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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer and State Senator Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, today announced the findings of a study they requested that shows California has taken critical steps to protect domestic violence victims, but that a comprehensive assessment of those efforts is still needed.
"California should be proud of the many tough anti-domestic violence laws and practices it has implemented to help prevent domestic violence and aid victims and their children when they are assaulted by a spouse or intimate partner," Lockyer said. "But this study points to a glaring problem: We need to fully assess the impact our efforts have had in reducing these tragic incidents and most horrible crimes."
"Identifying strategies and laws that actually reduce domestic violence and working to improve the safety of victims and their children is critical for California," Kuehl said.
Released today by the Senate Office of Research, the 50-page report reviews actions the state has taken during the past decade to stop domestic violence and assist victims. California has been a leader in enacting laws to protect victims and in elevating domestic violence from what was once considered a "private matter" between spouses and intimate partners to what is now considered a serious law enforcement and public health issue. Domestic violence not only hurts the victims. If unaddressed, studies show it can contribute to future criminal activity by children exposed to such violence who grow up to repeat the cycle.
The report notes that funding for domestic violence shelters dramatically increased in 1994 and has risen steadily, although more slowly, but shelters still struggle to provide necessary services for domestic violence victims. The report also cites legislative actions taken, including training of law enforcement officers on how to respond to domestic violence calls, requiring police to arrest individuals who violate domestic violence restraining orders, eliminating diversion and civil compromise programs that allowed intimate partner batterers to avoid prosecution, removing guns from scenes of domestic violence incidents and notifying victims when their abusers are released from jail. The report also notes the importance of civil, family and custody measures in addressing and preventing violence.
Yet it is unclear whether these laws have reduced incidents of domestic violence. The report shows that rates of reported domestic violence homicides fell off after spiking in 1993, but began inching up in 1999. The report concludes it is "probably too early" to assess what impact the laws have had.
Lockyer said the report illustrates the need to better evaluate how the laws are being implemented, which strategies work and which ones don't. Kuehl agreed, saying that other states have benefitted from such evaluations. Lockyer said he will appoint a task force to examine procedures of local criminal justice agencies, identify promising programs and challenges and make recommendations on "best practices" that successfully bring community groups together to fight domestic violence and protect victims and which can be duplicated in other communities. The task force will be composed of individuals representing law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, domestic violence victims' advocates, health providers, educators and researchers.
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 program 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, which 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 to examine how to reduce and prevent domestic violence, coordinate various statewide efforts and provide in-service training.
Made the Department of Justice (DOJ) the first state agency to require workplace training on domestic violence for managers and supervisors. In 2002, more than 1,000 managers and supervisors received the training, which will be provided to all 5,500 DOJ employees.
Enhanced and expanded the Spousal Abuse Prosecution Program that provides a team of prosecutors, investigators and victims advocates to develop and prosecute a domestic violence victim's case against his or her batterer. Lockyer successfully lobbied for restoration of a proposed $3 million cut to 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.
As an Assembly member and now, as a State Senator, Kuehl has authored 22 bills protecting domestic violence victims and their children, including:
Creating a rebuttable presumption in custody hearings against granting custody to a batterer.
Giving dependency courts authority to address domestic violence issues when an abused child is brought under the court's protection.
Permitting prosecution for any violation of a family law restraining order.
The report may be obtained at California’s Response to Domestic Violence.