Buncombe County officials joined with community partners May 13 to unveil a new plan to curb domestic violence.
In 2013 there were five domestic homicides in Buncombe County — a record high. And there were 7,230 calls to 911 involving domestic violence allegations, resulting in 400 investigations by the county’s Child Protective Services Department. Nationwide, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women — more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. It’s the seventh-leading cause of death. On average, roughly 1 in 4 women will experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner sometime in their life.
“We have thousands of people who are not safe,” said Buncombe Commissioner Holly Jones at the May 13 announcement event. “The ultimate goal of the plan is to turn the tide. The community needs to say, ‘Enough. No more violence.’”
The event was the first step in a public education campaign that will seek to increase awareness of the issue in months to come.
The plan also creates a “High Risk Team” made up of law enforcement, social workers, court officials and others who “will treat offenders with the greatest scrutiny including home visits and safety checks.” They will conduct “lethality assessments” to help determine if offenders are at high risk for repeat violations. If so, they’ll be added to a watch list monitored by the risk team partners.
“It’s an unprecedented collaboration. … Every victim and every offender will get an individualized plan of action,” said Former District Court Judge Rebecca Knight. “We’re going to coordinate so the information gets to where it needs to go quickly.”
It will become standard protocol for officers at the scene of crimes to immediately notify Helpmate on behalf of the victims. Helpmate is a local nonprofit that offers emergency shelter, counseling and court advocacy programs for victims. In addition, the county will invest $100,000 in new electronic monitoring equipment that will track offenders 24/7 and alert the victim and law enforcement if they are nearby, immediately triggering the individualized safety plan.
The cost of the monitoring systems is minimal compared “to the cost of not doing anything,” said Sheriff Van Duncan, citing numerous financial consequences associated with domestic violence, such as court administration costs, worker absenteeism and emergency room visits. “The outcomes of domestic violence are very costly,” he said.
“The cost of doing nothing sends a message to our sons and daughters about what is acceptable behavior in a relationship,” added April Burgess-Johnson, executive director of Helpmate. “Offenders need to know there’s dire consequences.” More than 2,000 people reach out to Helpmate for help every year, she reported. “The message that we’re sending to them is your not alone in this.”
A similar electronic monitoring system in Pitt County, N.C., has been very effective in preventing repeat offenses, according to Knight.
Outgoing District Attorney Ron Moore said he’s hoping that Buncombe County will also soon have a special Domestic Violence Court, overseen by a judge who’s focused entirely on related issues. “Having the same judge is important so people can’t get away with saying, ‘I won’t do this again,’” he said. “They’ll know about the family situation.”
Todd Williams, who beat Moore in the May 6 Democratic primary, said he supports the idea.
“I hope we never have another year like we had last year with five intimate partner homicides,” added Duncan.
As part of the public outreach campaign, Buncombe County launched a new website May 13 with information and resources for victims.