DOVE unit combines police, advocacy forces to deter violence

Sunday, January 22, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:38 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Boone County’s approach to domestic violence has become a model and imitated all over the state because of its success in recent years.

The DOVE unit, comprising prosecuting attorneys, detectives, victim’s advocates, probation and parole officers and the head of the batterers’ intervention program in Columbia, came into being in February 1998. It is funded through the federal Stop Violence Against Women Act and its grant.

“Our approach in Boone County is advanced and extremely successful,” said Nicole Volkert, a Boone County prosecuting attorney. “We work as a team.”

Together, the team works to decrease the level of domestic violence by investigating cases, promoting deterrence of violence and assisting victims. All the agencies that provide domestic violence services follow the same protocol.

“There’s not a better way to do it,” Volkert said.

Jeff Westbrook, investigator at the Columbia Police Department, assists victims, trains officers and promotes community education on domestic violence.

All Missouri police officers are required to receive 40 hours of domestic violence training. Westbrook estimated he handles 85 cases per month and 900 cases per year; 95 percent of the victims are women.

He remembers how, until recently, law enforcement officers looked the other way in domestic abuse cases.

“Back then, it was a family matter, not criminal. It was best handled behind closed doors,” he said. “We used to tell them to take a walk around the block and cool off.”

Now, things have changed. “It’s no longer up to the victim if they want to press charges,” Volkert said. “It’s up to the state.”

But in order for significant process to occur, society must change, said Mark Koch, a victim’s advocate with the prosecuting attorney’s office of Boone County.

“We live in a society where instead of asking the men why they abuse, we ask the women why they stay,” Koch said.

Colleen Coble, head of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence, has dedicated her career to fighting for battered women.

“Once I learned, I couldn’t understand why no one was shouting,” Coble said. “It’s just blatantly and simply wrong that women get beat up in their homes every day.”

She believes men have been allowed to be abusive and have not suffered from it.

“Men are abusive because it’s been socially condoned for so long,” she said. “Women who commit crime violate culture roles for women, and you’re still dealing with a universe of a victim being blamed for being the victim.”

Sharon Giles, a victim’s advocate for The Shelter in Columbia, said women blame themselves for the abuse inflicted on them. “These women face societal enforcement that men are better than women,” Giles said.

Koch believes society cannot be transformed until men are transformed.

“People will change when they are ready, willing, and able to change,” he said. “But some batterers will never be better.”

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