Crime & Courts

On 'roundup day,' Anchorage police seek suspects in domestic violence cases

Officer Lisa Whitmore sat in her black, unmarked Anchorage police car Wednesday with stapled packets on her lap, each one containing possible contact information for a person accused of domestic violence. The packets represented people who police couldn't find in the past.

In the chilly morning, Whitmore and a team of 11 other Anchorage Police officers set out to sweep the city in an attempt to locate and arrest the dozens of people named in those packets — the people still wanted on outstanding warrants and accused of crimes of domestic violence including assault, theft and criminal mischief.

Police called the Wednesday activity "DV roundup." It's a day dedicated to serving family violence warrants and a day recognized by law enforcement agencies across the country.

In Anchorage, where a university study found that four out of every 10 women have experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner, the day included a lot of door-knocking at vacant homes, phone calls to non-working numbers and conversations with family members or distant friends of the wanted. By the end of the day, police arrested eight people and served a warrant to someone already in jail for another crime.

"It really is a hit or miss," said Whitmore as she drove through Anchorage in a car she called "the black eye," because it's an "eyesore" with a black exterior and blue interior.

Whitmore's team, driving in a caravan of four cars, arrested two people by the end of Wednesday. The first arrest came around 9:30 a.m. Jose Contreras Evangelista was the name on the packet. Police said he opened fire on a vehicle late last month outside a downtown bar. They had identified a beige, boxy home in a mobile home park off Boniface Parkway as one that might belong to him, pulling addresses from a series of databases.

Whitmore and the three other officers on "Team A" parked their cars several hundred feet from the home and stationed themselves around the building, using the palms of their hands to bang on the door and then the windows. Just as they started to leave, a man came to the front window, waving his hands in the air.

The officers walked in and soon walked out with the man in handcuffs, whom they identified as Evangelista. He wore flip-flops and shorts. He walked silently to one of the police cars, his transportation to the Anchorage Jail. He still must stand trial.

"That was a good catch," said Rhonda Street, a domestic violence investigator also on "Team A" Wednesday. "He was asleep in the back room."

Most days, Street works with Whitmore out of an office nestled next to domestic violence court in downtown Anchorage and near the spot for filing for protective orders and where advocates are stationed to help victims. The two police officers said they spend their days doing outreach, meeting with domestic violence victims and following up on cases, often working together to get through the day's tasks which may include taking photographs of bruises or conducting follow-up interviews.

Street described Whitmore as funny and easy to work with, while Street used the same words to describe Whitmore. Both of the officers described Wednesday as a success and "fun." It gets them out of the office and on the streets, seeking people who often would rather not be found.

"It would be great if we had this one day a week," Street said, while acknowledging the operation is costly and time-consuming.

Over about eight hours, the three teams of officers found and served warrants to nine of the 39 people named in the packets. Two more turned themselves in by Thursday morning, Whitmore said.

Most of the people the police sought Wednesday had warrants stemming from the past couple of weeks, she said. Police often face a wave of warrants for people who they couldn't locate during initial investigations.

While some defendants are found during routine traffic stops or by officers with duties that include serving warrants, Wednesday was unique because of the number of officers and hours dedicated to one task. Whitmore said it shows that the department takes domestic violence seriously in a state and a city that have long had high rates of violence between intimate partners.

Whitmore and Street said it's difficult to allocate staff time to solely serving warrants because of the low success. People often move or turn off their phones.

Whitmore thumbed through the packets in her car Wednesday. Some had strings of possible addresses. One person had no address and police reported he had been couchsurfing. Another had an address listed as a tent behind a bingo hall in Midtown Anchorage. Those two were not found Wednesday.

Team A made dozens of attempts trying to find the people from its packets, driving across the city to addresses it did have. The officers visited one home up for sale and vacant inside. They went to other homes occupied by friends and family who told police they had no idea how to find the wanted person. In some cases, officers attempted to visit the homes of the boyfriend or girlfriend who had reported the abuse.

"Often we find people back together," Street said. Leaving a violent relationship isn't always easy.

A sheriff's office in Oregon started the annual domestic violence day 14 years ago and it soon spread, said Lt. Angela Brandenburg with the Clackamas County, Oregon, Sheriff's Office.

Brandenberg said departments in about 45 states participated in Wednesday's roundup. She said it's a way to show victims that officers care. Last year, officers across the country made 1,761 arrests on that one day, she said. Statistics for this year weren't compiled by Thursday.

"This shows, 'Hey, we support you and we're holding your offender accountable,'" Brandenberg said. "We're going to believe you."