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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today convened the first meeting of a statewide task force that will study the effectiveness of how local criminal justice agencies respond to and deal with domestic violence issues. The 24-member task force will hold public hearings throughout the state to study local policies and practices, identify those that work well and determine which ones may harm or threaten the safety of domestic violence victims.
"Domestic violence continues to be an epidemic in California," Lockyer said. "California has put in place a solid criminal justice structure based on laws and local programs to help victims of violence. It's my hope that this task force's work will build on what is good and fix what isn't."
California's criminal justice agencies have taken on many responsibilities in the past 15 years to reduce domestic violence. Despite a myriad of laws aimed at protecting victims of intimate partner violence and preventing future domestic violence crimes, daily media reports document grim stories of domestic violence that devastate families and leave children without parents.
In 2002, California local law enforcement agencies received 196,569 domestic violence-related calls for assistance. During that same year, there were 153 murders committed as a result of intimate partner violence and 50,479 juveniles and adults were arrested for spousal abuse under Penal Code section 273.5.
Members of the Attorney General's "Task Force on Local Criminal Justice Response to Domestic Violence" include representatives of local and state law enforcement agencies, probation offices, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, domestic violence victims' advocates and public health officials, practitioners and researchers. The task force will submit a report by the end of 2004 describing current practices, identifying critical needs, highlighting successful approaches and proposing possible legislative changes. The report will be designed to assist local criminal justice agencies and serve as a blueprint for the Attorney General's Office in its efforts to prevent domestic violence.
The task force will focus on four issues: How domestic violence restraining orders are obtained and enforced; how law enforcement agencies respond to mandated reports of domestic violence by health care practitioners; how courts, probation and batterer intervention programs hold batterers accountable; and how prosecutors' offices handle misdemeanor domestic violence cases.
San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn was appointed by Lockyer to chair the task force. Gwinn founded the San Diego City Attorney's Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Unit, which in 1993 was recognized as the nation's model unit by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. He also led the effort to open the nationally acclaimed San Diego Family Justice Center in 2002. The center brings together the domestic violence units of the San Diego Police Department and the City Attorney's office to provide "one-stop shopping" for victims of domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, and sexual assault. In October, President Bush announced an initiative to provide federal grants to create 12 centers in the country modeled after the San Diego Family Justice Center.
"When the Attorney General called me about forming the task force, I knew I had to be a part of this key effort," Gwinn said. "The work of the task force will provide crucial guidance in helping local agencies increase the safety of domestic violence victims and their families."
Lockyer's decision to appoint the task force was prompted in part by the findings of a study he and Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, commissioned to determine the effectiveness of laws and practices aimed at reducing domestic violence. Released in July, the 50-page Senate Office of Research report showed California has taken critical steps to protect domestic violence victims, but that a comprehensive assessment of those efforts is still needed.
As Attorney General, Lockyer has made fighting domestic violence one of his top priorities. Since taking office in 1999, Lockyer has:
* Improved and expanded the Domestic Violence Restraining Order System linking police and sheriffs statewide to a database of people subjected to domestic violence restraining orders.
* Provided training for Domestic Violence Death Review teams across the state. The teams review domestic violence homicide cases to identify and repair holes in the system to prevent future incidents.
* Established monthly intra-agency meetings that bring together state agencies and organizations that deal with domestic violence, to examine how to reduce and prevent domestic violence, provide in-service training, and coordinate statewide public awareness efforts.
* Mandated Domestic Violence in the Workplace training for all managers and supervisors at the Department of Justice.
* Enhanced and expanded the Spousal Abuse Prosecution Program that provides a team of prosecutors, investigators and victim advocates to develop and prosecute a domestic violence victim's case against his or her batterer. Lockyer personally lobbied legislators and the governor for full funding for the program.
* Created the California Armed and Prohibited Persons (CAPP) program to identify and apprehend dangerous individuals who illegally possess firearms because they have committed a felony, were convicted of spousal abuse, are deemed to have a mental condition that makes them dangerous to themselves or others, or they are the subject of a domestic violence restraining order.
Additional information about the Attorney General's efforts to combat domestic violence is available at the Attorney General's Crime and Violence Prevention Center website at www.safestate.org