By Stephen Witt
It’s hard enough for cops in the 60th Precinct to communicate with the varied cultures involving crime and quality-of-life issues. Imagine the difficulty in responding to domestic violence (DV) disputes. Which is exactly what the precinct’s DV team consisting of Sgt. Victor Torres and Police Officers Juan Cifuentes, Antonio Reyes and Cheryl Melchionna does about 30 times a week. It’s also the reason why the four were honored last week as the precinct’s “Cops of the Month.” “This is the all-around number one arrests unit in the city, and domestic violence knows no economic boundaries,” said Inspector Robert Johnsen in announcing the awards. Torres said the job entails follow-up once a report is made to make sure the household is maintaining peace. The group also enforces orders of criminal contempt and protection as well. “It’s something I’m interested in, because you deal with a whole array of victims and clients — kids, the elderly, so it’s such a wide range of people,” said Torres. Melchionna, a 20-year veteran and the team’s only woman, said being a woman is helpful and that her gender doesn’t matter because once families see she is a professional, she gets respect. “Unfortunately, it’s usually the woman who makes the report and sometimes it gets hairy,” said Melchionna. “We have reasoning tactics. Sgt. Torres is excellent at speaking and relating to people and bringing the situation down a level. We’re not looking to break up a family, we’re looking to help a family in crisis.” Melchionna, who speaks or understands several languages including Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and Creole, said that although some ethnic groups hide DV, all have problems with it. “We deal with a lot of drunks,” said Torres. “It used to be to tell them to sober up, but now whatever action we need to take, we take it. Just because you’re drunk doesn’t give you an excuse to beat up on your wife.” According to current laws, once a DV arrest is made there is no desk appearance ticket issued, but rather a stay in jail until the alleged perpetrator goes before the judge. At this point, the judge can issue a partial or full order of protection. This is often where the team comes in with home visits, to make sure everything is going all right. “A [light] sense of humor, especially with kids to lighten the mood, is not such a bad idea. It takes it down a level,” said Torres. “When you go into a DV situation, usually the level of violence is high and everybody very tense, so you try to calm the victims down, but have to do it tactfully.” Torres said that none of the new Homeland Security laws require the team to inquire or report if the victims to DV are here legally or not. “It’s a very diverse community and we tell them [victims] they will not be deported, said Torres. “It you’re a victim of the crime it doesn’t matter whether you are legal or illegal, you’re still a victim and the media is doing a good job of letting people know that,” he added.