08/24/06 — Task force sets sights on cases of domestic violence

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Task force sets sights on cases of domestic violence

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on August 24, 2006 2:02 PM

Wayne County is forming a task force to better help local victims of violence at the hands of a spouse.

At an organizational meeting recently at the courthouse, several organizations gathered to discuss domestic violence in Wayne County. Those participating included Social Services, Wayne Memorial Hospital, Eastpointe, the Lighthouse of Wayne County, law enforcement, judges, magistrates and clerks of court. They are all key players who, at some point or another, encounter victims of domestic violence.

Leading the formation of the task force is Tonya White, an assistant district attorney for domestic violence. She said a domestic violence court that started in Wayne County in November 2005 has been successful.

"The main purpose of the court is to isolate domestic violence cases and take them out of criminal court," Ms. White said. "And a lot of times when domestic violence victims come and get civil protective orders, they also take out criminal charges. So the purpose of our court is to combine those two into one.

"One judge hears it all at the same time instead of having two separate trials. That can be a waste of state resources."

Ms. White said the top priority of the task force will be domestic violence in the Spanish-speaking population of Wayne County. She said the legal system might not be adequately responding to these cases because of the language barrier.

The task force will also focus more on offenders who do not comply with court-ordered programs. "If they are not willing to do this, it makes them more of a threat to the victim," she said.

Also through the task force, the various agencies involved in the domestic violence process will coordinate their activities. For example, when a police officer responds to a domestic violence call and finds an abuse victim, it would help the prosecutors if the officer took pictures of the victim's injuries to use in court.

Ms. White said this way they can do a better job prosecuting offenders.

The task force will also give prosecutors a better idea of what community resources are available for domestic violence victims.

"Sometimes being over here in the courthouse, we are sort of isolated and we don't necessarily see the big picture of what our response as a community should be to domestic violence," Ms. White said.

"We want to talk about domestic violence as a community issue and not necessarily as a criminal justice issue. Regardless of the severity of the domestic violence incident, we need to take it seriously every time it occurs."