DVPC4 Domestic Violence Committee Report

9. Investigation, Prosecution and Inter-Agency Communication

Findings
As mentioned above, the difference between domestic violence and other crimes suggests the need for changes in what constitutes an adequate investigation and prosecutorial process. There must be a higher level and quality of communication between people and organizations involved in domestic violence law enforcement, prosecution, and service delivery. For example, when the District Attorney looks at a crime report submitted by law enforcement and finds insufficient information to prosecute, there has been insufficient follow-up communication to insure a full investigation has taken (or will take) place. The District Attorney has had additional problems with the availability of information within database systems. Other obstacles include:

a) Even where information is shared, different understandings, use of language, definitions and foci of the different entities interferes with effective communication. For example, we had difficulty obtaining a "layman's definition" of domestic violence as that term has been used within the penal code, i.e., the Court, District Attorney and Sheriff's Dept. each provided different definitions. This is a symptom of the communication problems that interfere with effective collaborative case management.

b) The practice of looking at a domestic violence case as an isolated incident rather than using a more comprehensive "safety/risk management" model (assessing the total circumstances) results in investigation and prosecution systems that are unable to recognize an escalating pattern of violent behavior and respond appropriately. (This is also an obstacle to prevention and treatment.)

c) Judges hearing a criminal case are not routinely provided with a history of civil restraining orders issued when they hear a criminal matter. The District Attorney does not routinely bring this information forward.

Comments
The AG's report emphasized the lack of communication; at the management level (I.B) "there is no ...forum ...to discuss problem areas and agree on possible solutions", and at the staff level (I.C) there isn't the "opportunity to exchange information with peers...to recognize problems early and make corrections", and (III.D) "there has been too little exchange at the working level (specifically between the District Attorney's Office and law enforcement". The Community Task Force Report recommends the establishment of a Coordinating Council (MDT, A1) and the development of additional resources to be distributed to victims that will include important agency contact numbers (A3). The report recommends expanded victim services through the District Attorney's Office (10c).

We strongly concur with the AG's report on the lack of information and effective communication with law enforcement when the District Attorney's Office rejects a case. (II.F) The rate of case rejection is an example of a statistic currently being tracked by the District Attorney's Office and needs to be analyzed for purposes of accountability. However, the change in arresting protocols this year (which had the effect of increasing the number of cases forwarded to the District Attorney's Office by law enforcement) also means we do not have a reliable baseline data from prior years.


Recommended Actions: Investigation, Prosecution & Inter-Agency CommunicationAccountable Parties
A. There will be a more systematic process for insuring:
  • continuity and coordination in case management,
  • adequate follow-up on ancillary services and cross- referral,
  • families are treated as a whole unit,
  • all relevant data (CPS/HSD, Schools, health providers, etc.) is included in the investigative process.
All Agencies
B. There will to be a more comprehensive protocol covering referrals between law enforcement and Child Protective Services.Sheriff's Dept. and Other Law Enforcement Agencies and CPS/HSD
C. More advocacy services will be made available and the District Attorney and law enforcement agencies will insure that victims have the right to the advocate of their choice and will Courts, not in any way interfere with that right.Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, Law Enforcement Agencies
D. Victims will be provided an accurate picture of what's happened and what lies ahead at each point of contact with the investigation and prosecutorial process (24-hour availability of information is needed). Sheriff's Dept., District Attorney, Other Law Enforcement Agencies
E. Ongoing, mandatory multi-disciplinary training will be provided for all county and law enforcement agencies (sworn and non-sworn) , at all levels, on domestic violence, child abuse, cycles of violence, and power and control dynamics within interpersonal relationships. Such training should focus on issues such as:
  • discretion/reasonable victim standard for enforcement of TROs,
  • use of stay away orders, emergency protective orders and orders after hearing,
  • assessment of and strategies for identifying and dealing with high-risk cases,
  • asserting leadership on the front-line, including: risk- taking, courage, creative problem-solving,
  • report writing that creates a common language and understanding of domestic violence, stalking and child abuse.
  • and values, attitudes and belief systems and the difficulties they pose in addressing domestic violence.
Sheriff's Dept. and Other Law Enforcement, District Attorney, Courts, CPS/HSD and Other Service Providers, State Representatives

10. Processing of Court Cases, Disposition and Follow-up

Findings
A major frustration occurs when cases fall apart because victims are unable to maintain their resolve to keep a case moving forward. Sometimes this becomes an excuse to "blame the victim" and not take full responsibility to see that justice is done. And yet, too often victims do not have the necessary information or emotional or economic support to stay the course.

