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Ill. 911 dispatchers receive training to listen for signs of strangulation

Rockford dispatchers were taught to catch the signs early to notify EMS providers and police

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Rockford 911 dispatchers received training Wednesday to listen for signs of strangulation and notify EMS providers and police.

Photo/Rockford 911

Jeff Kolkey
Rockford Register Star, Ill.

ROCKFORD, Ill. — Rockford’s next class of emergency dispatchers underwent specialized training Wednesday to listen for evidence of strangulation during 911 calls about domestic violence.

Strangulation is a common theme in the backgrounds of domestic violence homicide victims. It can serve as a warning of severe danger and require specialized medical treatment, said Jennifer Cacciapaglia, manager of the Mayor’s Office Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention.

“We become concerned that the strangulation could occur more and more aggressively, leading to lethality,” Cacciapaglia said. “The idea is for 911 operators to catch it when a survivor calls as early as possible and communicate that to EMTs and the police.”

Domestic violence remains one of Rockford’s worst crime problems. Of the 2,207 violent crimes reported by the Rockford Police Department in 2020, nearly 37% were domestic violence-related. Two of Rockford’s 36 homicides in 2020 were related to domestic violence. Experts say that a survivor who has been strangled is as much as 10 times more likely to be killed than other survivors.

All Rockford 911 telecommunicators including 43 dispatchers and four shift supervisors completed a virtual training on domestic violence with an emphasis on strangulation in March. New recruits — including six new Rockford and three new Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department emergency dispatchers — underwent in-person training Wednesday.

The training was provided by the Strangulation Task Force, a joint effort between the Mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention, the 17th Judicial Circuit Domestic Violence Coordinated Courts and the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Operators are taught to listen for and to inquire about the tell-tale signs of strangulation like loss of consciousness, loss of bodily function, sore throat and a raspy voice. They can then relay that information to responding emergency personnel who can screen for signs of strangulation when they respond to the call.

Strangulation is a sign that a survivor of domestic violence is at greater risk to become the victim of a domestic violence homicide, said Nikki Ticknor, deputy court administrator for the coordinated courts and co-chair of the task force.

“Even incidents of strangulation that are initially deemed non-fatal could eventually lead to death due to non-visible injuries and health repercussions caused by strangulation,” Ticknor said in a news release. “It’s important 911 dispatchers know the questions to ask and signs that may be present over the phone to ensure strangulation victims get the early treatment they need.”

Rockford Fire Department Division Administrator Todd Stockburger said that sometimes victims of domestic violence don’t know they were choked or don’t want to say it.

“There are times when the victim doesn’t realize what happened or what information could be most helpful,” Stockburger said. “We kind of lead them through it. We want to know what happened and how it happened to the best of their recollection.”


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