Domestic violence

Monday, February 9, 2004

They've been bloodied and bruised by the people closest to them. Domestic assault victims are some of the most vulnerable and mishandled in our judicial system. Sometimes their offenders are convicted, but not always.

Although Cape Girardeau police haven't pinpointed a trend in increased domestic assaults, the department believes a need exists for a specially trained officer to deal with such calls.

Officers receive calls nearly every weekend and evening -- one assault call every 29.3 hours. From January 2002 to December 2003, Cape Girardeau police responded to 598 domestic assault calls.

With such a workload, victims' advocates believe that the city would benefit from hiring a police officer trained to deal directly with crimes against women. Eighty-five percent of victims are women, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice released in 2001.

Having a single officer to investigate the assault charges could result in more prosecutions, police say. One officer would be able to develop a greater rapport with the victims than the slew of patrolmen and detectives who usually end up investigating the cases now.

But the city hopes to find a solution for how to handle its increased domestic assault workload. The police department recently applied for a grant that would create a position to investigate domestic and sexual assaults. The grant from the Missouri Department of Public Safety would cover the cost of creating the job and could be renewed annually. It also requires a match from the city, which would come from the police department's budget.

Although city coffers are low, hiring an officer for domestic assault cases seems like a prudent use of grant money. It would free up other officers to patrol the streets in a more timely manner.

The Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department already has a domestic assault investigator. The county hired its officer in 1999 and investigated 90 domestic violence reports in 2003 and 85 in 2002.

This area isn't alone in its attempt to better meet the needs of victims.

A state department also has plans to prevent violence against women. The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services is showcasing drafts of a strategic plan that would unite smaller agencies that deal with domestic abuse. State officials offered a glimpse of the plan last week in Cape Girardeau to mixed reviews.

Area officials and victims' advocates questioned where the plan's funding would come from and if it shouldn't begin earlier with lessons in prevention. Both are good questions and need to be answered.

Developing resources for preventing violence, aiding victims and offering educational programs should be the focus of any statewide or local plan. It seems that Cape Girardeau's police are moving in the right direction with the grant proposal.

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