Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Outcomes, Issues, and Future Directions

10/01/1996

A number of changes in Kansas City were made between the mid 1980s and early 1990s, and since then, the community has refocused its efforts on fine-tuning and maintaining those changes. The improvements in the community's response resulted, in large part, from the perseverance of particular individuals who sought change. For many years, leadership for these efforts came from both within and outside of the criminal justice system. Project Assist played a key role in highlighting problems with the system and in bringing people together to address these issues. At the same time, the commitment of the Chief of Police and Presiding Circuit Court Judge paved the way for much of the change. Currently, a number of key positions within the criminal justice system are filled by committed people who lead the community's efforts from within the system.

In the last few years, Kansas City has seen a shift in the community's approach. The leadership for this issue currently comes from high-level people within law enforcement and the judiciary. After making a number of sweeping changes, the community seems to have settled into the system that was created and is not currently engaged in major new initiatives. There has not been an ongoing effort to address coordination issues through a well-established coordinating committee, and without a mechanism for routine communication, problems are not always identified and brought to the attention of the appropriate parties. In addition, since the community relies on the leadership of a few key people, there is no institutionalized process to ensures that the agencies will continue to work together when individuals leave these positions.

The specialization within the criminal justice system and courts has brought consistency and continuity to the way domestic violence cases are handled. For example, the Municipal Court, which handles most domestic violence cases, has been transformed from a "chaotic" setting where cases were heard in eight courtrooms by different judges to a more streamlined process. Despite these improvements, concerns remain about the handling of domestic violence cases at this level. Some feel that this sends a message that domestic violence is not considered a serious offense. On the other hand, the current judge for the domestic violence docket has a reputation for treating domestic violence seriously. In addition to creating specialized positions, the community has worked to fill those positions with individuals who are sensitive to domestic violence issues, which has also contributed to the improved response.

The DVN has created a structure for coordination among shelters, and in the past few years the group has made great strides in consolidating the intake process and in establishing a system to share information. One person felt that this would greatly benefit service providers by allowing more rigorous research and evaluation of the services and also help them to provide "harder statistics" which will give legitimacy to the issue of domestic violence and the service needs of battered women.

Jackson County is exploring the possible of expanding its "drug tax" to cover misdemeanants, including domestic violence. Currently, a portion of the sales tax is designated as a "drug tax" and is used to fund substance abuse treatment services, the prosecution of drug offenses, in addition to other activities and services related to substance abuse. This represents a very collaborative effort among many different agencies; the $16 million is split among a number of agencies including law enforcement, prevention activities, treatment and services, the corrections system, and the courts. If this tax were expanded to cover domestic violence, it may lead to more funding and collaboration around this issue.