All parties need to be sensitive to the fact that successful processing and disposition of a case is not just a matter of getting a guilty verdict and should not hinge solely on victim participation in the prosecution. Because of the relationship between the perpetrator and victim, there is a need for much more intensive and coordinated follow-up than in other kinds of cases. There are several problems in the current system of follow-up:

a) There is little or no real information on outcomes. There is not sufficient use of management information to identify opportunities for performance improvement in any part of the system; e.g., the elimination of diversion may have had the effect of increasing the level of violence before certain batterers get help. There is a need to look closely at the effectiveness of and limitations on services for batterers.

b) The burden is on the victim to track the disposition of a case rather than on the Courts, District Attorney and law enforcement. Probation takes responsibility to a certain extent but is handicapped by overwhelming and increasing caseloads. The Probation Dept. currently devotes approximately 20% of staff time to domestic violence cases even though such cases represent approximately 25% of overall cases. Domestic violence cases require significantly more time and attention due to the need to work with both the victim and the abuser. The absence of comparative outcomes data makes it difficult to evaluate what kind of impact this level of resource utilization is having. Nonetheless, the Probation Dept. appears to be taking a positive, proactive stance towards supervision of probationers and protection of victims.

Comments
The AG's report notes how it is "difficult to have any idea of how problems are being solved without good statistical information" (II.D). The report goes on to outline the kinds of information that is lacking. As we note below (See #12), what the AG's report does not identify is the lack of a systematic and accountable process for follow-up (continuous learning and improvement) on the information collected. The Community Task Force Report also recommends standardized data collection for better analysis (A2). It also recommends victims be notified prior to the release of a perpetrator from jail (B5a).

Recommended Actions: Processing of Court Cases, Disposition and Follow-upAccountable Parties
A. Establish standardized data collection for improved analysis of system performance and trends.Courts, Sheriff's Dept., Other Law Enforcement Agencies, Board of Supervisors, Commission on the Status of Women
B. Local and state data processing systems will be improved and coordinated in order to allow for development and tracking of case and outcomes information. Board of Supervisors, State Attorney General's Office
C. Successful disposition of a case must include: Probation,
  • All victims of domestic violence will be notified prior to release of a batterer.
  • All victims are educated re: options, recommendations and consequences of threatening actions by the batterer.
  • A plan for coordinated support by agencies and a community of support.
Sheriff's Dept., Other Law Enforcement, District Attorney and Other Service Providers, Domestic Violence Coordinating Council
D. Funding will be prioritized to staff at levels allowing for adequate case management, including providing services to the victim and family.Board of Supervisors
E. Multi-disciplinary task forces will be established at three levels: a) administrative/procedural, b) case review, c) community education. This may require changes in laws pertaining to confidentiality.Sheriff's Dept. and Other Law Enforcement, District Attorney and Other Service Providers, Domestic Violence Coordinating Council
F. The state budget will target funding to allow for the establishment of a domestic violence court.State Representatives
G. In all domestic violence criminal cases, the District Attorney's Office will request a stay away order.District Attorney and Courts
H. The bench will take the stance that domestic violence is a community issue, i.e., this is the State of California versus the abuser, not just a personal issue, and the courts actions will reflect this position in how they operate.Courts
I. Given sufficient evidence, cases will be built and prosecuted independent of victim participation.District Attorney
J. The courts will actively explore ways to organize their calendars to minimize fragmentation across different kinds of cases, including working towards establishing a one file, one family approach to file management.Courts


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