Domestic violence response disparate

Researchers find higher prosecution levels in counties with coordinated efforts.
Monday, December 22, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:46 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Domestic violence touches every corner of Missouri, but the way it is handled by varies from county to county, a new MU study reports.

The researchers — Mary Beck, an MU law professor, and Kent Collins, a broadcast journalism professor — examined 911 reports, law enforcement records and civil protective orders for four Missouri counties: Boone, Callaway, Cape Girardeau and Cooper. According to the results of the study, Boone and Cape Girardeau most aggressively prosecute domestic abusers, while Callaway and Cooper counties appear less responsive.

They credited the high number of prosecutions and civil protective orders in Boone County to a coordinated effort between law enforcement officials, prosecutors and advocates.

Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane said the prosecutor’s office has two assistant prosecuting attorneys and an advocate hired to handle domestic violence cases. They also work in conjunction with law enforcement agencies, as well as women’s shelters to assist victims and prosecute abusers.

“Boone County is one of the most, if not the most progressive county in the state,” Crane said.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecutor H. Morley Swingle said his office’s response to domestic violence complaints includes a “no-drop” policy — that is, prosecutors will not drop cases, even at the victim’s request, unless the defendant agrees to enter a Domestic Violence Diversion Program or there is reasonable doubt.

“We make murder cases all the time with uncooperative victims,” Swingle said, explaining how the cases are pursued.

Cape Girardeau County prosecutors rely on 911 tapes, other witnesses and documented injuries as evidence. Swingle said he also meets with county law enforcement officials annually to go over domestic violence policies. It is for this reason that Swingle said they are able to try domestic violence cases without the victim’s cooperation.

Beck is unsure why the response of prosecutors in Cooper and Callaway counties seemed less aggressive than the other counties in the study. She suspects that population, geographic size and the number of law enforcement officers and prosecutors play a role. A smaller police force correlates with fewer arrests, she said.

Callaway County Prosecutor Robert Sterner said he could not comment on the study itself because he has not seen it, but he did acknowledge that more law enforcement officers would help.

“If our law enforcement agencies had greater resources, their officers would be able to investigate domestic violence cases more fully than with the limited resources they have now,” Sterner said.

Even with this shortage, Sterner said that the Callaway County Prosecutor’s office reviews every case that comes in and will file charges and go to trial.

Douglas Abele, the Cooper County prosecutor, declined to comment on the report until he’s had a chance to see it. But he said Cooper County law enforcement agencies and prosecutors take domestic violence seriously and are quick to respond to complaints.

Leigh Voltmer, the executive director of The Shelter, which is in Columbia, said oftentimes the smaller counties don’t have the resources needed to deal with domestic violence. In those cases, Voltmer said, the state should get involved to “assess the rural counties and make sure there are incentives and consequences” that would encourage more aggressive responses.

Beck and Collins plan to expand their investigation statewide. MU journalism students will then be sent to the low-response counties to conduct interviews with police, prosecutors and other public officials.

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