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


To form a coordinated response, a community must bring together various agencies that often have not traditionally worked together and motivate them to change their approach to domestic violence. This can be a difficult process which requires strong, consistent, and reliable leadership. The leadership in the study sites came from a number of different sources, but in every community it made a difference in the extent of the changes and the ease with which they were made. The stability of the leadership was also important for the continuity of the community's efforts.

In order for a community to change its response, someone in a position of power within the agency targeted for change must support it. Strong leaders acting in official capacities play an important role in defining the issues, bringing people together, reallocating resources, and/or instituting policy changes. Leadership may come from different levels, but in order to be effective, leaders must have decisionmaking authority and the time and commitment to serve in this role. In several communities (Baltimore, Kansas City and San Francisco), people noted that domestic violence was a priority for the city's mayor at the time that coordination really took off. However, while a mayor's support can place domestic violence on the city's agenda, people felt that numerous competing issues frequently limit the mayor's day-to-day involvement in the coordination efforts. Thus, the mayor can define domestic violence as an important issue for city agencies, but often cannot provide the hands-on leadership required to formulate and implement widespread policy changes.

Heads of agencies face a similar dilemma in that they must deal with many other issues in addition to domestic violence. While the support of the top-ranking official is essential for an agency to change policies or reallocate resources for domestic violence, people at this level are often unable to provide the ongoing leadership needed to move a community's efforts forward. However, when someone at this level becomes involved, changes often occur very quickly. For example, in Kansas City, the current Jackson County Prosecutor was concerned about the small number of state charges filed in domestic violence cases, and she assigned a prosecutor to the police department to review all domestic violence cases. Because of her position, she was able to negotiate a plan with the Chief of Police and quickly reallocate her staff for this purpose. In both Baltimore and San Francisco, special domestic violence units were created by newly-elected prosecutors who had campaigned on this issue. In addition to reallocating resources, top officials can also make policy for the agency. For example, the Kansas City Police Chief supported mandatory arrest for domestic violence and instituted this policy in Kansas City several years before it was implemented statewide.

Within individual agencies, senior staff may also serve as leaders both for their own agency's efforts and for the broader community. Staff at this level have the authority to make decisions on behalf of their agency, and may also have more time to devote to the efforts. In Baltimore, senior staff from the various criminal justice agencies pushed forward changes in their own agencies and also played an active role on the DVCC. Senior staff may also be able to influence other agencies in the community. In San Diego, for example, the head deputy city attorney in the City Attorney's Office has been crucial to getting all players on board and convincing city and county officials of the importance of the issue. Also in San Diego, a detective in the police department analyzed the department's response to domestic violence, and the findings of this analysis led to the creation of the special police unit.

Individual judges were leaders in the coordination efforts in Baltimore and Kansas City. In Baltimore, the administrative judge for Baltimore City District Courts serves as the co-chair of the DVCC and has been active in the community's coordination efforts for a number of years. Several DVCC members viewed this involvement as critical because it makes committee members more cooperative and willing to follow through on initiatives. Judges also have been an integral part of Kansas City's efforts. In the early years, the presiding judge for the Circuit Court was very sensitive to domestic violence issues and was able to facilitate a number of changes in the Courts. Currently in Kansas City, the judge for the protection order docket in the Civil Circuit Court serves as the chair of the Adult Abuse Committee. In Northern St. Louis County, the chief judge chairs a new committee to bring non-traditional players into the efforts (e.g., business, health and education leaders). Because of their stature in the community, judges are often well- positioned to provide leadership for a community's efforts, particularly within the judiciary. However, some judges are reluctant to assume a leadership role because they do not want to appear biased about domestic violence.

Leadership from non-criminal justice agencies can be equally important to the success of a community's efforts. Outside organizations can ensure consistency in the efforts when elected or appointed officials change and keep attention focused on the issue over time. In four communities (San Francisco, Kansas City, Northern St. Louis County and Carlton County), a great deal of change was motivated by effective leadership from domestic violence advocates, as described in the advocacy section below. Former victims of domestic violence also facilitate change in some communities. In Carlton County, several founding members of the Rural Women's Advocates were themselves former victims of domestic violence. In another community, a detective who motivated changes in the police department's response was also a former victim.

In some sites, leadership and direction from the state has been instrumental in encouraging, and sometimes requiring, change at the local level. The Domestic Violence Task Force created by the Governor of Missouri in the mid-1980s was an important factor in Kansas City's efforts. The chief of police grew interested in domestic violence through his involvement in this task force, and he remained a leader in Kansas City's efforts for a number of years.

Minnesota has demonstrated strong state leadership on domestic violence issues which led to changes in both Northern St. Louis and Carlton Counties. For example, Minnesota established a policy to require criminal justice agencies to either adopt a model state policy for handling domestic violence cases or write their own policies for these cases. Minnesota also supports a statewide structure of regional coordinating councils on domestic violence and has enacted several policies to change the judicial response on a statewide basis.

The state judiciary can improve the courts' response through training for judges on domestic violence issues. In fact, some people felt that state-level involvement was necessary to ensure that judges receive domestic violence training, since some they thought that otherwise many judges would not participate. Minnesota requires all judges in the state to attend mandatory training on domestic violence. Recently, both Missouri and California held statewide conferences for judges on issues related to domestic violence. Action by local judges in several communities was inspired by attendance at a national conference on domestic violence put on several years ago in California by an association of state Supreme Court justices.