Groups aim to curb domestic violence

5/8/2013

Agencies looking at possibility of coordinated effort.

Agencies looking at possibility of coordinated effort.

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Local health, law enforcement and judicial agencies, as well as victim advocacy agencies are looking at the possibility of developing a Domestic Violence Coordinated Community Response process in Finney County, and on Tuesday night, members of those groups heard about what a CCR is and how a similar process has been implemented and executed in Ottawa.

Verna Weber, executive director of the Finney County Community Health Coalition, said the goal of a CCR is to make the process of handling domestic violence consistent across different agencies, such as the sheriff's office, police department and judicial system, as well as agencies that serve victims of domestic violence.

"One of the objectives we had in having this meeting tonight was to learn about this process and find out if it would be something we would want to implement in Garden City and Finney County," Weber said. "The idea is that it will bring some consistency to how these types of cases and reports are handled after they're made."

Dennis Butler, Ottawa chief of police, who along with Melissa Haenchen, Franklin County program coordinator at Willow Domestic Violence Center, as well as law enforcement, legal advisers and other agencies, make up the Franklin County Domestic Violence Response Team. Prior to moving to Ottawa, Butler formed a similar team in Alexandria, Va., that helped address and decrease incidents of domestic violence in that area.

"When you work with all the different disciplines, in the end I think we all want the same thing. It's just we all have a different ways of getting there, and we all have different responsibilities," Butler said. "I really urge everybody who has a stake in this, who really is serious about it ... if you educate yourself more about this issue, then I promise you will look at it differently — if you have an open mind and you understand the importance of working together and the positive effect it will have on your community."

Butler shared information about the number of domestic violence crimes in Finney County over the past four years. In 2008, there were 268 reported cases of domestic battery; 265 in 2009; 210 in 2010; and 214 in 2011. Between 2009 and 2011, it topped all crime categories, and in 2008, it was No. 2.

"If I'm a police chief and I'm addressing crime in my community and that's number one, why am I not going to focus as many resources as I can on that? If those were robberies instead of batteries, we'd be out addressing that," Butler said. "And these are just what's reported. You all know it's a lot higher ... Three out of the last four years, domestic violence was your number one reported crime. You aren't unique. You can pick any community in this state, run those statistics, and domestic violence would be one of the top three persons crimes that are reported."

Haenchen facilitates a meeting of the Domestic Violence Response Team each month in Franklin County.

"From my experience, every CCR takes on a life of its own based on the needs of the community and based on what the people in the group decide what's needed," Haenchen said.

Shirley Fessler, criminal justice project coordinator at the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, which provides both training material and suggestions about starting CCRs, explained how they work.

"As a CCR, you're looking at having the same understanding of what domestic violence is, having the same definition, with all of the disciplines understanding that domestic violence is a pattern of abuse — a pattern, not a one-time event — and having an understanding of what barriers are in place for the people of your community," Fessler said. "You're not looking at individual cases. You're looking at the system's response — the system, whether it's law enforcement, prosecutors, Department of Children and Families, whatever systems are involved when you have domestic violence in a community, and also getting the right people at the table."

Fessler said a consistent response to domestic violence affects both offenders and victims, and therefore might affect offenders' behaviors, which is the ultimate goal.

FCCHC is working in partnership with St. Catherine Hospital and Catholic Health Initiatives on a violence prevention project called United Against Violence. Weber said that the goal of the project is to reduce domestic violence by 3 percent every year, for an overall reduction of 21 percent by 2020.

"We have to go about it very many different ways, by changing policies, educating the community, we will be working on doing training for folks in the community and engaging people to really say, 'We are not going to accept violence in the community,'" Weber said.

Weber and Nancy Harness, Violence Prevention Initiative coordinator at the FCCHC, are also holding a Violence Prevention Stakeholder meeting at 9 a.m. today in Classroom A at St. Catherine Hospital to discuss what was learned Tuesday night and to develop the next steps.

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