Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Criminal Justice Response


Coordination of criminal justice efforts in Jackson County has been brought about largely by the efforts of key people, both within and outside of the criminal justice system, rather than by a central coordinating committee. While several ad hoc committees have been formed to address particular problems over the years, none has become a permanent feature of the community's response. The Adult Abuse Committee currently provides a forum for interaction among the various agencies, but it does not meet regularly or have a well-defined agenda.

Coordination among criminal justice agencies has often resulted from the involvement of high-level officials. For example, when the County Prosecutor's Office began reviewing all domestic violence cases for state charges, staffing constraints made it difficult for the police to process the increased number of state cases. In response, the County Prosecutor provided support staff to assist the police. Within the courts, some changes were brought about largely because someone with the authority to make the change supported the idea, including the Municipal Court domestic violence docket.

The courts, prosecutors and police in Kansas City all have designated special dockets and staff for domestic violence cases. Many people in the community recognize the importance of staffing these positions with people who are sensitive to domestic violence issues. For example, the police department's domestic violence unit was initially staffed with detectives assigned to the unit, rather than with people who requested the assignment. Some people felt that this resulted in an insensitivity to domestic violence victims among some of the unit's original detectives. Since then, a couple of detectives have been reassigned and replaced by people who requested the assignment.

After the County Prosecutor began reviewing all domestic violence cases for state charges, the County and City Prosecutor's Offices and the police department worked together to develop guidelines for charging these cases. In general, the guidelines stipulate that for state charges a case should involve a perpetrator with four or more prior arrests for domestic violence, a weapon, or serious injuries to the victim. This policy gave the police guidance for charging charge domestic violence cases. Currently, the County Prosecutor reviews only those cases that the police present as state cases based on these criteria, rather than all cases.

The Civil Circuit Court has coordinated efforts with criminal justice agencies. The judge for the protection order docket sometimes refers cases to the County Prosecutor's Office to review for criminal charges. In addition, the clerks photograph and document injuries in some domestic violence cases, and share this information with the City Prosecutor's Office. Currently, the judge for the protection order docket also serves as the head of the Adult Abuse Committee and periodically convenes this group.

The various criminal justice agencies do not meet routinely to share information, although several people noted that staff communicate informally. While the Police Department and the County and City Prosecutors' Offices were developing the guidelines for charging domestic violence cases, the three agencies met monthly. Eventually, the agencies stopped meeting regularly, which one person attributed to time constraints. The need for communication between the Circuit and Municipal Courts was downplayed by one person who felt that since the two courts have different jurisdictions, prosecutors from the two offices should not tell each other how to handle cases or how to do each other's jobs. Another person in the criminal justice system stressed the need for better communication and a "teamwork mentality" between these agencies that currently does not exist.

Probation has not been an integral part of the coordinated response in Kansas City. Many defendants in the Municipal Court receive probation, but it is currently unsupervised. The domestic violence prosecutor tracks attendance at batterer intervention programs to the extent possible, and also acts as a probation officer for reassault cases. Responsibility for notifying the court of noncompliance rests with the batterer intervention programs. The probation department supervises only misdemeanor and felony cases, and because most domestic violence are not misdemeanors or felonies, this involves a relatively small number of cases. One office estimated that 30 cases are specifically domestic violence cases. Since each probation officer has a caseload of about 100 cases, there are not even enough domestic violence cases for one officer to specialize. While probation officers do not routinely receive training on domestic violence, Project Assist held a statewide training for the probation department several years ago.

The Kansas City Police Department does not routinely offer in-service training in domestic violence. Several years ago, Project Assist did a statewide "train the trainers" session that provided one and one-half days of domestic violence training. Project Assist has also developed training videos for law enforcement which have been distributed nationally. Within the Kansas City Police Department, new recruits receive domestic violence training at the police academy, but the department has not done in-service training for the past few years. One person felt that the having a specialized domestic violence unit made people attach less importance to domestic violence training for front-line staff.

In the outlying areas, police training has been a problem because some departments have too few staff to assign them to training for an extended period. One member of the Kansas City Police Department worked with police chiefs in three smaller counties to offer domestic violence training. The chiefs agreed to four hours of domestic violence training for their officers. The person from the Kansas City Police Department, who worked on this project on his own time, collaborated with an area shelter to develop a curriculum and conduct the training.