Opinion

Dallas police’s domestic violence plan has key ingredient: accountability

Our city has struggled to track progress and setbacks in dealing with batterers.

Domestic violence often happens behind closed doors — a problem that cities can dismiss as a one family’s personal tragedy, deemed less scary than the murders, assaults and robberies that sow terror in our neighborhoods.

But this type of crime is not just one family’s crisis. Last year, about a quarter of Dallas’ 8,048 aggravated assault cases involved family members or intimate partners. Researchers have found that domestic batterers frequently commit crimes outside the home. For instance, a study of 18,000 Massachusetts men with restraining orders revealed that 75% of them had a prior criminal history, with nearly half charged with or convicted for a violent crime.

We commend Dallas officials for treating domestic violence seriously. After all, the city has had a domestic violence task force since the 1980s.

Yet Dallas has struggled to track its progress and account for setbacks, so we are hopeful about Police Chief Eddie García’s plan to reduce intimate partner violence, which he said makes up most of the load of the Dallas Police Department’s domestic violence unit.

Societal response to domestic violence generally emphasizes protection of the victims. García’s plan, modeled in part after a promising strategy in North Carolina, would place equal attention on victims and offenders.

You may remember the term “focused deterrence” from García’s violent crime reduction plan unveiled earlier this year. The idea is to identify repeat offenders and offer them social services to discourage them from continuing their criminal behavior — and to threaten jail time if that behavior continues. García’s domestic violence plan employs a focused deterrence approach tailored for this type of crime.

Dallas police’s domestic violence initiative, like that at High Point, N.C., will create a tier-system for victims and offenders. Top-level offenders — those with multiple domestic violence charges — are targeted for immediate prosecution with a maximum sentence sought, and police would work with prosecutors to pursue federal charges if applicable. Offenders in lower tiers will hear from authorities about their legal exposure and about resources available to them, such as counseling.

Victims will be offered an array of services based on their risk. While police already work with shelters and other agencies to protect victims, García is allocating more resources to the department’s domestic violence unit, said Lt. Kylee Hawks, who heads the unit. Her team of 40 sworn and non-sworn personnel will add five detectives and a sergeant. This will allow most of her team to focus exclusively on intimate partner violence, Hawks said. Her unit handled more than 14,000 domestic violence cases last year.

Dallas police will develop protocols to classify victims and offenders. An essential aspect of any plan is accountability, and García is working with University of Texas at San Antonio researchers to track implementation of focused deterrence.

García has the backing of Mayor Eric Johnson, City Council public safety chair Adam McGough and former council member Jennifer Gates, chair of the Mayor’s Domestic Violence Advisory Council. The chief also identified other partners, including local and federal prosecutors. We’re optimistic his plan will deliver results.

Dallas Morning News Editorial. Dallas Morning News editorials are written by the paper's Editorial Board and serve as the voice and view of the paper. The board considers a broad range of topics and is overseen by the Editorial Page Editor.

editorialboard@dallasnews.com @dmnopinion
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