Closing the gaps on domestic violence in Summit County
Ryan Summerlin January 7, 2013
Summit County officials may not be able to prevent domestic violence, but they are putting their own policies and procedures under the microscope to find ways to better protect victims.
The first in a series of audits of local agencies involved with domestic violence cases have identified gaps in the system and led to a number of recommendations for improvement.
“We’ve found that we’ve got huge issues with domestic violence,” Summit County Sheriff John Minor said. “If we can really start working on the domestic violence issue through audits, maybe we can start to respond better to it.”
Audits of Summit County dispatch and law-enforcement agencies revealed a lack of information gathering across the board on domestic cases, according to the reports.
“The purpose of the audit isn’t to focus on one individual,” said Advocates for Victims of Assault director Amy Jackson, who is leading the project. “We’re looking at how workers are trained and are they being trained effectively to respond to the needs of victims.”
In a sample of 31 cases, 911 dispatchers failed to determine whether a victim was safe to remain on the phone, learn whether children or other people were involved or build a rapport with the caller, according to the audit report.
The law-enforcement audit showed police officers responding to domestic violence calls often didn’t interview children as potential witnesses, document prior threats of violence or describe the emotional state of the people involved, such as whether they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Auditors recommended collaborative training among response agencies, allowing law enforcement to gain insight into the work of prosecutors and dispatchers and vice versa. It’s advice local law-enforcement agencies say they will take.
“We will be looking at it countywide,” Silverthorne police chief Mark Hanschmidt said. “Anytime you have something as serious as domestic violence, you want to make sure that everybody’s on the same page.”
The audit project started with a grant from the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 2009, allowing a coalition of local officials known as the Summit County Violence Prevention Team to take a closer look at domestic violence protocols.
Through a series of focus groups, the team discovered that victims are often confused about the legal process, particularly the next steps after a suspect is arrested or released from jail.
The audits are intended to determine how the risk to a victim of domestic violence is recognized, assessed and accounted for from the first 911 call to the end of the case and will examine every agency involved in the process, from dispatch through the court system to the final counseling and treatment services.
“It’s a really great process to see where maybe there are holes or procedures that need to be put in place,” 5th Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said. “It’s a very supportive process, it’s not a blaming process.”
Jackson noted that while an audit is meant to be critical, the reviews that have been done thus far showed a high quality of work among local agencies.
“We were impressed with the overall dedication, professionalism and commitment of each agency and staff members,” she stated in an email to the Summit Daily.