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Initiatives get credit for dip in domestic violence here

Despite downward trend law enforcement officials say more can be done

Published: Friday, May 31, 2013 9:40 a.m. CDT

Domestic battery is on a gradual decline in Grundy County, according to statistics provided by Sheriff Kevin Callahan.

That’s due — at least in part — to stricter laws and initiatives such as the Domestic Violence Diversion program, Callahan said.

For Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland, though, the number is still too high, and there’s plenty of work to be done.

Two initiatives out of his office are seeking to provide relief for victims of domestic violence and keep perpetrators from reoffending.

Breaking Away, a nonprofit for which Helland serves as president, will provide temporary shelter to victims of domestic trouble. The organization has been in existence, but Helland said there was not enough awareness among residents and law enforcement to take advantage of the service.

So Helland and Vicki Surman, victim/witness services coordinator with the State’s Attorney’s Office, are looking to get the word out.

“There is a need for this service,” Helland said. “There’s just not enough awareness that this option is out there.”

There had been a house in town used as a shelter in the past, Helland said. Victims had also been given temporary shelter in local hotels.

With Breaking Away, victims would be provided temporary housing and food, as well as counseling, self-esteem building and advocacy services.

A police report must be made before admittance, but an arrest does not have to be made.

In fact, situations where an arrest has not been made is one of the areas where the shelter can be most valuable.

Police, he said, sometimes respond to domestic trouble where there is not enough evidence to take the perpetrator into custody.

The shelter, the location of which is undisclosed, would provide victims with a safe place.

Transportation to and from school for children can also be arranged.

The State’s Attorney’s Office is also looking to improve upon the Domestic Violence Diversion program, which he said has been successful in its current incarnation.

The program, begun in 1997, seeks to prevent those convicted of domestic violence from reoffending by engaging them in drug rehabilitation and Pathways domestic violence education.

Since its inception, Grundy County has graduated 450 people from the program and only 12 have recommitted, according to Surman.

“It’s a successful program,” Surman said.

But, Helland said: “We’re looking to improve on those numbers. Anything can be improved.”

As it stands, there is no required order for the steps of the program to be completed in. Many, Helland said, go through the education portion first and then attend rehab.

Helland said he feels the classes would be more effective if completed after drug rehabilitiation, and is looking to establish a contract that would enforce that order.

“If they had a clean mind, I think the program would be even more effective,” Helland said.

In 2011, the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department responded to 34 incidents of domestic battery and 347 calls for domestic trouble. In 2012, those numbers were 31 and 327, respectively, according to Sheriff Callahan.

This year, Callahan said, the department is on track to receive 292 calls for domestic trouble and 20 domestic batteries.

He said part of that decrease can be attributed to the Domestic Violence Diversion program.

He also said that laws have changed over the years to allow better enforcement.

Before, he said, an officer responding to a call for domestic trouble would need a complaint before making an arrest. If the victim did not make a complaint, there was not an arrest.

Now, though, an officer who observes signs of physical battery can make an arrest without a complaint from the victim.

“I think that’s helped a lot,” Callahan said.

But, he emphasized, there is an aspect of randomness to the occurrence of domestic violence. Incidents may spike or drop during certain periods without a clear reason.

“You really never know when it will happen,” Callahan said. “That’s the nature of that type of call.”

Still, Helland said, things can be done to help the victims and reduce the likelihood of the crimes occurring.

“We want to make sure people have this information and know these options are out there,” Helland said.

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