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


In general, the domestic violence community and criminal justice agencies have developed cooperative working relationships and undertaken a number of collaborative efforts over the years. It is the FUND's philosophy to involve the targeted agency(ies), in addition to domestic violence advocates and agencies, in their institutional change efforts. As a result, law enforcement and domestic violence agencies have served together on a number of committees, including the Domestic Violence and Justice Committee and the Family Violence Council, and have jointly developed solutions to problems in the domestic violence response. The Courts are the weakest link in the criminal justice system's response to domestic violence in San Francisco, according to several respondents. To date, the Courts have played a lesser role in the coordinated response than the community's other criminal justice agencies.

There has been a considerable amount of education and training across the various agencies. For example, the FUND developed training programs and during the 1980s trained all members of the San Francisco Police Department in domestic violence. Police have also trained Consortium members and other community agencies on the role of the police in domestic violence. Today, the FUND chairs the Domestic Violence and Justice Committee which is training all of the command staff of the police department. Domestic violence training is a regular part of recruit and advanced officers' training programs.

The cooperative relationship between the domestic violence advocates and the criminal justice agencies may be due, in part, to the historical relationship between the Family Violence Prevention Fund and law enforcement agencies. In San Francisco, direct victim advocacy services were developed by an independent group from within, rather than outside of, the criminal justice system. In this respect, the advocacy model adopted by San Francisco differs from that used in many other communities. Although the Family Violence Project (the precursor to the FUND) was located within the DA's Office, steps were taken from the beginning to ensure that the program remained community-based and had some autonomy. For example, the Family Violence Project was funded as a separate line item in the District Attorney's budget and governed by policies defining its primary role as victim advocacy, rather than a part of the prosecution. In addition, the Family Violence Project was part of the FUND's broader work that maintained other staff and programs outside of the District Attorney's office.

Another important feature of this advocacy model is the Family Violence Project's ability to maintain the confidentiality of its clients. Information that the Family Violence Project staff obtain from victims remains confidential and is not shared with the prosecution or defense. Many people view this as a good policy because it allows victims to discuss issues freely with an advocate without fear that the information will be used in court. On the other hand, some people acknowledged that it takes time to build trust between advocates and prosecutors who may sometimes have conflicting goals. The Family Violence Project and the prosecutors in the domestic violence unit work closely, even though the advocates do not share confidential information about the cases with the prosecutors.

Recently, law enforcement agencies have become more specialized which has affected their response to domestic violence and their interactions with other agencies. The police department's domestic violence unit now investigates all domestic violence cases. The unit has 13 investigators and assigns priority to cases in which the perpetrator is on probation or parole for a prior domestic violence offense or has a substantial number of prior arrests for domestic violence.

Several people noted that in the past few years, the police response to domestic violence has improved in San Francisco, with officers being better trained and more sensitive to these cases. In addition, the special unit provides an easily-identified place within the Department for other agencies and the public to contact about domestic violence issues. The unit's commanding officer has set protocol that other agencies should contact her directly with questions or problems related to domestic violence. The biggest constraint for the unit has been limited resources, including office space and staff, rather than resistance from within the Department.

The joint effort of the FUND's advocacy program and the Mission police station provides an example of successful collaboration between service providers and police. Program staff of the Community Access and Advocacy Unit work quite closely with officers in the Mission police station. For example, when officers feel that a victim in a particular case needs assistance, they will often bring this to the attention of program staff. Program staff also provide feedback to officers informally through discussions about problems or issues with the way a particular case was handled by the police. As officers have seen how the program can make a difference in their work, they have grown to accept the program more. One person reported that the officers are proud of the program and brag to other Districts about it. The program has also enhanced the police relationship with the community by bringing people into the police station who have not previously had positive interactions with the police.

The specialized unit planned for the probation department will consist of six probation officers to handle all felony and misdemeanor domestic violence probation cases. Since the unit will not increase the level of supervision for domestic violence cases, no additional resources are required to form the unit. The unit aims to ensure consistency in the way the cases are handled, as the specialized staff become more familiar with the laws, resources and programs available for domestic violence.

The probation department is one of the few agencies to have contact with both the victim and the batterer, and thus the unit is in a unique position to assess the whole situation and work with both parties. Through its involvement with victims, the probation department sometimes makes referrals to domestic violence services like the Family Violence Project, legal services and shelters. The department also interacts frequently with batterer intervention programs. State law requires the department to certify batterer intervention programs, and in California, participation by offenders is mandated for 52 weeks. To be certified, a program submits an application to the department which then interviews and visits the program. The probation department also has ongoing communication with batterer intervention programs to monitor probationers' compliance. One person felt that the special unit will improve this communication as probation officers become more knowledgeable about the programs and program staff know who to contact about problems.

There are two batterer intervention providers in San Francisco, and both provide ongoing 52-week programs consisting of 2 hours per week, based on the curriculum from the Duluth model. Offenders pay for each session on a sliding fee scale, and these fees cover the entire budgets for both agencies. The programs strongly encourage clients to continue to attend weekly meetings after completing the program. As one provider said "when they go back to their community, they will only find reinforcement for their old behavior."