Preventing Domestic Violence: An Alliance Approach

Beginning in 1993, an alliance of governmental and private groups have worked together to address the issue of domestic assault. Together the 52-1 District Court, HAVEN (a domestic violence prevention organization), Catholic Social Services menĂ­s program, police, prosecutors, and Oakland County Pre-trial Services agreed to a coordinated response to the problem of domestic violence.

From the start, members of the alliance agreed that domestic assault is a public crime, not a private family matter. Because of this approach the victim, who becomes simply a witness in a criminal case, is no longer able to request that the case be dismissed. As a result, the defendant's opportunity to control the outcome by threats or intimidation is sharply reduced. This decision is the foundation of all of our subsequent decisions and actions.

As part of the new approach, HAVEN agreed to train all local police officers and probation officers about the dynamics of domestic violence. HAVEN also agreed to have an advocate contact the victim immediately after the arrest and if requested appear with the victim in court. HAVEN and Catholic Social Services additionally agreed to provide long term domestic violence treatment for convicted defendants. Since 1993 seven more domestic violence treatment agencies have joined the Alliance.

The police agreed to arrest individuals when there is probable cause to believe an assault has occurred, to hold the defendant until they are arraigned by the Court, to give the victim information about HAVEN, and to fax the police report to HAVEN and to the Court.

Oakland Pre-trial Services agreed to prepare a pre-bond report prior to the arraignment.

The court agreed to conduct the arraignment within twenty hours of the defendant's arrest and then to schedule the new case on a special fast-track docket. The court and prosecutors agreed not to dismiss any cases even if requested to do so by the victim, but to resolve these matters either through plea or trial. The Court also agreed to tighten probation supervision of these offenders. Regular reports are issued to the media and presented to community groups to raise awareness of the Alliance's goals and progress.

In 2000, Parents of Murdered Children (P.M.C.) and Sequoia Recovery Services joined the Alliance and working with HAVEN created the T.R.Y. (Taking Responsibility for Yourself) program. T.R.Y. is a forty-week long combined domestic violence and alcohol/drug treatment program. It starts with a concentrated weekend retreat where a member of P.M.C. describes the domestic murder of their child. The remainder of the weekend involves intense alcohol and domestic violence counseling.

The results of the last ten years exceeded our best hopes. The fast track approach sped 3,463 cases throughout the criminal justice system. The time between arraignment and pretrial fell from 40 days on average to 6. The time between arraignment and trial fell from 113 days on average to 19. The goal of ending dismissals at the victim's request, which occurred in approximately 30% of the cases in 1992, was achieved. Instead, 91% of those charged with domestic assault over the last nine years have been convicted. This conviction rate is similar to other misdemeanor offenses. And in only 8% of these cases have the officers had to return to the same household to make a new domestic assault arrest.

In 1992, felony assaults by a spouse comprised 52% of all assault cases bound over from the 52/1 District Court to 6th Circuit Court. (Felony assaults include such crimes in Michigan as: Assault with a weapon, Assault with Intent to do Great Bodily Harm Less than Murder, Assault with Intent to Murder, and Murder). In 2001, only five spousal felony assault cases were bound over. In 1992, four people were killed by their spouse. In the ten years of tracking, the effort of the alliance has prevented all but two people from being killed by their spouse.

The decline in the number of felonies bound over to Circuit Court is echoed by the overall decline in the number of domestic violence misdemeanors charged in the 52-1 District Court. In 1995, the first full year in which all of the communities served by the 52-1 District Court were part of the Alliance, there were 411 cases; in 1996, 454 cases; and in 1997, 420 cases; in 1998, 410 cases; in 1999, 386 cases and in 2000, 350 cases. In 2002, there were 332 cases, or 27% below the peak year of 1996.

These numbers establish that a community-based alliance approach can effectively address the crime of domestic assault without increased spending or staffing.