Local law enforcement trains for child abuse cases

Consultant Jim Holler from Holler Training gives a talk on child abuse investigations. Several local law enforcement agencies attended the lecture which was held by The 16th Mississippi District Attorney's office and Sally Kate Winters Family Services. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)
Staff Writer

Golden Triangle law enforcement officers and others involved in child abuse cases got some additional lessons Monday through a special training session.

Consultant Jim Holler from the Pennsylvania- based Holler Training led a session on identifying and dealing with child abuse for law enforcement officers. Representatives from the Starkville Police Department, West Point Police Department, Columbus Police Department, Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office, Mississippi State University Police Department and Columbus Air Force Base attended. In addition to the law enforcement personnel, representatives from Oktibbeha and Clay County Child Protective Services attended. The training was staged jointly by the District Attorney’s Office for the Mississippi16th District Court and Sally Kate Winters Family Services.

Holler discussed what to look for at the scene as far as injuries and possible weapons. He also discussed questioning techniques for possible abusers and trying to recreate injuries using modeling clay, kitchen tools and other resources. He also encouraged discussion between the law enforcement and CPS communities.

“Sometimes it’s simple, almost too simple, that I don’t understand their job, and they don’t understand mine,” Holler said. “For those of you that have difficulties with CPS, law enforcement, vice versa, sit down over a drink someday and just talk about your jobs, because sometimes it just boils down to that we don’t understand each other’s jobs.” Steven Woodruff, an investigator with the district attorney’s office also emphasized the need for everyone working on a case to be on the same page.

“Law enforcement aren’t actually trained to interview children,” Woodruff said. “That’s not their forte. They’re more geared toward the defendant’s side, and the tool that Sally Kate Winters provides as far as the forensic interviews, that’s a huge tool for us.”

Woodruff also compared entities working together on a given case to spokes in a wheel. “Without each individual spoke on
the wheel, we revictimize the child,” Woodruff said.

Holler also reminded law enforcement officers to keep their own mental health in mind.

“Law enforcement, firefighters, doctors, nurses, social workers, people have no idea all the stuff that they see,” Holler said. “As tough as it is, they just have to learn to take care of their own mental health.”

Holler also used several cases as examples of the way different factors could influence outcomes. He also urged investigators to look at cases close enough to make sure it wasn’t an honest accident.

“Keep an open mind,” Holler said. “Accidents do happen to kids, and that’s what makes it so hard with the job these individuals do is because they’ve got to be able to determine if it was an accident or an intentional act.”

Sally Kate Winters Family Services Executive Director Sheila G. Brand said the organization held similar trainings regularly as part of its outreach.

“Part of our children’s advocacy program is providing education and collaboration with law enforcement and CPS, so that we work on child abuse cases as collective partners instead of individual agencies.”