Program sets sites on preventing abuse
The Superior Police Department officially kicked off its Domestic Abuse Reduction Team (D.A.R.T.) program Wednesday, on Valentine's Day.
"It is an odd day to start," Superior Police Chief Floyd Peters admitted.
Maybe not, said Kelly Burger, executive director for the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse.
"Relationships should be healthy," she said.
The goal of the new program is to prevent repeat episodes of domestic violence in at-risk families. It pairs CASDA advocates and officers into teams that make contact with victims of domestic violence within 72 hours of a violent incident.
Teams are assigned in the following cases:
There have been three or more calls for police service within a one-year period.
There has been a significant violent threat.
Individuals have been referred by officers, D.A.R.T. partner agencies or concerned citizens.
The teams offer advocacy, support, safety planning and information.
They also visit the perpetrator in each incident to offer information, refer them to available treatment and answer questions.
"Participation is voluntary," Burger stressed. "Nobody is forced to work with us."
The information provided ranges from the effects of violence on children to contact numbers for area services. The program can also draw on other local agencies to provide food, legal help and even prescription medications that have been denied to victims. If utilized, the program acts as a safety net for the victim.
"A safety net and support that she's not alone makes a difference," Burger said.
The program, which tries to address domestic violence before it occurs, has been a year in the making and has the strong backing of Peters.
"As a law enforcement agency we've looked at problem solving," he said. Police efforts in Superior's North End have led to a reduction in violence since 2003, he said, and the department launched a neighborhood program in West Midtown -- Banks, Oakes and Butler avenues from Belknap to North 21st streets -- last fall.
"Why can't we do the same thing with domestic violence?" Peters asked. "Shift gears and instead of being reactionary, reduce and prevent domestic violence."
In his 28 years of service, the chief has dealt with a multitude of domestic violence cases -- from shouting matches between couples to homicides.
"Domestic violence cases are very dangerous," he said. "They can be volatile, explosive." And they can lead to violence not only against the victim but against the officers who try to intervene.
They are also common. In 2006, the Superior Police Department responded to 187 domestic violence calls that led to mandatory arrests and another 338 calls that did not rise to the level of mandatory arrest. In 2005, those numbers were 215 for calls that led to arrests and 381 for non-arrest calls.
The D.A.R.T. program was launched with no additional funding. Grant cycles are in the off season.
"At the same time we won't sit back and wait for funding," Peters said. "It's never the wrong time to do the right thing."
If the program can make a difference in even a couple of lives by halting the cycle of abuse, he said, it could cause a ripple effect that touches neighbors, schools, courts and more.
"There's potential benefit for everybody," Peters said.
Police officers, Douglas County Sheriff's deputies and CASDA advocates have stepped forward, volunteering to be part of the program.
"That's what's got me excited," Burger said.
As the ball gets rolling, it may take a few years to see the program's impact, Peters said. Effectiveness will be gauged by watching those families involved the program.
"Did we reduce violence?" Burger asked. "Did law enforcement get called out again?"
It will take time, but Peters' commitment to the program is heartfelt. His goal as chief is for D.A.R.T. "to be a long-term program that will serve this community for years to come."
Maria Lockwood can be reached at 395-5025 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.