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


Key events in a community such as a particular case or project often draw attention to deficiencies in the system and raise public awareness about domestic violence. These events sometimes serve as a rallying point for agencies to mobilize and respond to the problems highlighted by the event.

Three communities in this study (San Diego, San Francisco, and Kansas City) experienced incidents that served as a catalyst for change and prompted collaborative efforts to prevent future tragedies. In some cases, the event resulted in immediate changes. For example, Kansas City viewed the flaws in its protection order process as so serious that changes were made within days of a petitioner's murder.

In other instances, the event set in motion a broader community effort. Both Kansas City and San Diego first formed domestic violence coordinating groups in response to a particular event. Kansas City's first task force was created following a woman's murder, while in San Diego a group of concerned people started meeting after a high profile domestic violence case was dismissed in court. A later incident in San Diego which involved the death of a child led to greater collaboration between the Probation Department and the Children's Services Bureau.

San Francisco had made significant headway prior to the Charan investigation, but this case led to greater action on the part of criminal justice agencies. Following the Charan murder, the community undertook a systematic review of the criminal justice response to the case, which identified specific problems and prompted a number of changes by law enforcement agencies.

Unlike these other communities, Baltimore's efforts did not stem from a particular event. Recently, however, a Baltimore County case involving a judge who sentenced a man to work release for murdering his wife has raised public concerns about domestic violence in the Baltimore community and the judicial response to these cases.

Groups within a community may also create an event to draw attention to particular problems and to facilitate changes. For example, the Court Watch in Kansas City was an effective means to document and highlight problems in how the court handled domestic violence cases, and the fact that it was carried out by a very credible community group strengthened this effort. The results of the Court Watch raised public awareness and also provided the necessary support for a consolidated domestic violence docket in the Municipal Court.

In Baltimore, the DVCC organized a Domestic Violence Summit which brought domestic violence issues to the attention of high ranking officials in the criminal justice system. Several people felt that this meeting was an important factor in subsequent changes made by several of the agencies, including the creation of special units in the police and probation departments and pretrial release services.