In October, the New Haven (Conn.) Department of Police Services (DPS) implemented a program in which victims of domestic abuse are issued devices that, when activated, summon law enforcement personnel. By making the technology available to victims, the department hopes to enhance safety for victims and officers alike.

DVLink, developed by Orlando, Fla.-based Public Safety Group, is a compact, silent alarm that the user activates with the push of a button. An emergency signal is processed through a computer-aided dispatch system linked to mobile data terminals in officers' cars. In addition to seeing a flashing alarm on their terminals, officers instantly receive information regarding the suspected perpetrator, whether weapons may be involved, court orders and a general history of previous domestic violence incidents.

The system is one of many components making up New Haven's domestic violence initiative. In 1999, the DPS received a $1.275 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice that allowed it to purchase the notification system and establish contracts with social services and private organizations for counseling, advocacy, clinical treatment, and community outreach and education. It also launched a pilot project in which, together, a police officer and a clinician visit victims' homes to follow up on calls. The officer is able to check for violations (e.g., of restraining orders), while the clinician provides counseling to victims and children.

Rather than being a cure-all for domestic violence, the alarm system is a tool that - used along with New Haven's other programs - is intended to help reduce the number of situations that escalate into injury. Anyone can request the alarm, and recipients are determined by a committee of the Greater New Haven Domestic Violence Task Force (the committee includes a prosecutor, a victim's advocate, a detective and social service providers).

Recipients of the devices are trained in their use and are instructed to use them in proximity to their homes. (The signal does not identify the user's location and is linked only to his or her home address. If the victim is away from home and relies solely on the alarm to summon the police, officers will respond to the home.) Victims can use the systems "until they are not needed anymore," says Lt. Kelly Dillon, supervisor for the DPS Domestic Violence Unit. That milestone is determined by the police, the victim's advocate and the victim, she notes, adding that they consider whether the perpetrator has been incarcerated or has entered a behavioral program.

The DPS has received approval for grant continuation this year, and Dillon expects to begin seeing measurable results for the department's initiatives. Additionally, she is optimistic about the alarm program's potential impact. "This technology will help to save lives, prevent injury, hold offenders more accountable and improve the quality of life for families caught under the control of domestic violence," she says.