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New policy addresses domestic violence

A revised policy for how the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office will prosecute domestic violence cases was unveiled Thursday after two years of behind-the-scenes work.

"It sets the stage for a new intervention, a more coordinated intervention, a more predictable intervention and an accountable intervention," said District Attorney Dan Blank.

Domestic violence has a huge impact on the community, he said. About a quarter of the office’s misdemeanor caseload and up to 15 percent of the charged felony cases in Douglas County involve domestic violence.

"So interpersonal violence with one category, domestic violence, is a big part of the job," Blank said.

The new policy replaces one from the early 1990s that is so old the district attorney couldn’t actually put his hands on one prior to Thursday’s press conference. That one-page, bare-minimum document will now be replaced with an eight-page policy that covers the process from making charging decisions to making sentence recommendations and includes a timeline to provide sure and swift consequences in domestic violence cases. The policy is based, in part, on a blueprint for safety model coming out of Duluth.

"They’re nationally and world-recognized as change agents and leaders in this field and it only makes sense to cross the bridge both ways and take advantage of the research and learning and models that are out there," Blank said.

It was hammered out by the Douglas County Domestic Violence Coordinated Community Response team, which includes members of the community, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and other interested parties.

The purpose behind coordinated community response is to align all the different agencies that touch domestic violence cases so their policy and protocol is linked.

"So that when law enforcement does their job, it makes the next practitioner better able to do theirs, the prosecutor; when the prosecutor does their job, it makes it easier for probation to do their job," said Scott Miller, program director for the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program in Duluth. "So the prosecutor’s policy is just one piece of that larger, coordinated effort."

The next step in organizing this coordinated response in Douglas County will involve looking at the Superior Police Department’s domestic violence policy.

Miller said it took four years for St. Louis County to rewrite domestic violence policies for all its criminal justice agencies, from 911 through probation.

Blank signed and adopted the new policy Thursday. The next stage, implementation, could be delayed for a short time due to lack of staff. The office currently has a vacancy for a full-time assistant district attorney.

The unveiling of the new policy in the midst of election season was coincidental, Blank said, and it is likely to be implemented regardless of the outcome of next month’s primary election. If challenger Mark Fruehauf wins, he has the option to evaluate past policies and start new ones.

"I would be shocked if anyone would take this working document and throw it away and start over," Blank said. "Maybe there would be revisions or modifications, but I would hope that this would be a lasting working document for many years to come."

State statute requires that each district attorney’s office has guidelines on domestic abuse cases. According to Blank, the office has no similar policies for other categories of offenses.

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