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Posted on October 15, 2019 at 2:18 PM by Renie Dugwyler
Our vision at the Sheriff’s Office is for Jefferson County to be a safe place for all people to live, learn, work, and play. And while most of us feel safe anywhere in the county, there are many who do not, some even in their own homes. These are victims of domestic violence.
The crime of domestic violence is described in part as “an act or threatened act of violence upon a person with whom the [offender] is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.” During Domestic Violence Awareness Month each October, the Sheriff’s Office does what it does every other month of the year: works hard to break the cycle of physical or emotional abuse for victims of domestic violence. Over the past few years, however, we have increased our efforts in this regard.
Two years ago I implemented a directive for our victim advocates to respond to the scene of all domestic violence-related assaults, to provide comfort and counsel to the victim instantly and in person. For all other DV-related crimes, victim advocates are immediately notified so they can determine whether a scene response is warranted, or if contact with the victim by phone is sufficient. This year, our victim advocates have been assigned over 450 domestic violence cases, with 42% requiring an on-scene response to provide personal support to the victim.
In addition to mandatory response by victim advocates for certain DV crimes, the Sheriff’s Office has established a Family Crimes Unit (FCU) responsible for investigating all DV felonies and reviewing all DV misdemeanors to ensure offenders are held accountable, repeat offenders are identified, and victims receive the services they need. In addition to domestic violence, the FCU investigates child abuse, elder abuse, and familial sex assaults. However, of the 1000 cases investigated by the FCU this year, 88% were DV-related, meaning the victim has or had an intimate relationship with the offender.
Each week, an investigator from FCU meets with the Domestic Violence High-Risk Assessment Team (HRAT) to review cases in Jefferson County that may require additional investigation and enhanced services for victims and their families. In 2019, over 50 cases from the Sheriff’s Office have been reviewed by the HRAT, which also includes representatives from other local law enforcement agencies, the District Attorney’s Office, Family Tree, Victim Outreach Inc., and other social service providers and victim advocates. The new family justice center, Porchlight, also participates in the weekly review of high-risk DV cases.
When Porchlight becomes fully operational next spring, it will serve as a “one-stop-shop” for victims of domestic violence in Jefferson County. At that time, the Family Crimes Unit and victim advocates from the Sheriff’s Office will relocate to Porchlight to join other criminal justice partners and victim service providers in one location to help victims of domestic violence not only break the cycle of abuse, but also complete the cycle of hurting to healing.
The Sheriff’s Office, this month and always, will continue to play a significant role in breaking the cycle of domestic violence. In addition to supporting victims, we arrest offenders, investigate cases, and testify in court. We work with social service agencies, medical professionals, the DA’s Office, and the judiciary to help victims and to hold offenders accountable. But the cycle is only truly broken when victims are so courageous as to risk their livelihood, their home, their friends, and even their family, to say “No more.”
If you are a victim of domestic violence, or you know someone who is, I implore you to seek help. Please call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit Jefferson County’s website for ways to get help or ways to help others feel safe at home in Jefferson County, and everywhere.