Multi-Jurisdictional Approaches to Domestic Violence

Effective strategies to deal with domestic violence are critical. Each community must tailor the response to its specific needs.

Domestic violence is a repetitive cycle, and some have coined it the "revolving door syndrome." For professionals working in the criminal justice system, the challenge of dealing with the cycle of violence focuses on determining the best ways to deal with the issues and problems that surround it. In jurisdictions everywhere, police departments, prosecutors' offices, and victim advocacy programs all play a major role in confronting the challenges of arrest, prosecution, and victim services. Though each community must tailor the response to its specific needs, some successful models exist that can be considered examples of best practices.

The Chicago Police Department has a domestic violence program and a domestic violence advocacy program in place, directed by Sgt. Kathleen Argentino, who serves as the Domestic Violence Operations Coordinator (DVOC). Sgt. Argentino utilizes a comprehensive uniform police department strategy in dealing with victims of domestic violence and coordinates with other city, criminal justice, and community-based agencies. She supervises five police officers that are assigned to the domestic violence program and are responsible for supporting the Chicago Police Department personnel on domestic violence issues and community activities within the five police districts. They attend domestic violence subcommittee meetings and serve as representatives of the domestic violence program for events. Each officer has respective assignments that include domestic violence awareness and training both in-house and to outside agencies, faith-based initiatives, coordination with the state's attorney's office, the courts, and domestic violence liaison officers, as well as other department units.

The department is keenly attuned to recognizing domestic violence cases involving members of their own police family, and it was the first department in the country to acknowledge the problem by establishing, in 1994, a domestic violence advocacy program in which abusers are held accountable for acts of domestic violence. This program provides unique direct services to victims who are abused by sworn or civilian members of the department. An advocate from the program contacts victims and provides crisis intervention and assistance concerning available options. Self-referrals are accepted to the program as well as referrals from other sources.

Chicago also focuses on domestic violence through the state's attorney's office. In Cook County, there are four general misdemeanor domestic violence courtrooms, a domestic violence misdemeanor bond court, and a domestic violence felony preliminary hearing courtroom. There are 17 assistant state's attorneys who staff these courtrooms and the screening department. There are 16 specialized victim witness specialists assigned to the domestic violence division and a felony victim witness specialist who works in the felony trial division. These specialists are able to assist domestic violence victims through the criminal justice system by providing necessary services. The combined efforts of the police, the prosecutor's office, and the courts demonstrate the priority placed on domestic violence victimization in Chicago.

Though it polices a smaller community, the Alexandria (VA) Police Department also prioritizes the importance of combating domestic violence and has a specialized unit led by Sgt. Laura Barlow. It is comprised of four detectives, a social worker, and a secretary. This unit deals with all domestic violence and stalking cases, and every domestic violence report that is forwarded to the unit is reviewed and receives follow-up. The social worker reviews police information cases where no probable cause exists for an arrest, and she contacts the victims identified from those reports.

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