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


Coordination activities in Kansas City stem largely from the leadership and initiative of a few key people in the community, rather than the ongoing work of a coordinating committee. The extent and nature of the coordination have fluctuated over time as leadership for this issue has changed; one person described this process as occurring in "fits and starts." While Kansas City currently does not have an active coordinating committee focused on domestic violence, there have been several task forces over the years that have improved the criminal justice response.

Historically, most domestic violence arrests in Kansas City have been prosecuted in the Municipal Court as a violation of a city ordinance. The maximum penalty for a conviction is either 6 months in jail, a $500 fine, or both. During the past several years, the city has placed greater emphasis on increasing the number of state charges for domestic violence, that is, misdemeanor or felony charges that are prosecuted by the county, rather than the city. To further improve the criminal justice response, special domestic violence units have been formed in several agencies including the Kansas City Police Department, the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office, and the City Prosecutor's Office. The Civil Circuit Court and Kansas City Municipal Court both have consolidated dockets with full-time judges to handle domestic violence cases. In addition, the Criminal Circuit Court has a consolidated docket to arraign domestic violence cases. While staff at the various criminal justice agencies interact through their work, they do not meet regularly as a group to discuss their progress or address specific coordination needs.

The metropolitan Kansas City area has six domestic violence shelters--four in Missouri and two in Kansas--which together have more than 240 beds for battered women and their children. In 1989, the shelters formed the Domestic Violence Network (DVN), a not-for-profit organization, to improve coordination among themselves. To date, their efforts have focused primarily on developing a shared hotline and an integrated computer system.

Project Assist, a program of Legal Aid of Western Missouri, provides legal representation for battered women seeking protection orders, and also assists with other civil matters such as child custody or divorce. For many years, Project Assist also played a leading role in systems advocacy in Kansas City by initiating and coordinating many of the community's efforts. However, in recent years, Project Assist has focused more on legal services rather than systems change. This shift was attributed to staff turnover as well as to the feeling that there is less of a need for strong advocacy since many reforms have been institutionalized.