Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Specialized Staff and Units


In every community except the two rural sites in northern Minnesota, a majority of agencies designate specialized staff or units to handle domestic violence cases (Exhibit 5.1). Specialization enables a group or individual within the agency to become domestic violence experts and to gain considerable experience in handling these cases. Typically, specialized staff also receive more extensive training in domestic violence including the cycle of violence, why victims stay in abusive relationships, and relevant laws and resources. As a result, domestic violence cases can be handled more efficiently since staff become very knowledgeable about the field. Moreover, staff become more sensitive to the unique characteristics of domestic violence cases through their training and experience. This helps them both in preparing cases and also in dealing with battered women. Having a single person or group of people handle domestic violence cases leads to more consistency in the response, which was viewed as a major benefit by people across the sites.

Exhibit 5.1: Use of Specialized Staff, Units and Dockets for Domestic Violence



Pre-Trial Release Services









Kansas City






Northern St. Louis County


Carlton County


San Diego






San Francisco







\1 At present, Baltimore has a consolidated docket in civil court to handle requests for protection orders. The city also plans to establish a Domestic Violence Court in the near future to handle criminal domestic violence cases in the District Court.

\2 Kansas City has a consolidated docket in civil court to handle requests for protection orders. The Municipal Court also has a consolidated domestic violence docket. In the Criminal Circuit Court, domestic violence cases are arraigned before a single judge, but the trials are heard by different judges.

\3 In San Diego, the South Bay Municipal Court has a dedicated judge for restraining orders and for domestic violence misdemeanor cases.

\4 San Francisco has a domestic violence calendar in Family Court to hear requests for protection orders.

\5 San Francisco plans to begin a special unit within probation during 1996, but this unit was not fully operational at the time of our site visit.

In smaller communities, specialization is usually not feasible. Domestic violence cases comprise a small proportion of any agency's total caseload. In smaller communities, this often means that the number of domestic violence cases is too small for even a single staff person to specialize. This was the case in both communities in Northern Minnesota. In Carlton County, for example, the largest law enforcement agency has fewer than 20 officers and there are only four prosecutors countywide. Larger communities sometimes face this issue as well. For example, in Kansas City one probation office estimated that the entire office had only about 30 domestic violence cases. Since each officer carries a caseload of about 100, there were not enough domestic violence cases to devote a single probation officer to domestic violence.