September 30, 2004
Detective Jerry Smith knows he is where he’s supposed to be.
"Things happen for a reason," said the 62-year-old policeman, a 7-year veteran of Mesa’s domestic violence unit.
Maybe it’s why, when he was 4 years old, he and his baby brother and sister were locked inside a basement for six months.
Why he was beat with a syrup-coated razor strap at 6 years old.
Why he was forced to consume an entire fridge full of food when he was caught sneaking meals.
The life lessons he learned after being bounced from one abusive foster home to another as a child are now being passed on to other victims of domestic violence.
"You don’t have to be a product of your environment," said Smith, who became a police officer late in life. "If I wasn’t a survivor, I wouldn’t be able to tell them to be one. But I understand, I’ve been there."
At 52, he was state’s oldest person to join the police academy in 1994. He worked for the Cook County sheriff’s office in Chicago 14 years before that.
Smith, along with five other detectives at Mesa’s Center Against Family Violence, are committed to empowering victims as well as investigating the abusers themselves.
"We are all dedicated to making it as safe and secure as we can, then we give them other resources, help them plan," Smith said. "Maybe not for today, but for tomorrow. They need a plan to get out."
But getting victims to wake up to reality is not always easy.
Smith often brings a bright yellow spool of crime scene tape to a victim’s house during interviews.
"I can put this up today, or I can put it up tomorrow. Your choice," he will tell victims as he places it on the table in front of them.
"It’s never ending," said Smith, who estimates that he’s handled 5,000 domestic violence cases in the past seven years.
"It’s frustrating to see a batterer get through the judicial system, and he’s out the next day. But we (detectives) get our energy from each other, energy from the victims who do get out of that situation."
But some cases are downright unforgettable.
"You have to leave it at the door, but you don’t always. We’re human," Smith said. "Just because you’re a cop doesn’t mean you’re made out of steel."
During October, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, several East Valley events will offer information to the public and training for volunteers on family violence.
Events include a domestic violence conference on Oct. 19 at Mesa Community College. People are also encouraged to wear purple, the color that symbolizes domestic violence, on Oct. 20.
Domestic violence detectives and experts are also available for presentations at businesses or social groups. Call (480) 644-4075 for more information.
Day of Unity
What: A candlelight vigil for the public will take place at the Mesa Community College Clock Tower in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. A "Silent Witness Exhibit" will be displayed in memory of women who died from domestic violence
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Mesa Community College, at Southern Avenue and Dobson Road
Info: (480) 461-7588