Hoping to slow this year's record rise in homicides, the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force hosted free public "Be a Better Bystander" training Tuesday. Experts from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Pinellas County Schools, SPCA of Tampa Bay, CASA, the Haven of RCS and child protective services coached about 50 attendees on the signs of domestic abuse and ways to safely intervene. Here are some of their tips:
• Learn your neighbors' names and addresses. Are there guns in the home? Where are the children's bedrooms located? Remember and, if possible, write down details of sounds and words heard during physical and verbal altercations. Specific information is useful when reporting domestic emergencies to authorities.
"That's why a lot of people don't want to get involved: They don't want to go to court," said sheriff's Sgt. Denise Nestor. "If you're a good witness, maybe you won't have to testify. Maybe there's a good investigation and it won't go to court."
• Suspected child abuse may be reported anonymously through the 1-800-96-ABUSE hotline. Calls are routed to child protection investigators and law enforcement, who determine whether to respond immediately or within 24 hours.
• Victims, friends and parents can report teen dating violence anonymously through Pinellas County Schools by filling out an online form at teendatingviolence.pcsb.org. The school district investigates reports within 10 business days.
• Pet abuse often signals violence against humans, and vice versa. The public can call (727) 586-3591 to file a confidential report with SPCA, which investigates claims of animal cruelty.
SPCA also offers free pet boarding for 30 days or more to domestic violence victims sheltered at CASA or the Haven. The animals are shielded from view of the general public.
"By taking that animal out of the equation, it makes it a lot easier for women … to go to a shelter," said Sharon Hauser, SPCA's director of community outreach.
• Don't talk down to victims. Rather, offer moral support, information about resources and — if possible — a safe haven for them and their children.
"When you preach," said CASA representative Pat Riley-Sanderson, "that turns them against talking and sharing with you when they really need you."
The Haven serves North Pinellas. Its 24-hour hotline is (727) 442-4128. CASA, which serves South Pinellas, can be reached at (727) 895-4912.
• Most of all, don't stay silent.
"I would rather be the person who overreacted a little bit than did nothing," Nestor said.
Keyonna Summers, Times staff writer