn't do anything to me."

Tampa police Chief Bennie Holder officially introduced the Family Violence Squad at a news conference Monday.

Ten detectives and several officers now work under one supervisor to investigate all abuse cases. While specific detectives already had been assigned to child abuse, sex crimes and elderly abuse, domestic violence cases were handled by a variety of detectives.

"All these cases were being handled the same way, but there wasn't a central hub for tracking them," said Tampa police Officer Paige Hamlin, who is assigned to the squad. "It's not going to do a whole lot of good if each detective doesn't know about other cases."

With the formation of the new squad, a detective and two officers will exclusively handle domestic cases.

In addition, with the help of a $184,000 federal grant, a computer data base has been created to track domestic violence reports. Patrol officers are also being trained to handle domestic calls and will be given cameras to photograph evidence of abuse.

"We as police officers need to do what we can to break the cycle to prevent abuse from recurring," said Tampa police Maj. Polly Horne, who was instrumental in the formation of the squad.

Tampa police write about 350 domestic violence reports a month. Detectives with the new squad will review each report and determine what followup is needed.

Detectives may need to conduct additional interviews or check on the safety of a victim and provide information about the Spring of Tampa Bay, a domestic abuse shelter. Cases will be tracked to ensure the state attorney's office acts on them swiftly.

Previously, detectives from burglary, robbery, homicide or assaults would handle domestic cases in addition to their heavy workloads.

"There was too much of a gap between the time the offense happened and when we did something about it," said Tampa police Sgt. John Swope, who supervises the Family Violence Squad. "Some of these things were being placed on the back burner."

Tampa police said they are taking a zero tolerance stance against domestic violence. Detectives hope once the word gets out that police are taking a tougher position, offenders may think twice before they decide to assault their spouse or companion.

"It has to work," said Officer Randy Lopez, who handles domestic cases on the new squad. "They are going to know we plan to take it seriously."