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


The specialized domestic violence units not only coordinate with each other, but also with many community social service providers. The specialized unit at the San Diego Police Department consists of 19 detectives, 3 sergeants, 5 light duty officers, and 5 volunteers. This unit investigates all domestic violence cases where an arrest has been made. Those cases where no arrest has been made are followed-up by the light duty officers and the volunteers. Police notify all victims of their rights and give them resource and referral information.

The coordination from the City and District Attorneys' Offices occurs through the use of in-house victim advocates and the deputy attorneys' work with police detectives from the domestic violence unit of the San Diego Police Department, other police departments or the sheriff's office. Particularly in the City Attorney's Office, the deputies have a very close relationship with the detectives in the police department's domestic violence unit. The head deputy goes to the police department at least once a week to review cases with the detectives and determine which cases to issue. They also hold joint staff meetings every other week. The victim services staff work closely with local social service providers and other victim advocates in their efforts to assure victim safety. They make referrals for shelter and social services as well as support victims through the court process. The victim services staff at the District Attorney's Office are funded by an outside source and thus are able to retain confidentiality of their clients, whereas the victim service staff in the City Attorney's Office are obligated to share any information obtained from a victim with the prosecutors.

The police department's domestic violence unit sends all arrests reports for cases that will be tried as misdemeanors to the City Attorney's office and those that will be prosecuted as felonies to the DA's Office. Furthermore, a copy of the report also goes to the victim services staff. These agencies are also involved in training one another. They have worked at trying to understand each other and what is needed to do their job better, rather than pointing fingers and blaming. This has resulted in better police arrest reports and investigations, higher use of emergency protection orders, and better prosecution.

The probation department also has a specialized unit for domestic violence and sex offenders, and there was strong internal support for this effort. Department administration and staff had seen an overlap between domestic violence and other violent crime. The unit has 12 probation officers who handle an average of 40 cases each.

The probation department interacts closely with the courts, the DA's office, the police, and batterer intervention service providers. They also have a contractual relationship with the Children's Services Bureau for the special Family Violence Project. The probation department handles only felony probation cases, and misdemeanor probations cases are the responsibility of the court. All offenders on probation, both felony and misdemeanor, are required to attend a 52- week batterer intervention program. Probation officers interact with the intervention service providers, as providers report to probation when an offender does not attend the mandated weekly sessions.

The probation department also works closely with the treatment and monitoring subcommittee of the DV Council around certification of batterer intervention programs, and the probation department has representatives on the treatment committee. By state law, the probation department is responsible for certifying all batterer intervention programs. However, this function is contracted out to the treatment and monitoring subcommittee of the DV Council which reviews programs and makes recommendations to the chief of the probation department for certification. The chief probation officer must then approve all certification decisions.

Currently there are nearly 20 certified batterer intervention programs throughout San Diego County. All are 52 weeks long, and hold weekly meetings. The curriculum is based on the Duluth model, but extended to 52 weeks instead of 26. Some of the programs are provided by organizations which also provide services and shelter to victims, while others are provided by therapists in private practice. Offenders must pay for all sessions on a sliding fee basis; most pay $25 for the initial screening interview and $15 per sessions.

Prosecutors, law enforcement, and probation officers have developed protocols within their own organizations and relationships across agencies that have enabled them to respond to domestic violence in a comprehensive and cohesive manner. Sharing of case information among these agencies is facilitated by the use of ARGES, their computerized case tracking system.

The probation department is also involved in the Family Violence Project at the CSB. Two probation officers serve on a team with 5 social workers who are housed at the CSB office, and the group has access to the ARGES computer system. Staff co-manage high risk cases where a domestic violence offender is on probation and children are present in the probationer's home. This unit, which is younger than many of the other specialized units, was created in response to a case in which a child was killed by a mother's live-in boyfriend who was on probation at the time. This motivated the CSB to review the number of their cases in which a parent is on probation. This specialized unit also works closely with the San Diego Police Department and has started an interagency task force on child abuse which meets regularly to review difficult cases.

There are several judges in San Diego County who are very involved in the domestic violence community and interested in the courts' response to domestic violence and handling of cases. Currently, a small group of judges in the San Diego Municipal Court is working to move all domestic violence criminal cases to the jurisdiction of one judge on a rotating basis.

South Bay Municipal Court is currently the only court in the county with an independent calender and one judge handling all domestic violence misdemeanor cases and restraining orders in family court. In 1992, the South Bay Court began coordinating with the Superior Court of San Diego County, and all post-plea felonies within the South Bay jurisdiction were sent down to South Bay. It was later suggested in 1993 that South Bay create a family law department, but there was not enough work for one full-time judge. The decision was made for the family court judge to handle domestic violence misdemeanor cases until the case went to trial, at which time the trial would be handled by Superior Court. Having one judge handling domestic violence cases improves the follow-up once an offender is on probation. This is particularly true for misdemeanor cases where there is no probation officer and it is the court's responsibility to monitor probation. Since one judge sees the defendant through the court process and for follow- up after sentencing, the offender is much more likely to comply with the terms of probation. The completion rate for the full year of treatment among South Bay offenders is 80 percent, whereas it is only 30 percent for other jurisdictions within the county. The standard sentence for a first misdemeanor domestic violence offense throughout most of San Diego County is three years probation and one year of treatment.