Nashville adds domestic violence coordinator to better protect victims

Nashville adds domestic violence coordinator to better protect victims (Image 1)

Mayor Karl Dean announced a new position within his office that will focus on curbing domestic violence in the city.

The new domestic violence coordinator will begin working for the city on October 14. The position is funded for the next three years through a grant from the state of Tennessee.

The coordinator, Whitney McFalls will work toward improving data collection, training employees who work with domestic violence victims and increase victim services.

She is also expected to establish a family justice center model for Metro-Davidson County.

That model makes it possible for a victim of domestic violence to receive various services in one place including meeting with police to file a report, seeking an order of protection, learning about housing resources and resources for their children.

McFalls position was recommended in a Nashville-Davidson County Domestic Violence Safety and Accountability Assessment released by Mayor Dean Wednesday.

The mayor commissioned the study more than two years ago to identify gaps in the system that puts the victims of domestic violence and children in danger.

“Domestic violence is a unique crime because while most repeat offenders will commit similar crimes, domestic abuse offenders often commit escalating violent offense against the same victim,” he said. “For me what I really want to see is us drive down the number of domestic violent deaths that occur in Nashville.”

He continued, “One is unacceptable.”

An assessment team made of more than 100 volunteers from both Metro-Nashville's government and non-profit organizations working to end domestic violence looked at all of the city's institutional processes related to domestic violence.

That included 911 emergency responses, Metro police protocol, the district attorney's office and the courts.

What resulted are 46 goals and recommendations dealing with various goals including training, advocacy, risk/lethality assessments and coordinate community response.

“As we follow through on the recommendations in this assessment, we are already improving the coordinated community response to domestic violence,” Mayor Dean said.

Valerie Wynn is the executive director of the Mary Parrish Center. The non-profit organization helps women who have left an abusive relationship rebuild their lives.

Wynn was on the assessment team and review 911 policies.

One of her team's recommendations is establishing an enhanced domestic violence protocol for 911 call takers that consistently gets all pertinent information from the victim, such as nature of their injuries and if they have an order of protection against their attacker.

“If you are willing to violate an order of protection, you are dangerous,” she said. “So getting that information allows the responding officer going out there to have a heads up.”

Wynn said the assessment and its recommendations are historic because they address many gaps in the city's response to domestic violence that puts victims at risk.

“Everywhere there is a gap there is a chance for a homicide and all those little gaps add up,” she said. “Every time there is a gap it thwarts a victim's ability to get safe.”

She continued, “Every time there is a gap, it discourages a victim from reaching out.”

Other recommendations focused on the initial response to a victim, when the offender is charged, the time between arrest and court, going to court and post court.

One recommendation would require commissioners to consistently set higher bonds for defendants who are already on bond for domestic violence.

Another recommendation calls for increased security at the courthouse and in its parking garage.

In the post court stage the assessment recommends designating probation officers who will be dedicated to handling domestic violence cases.

Also, assessors said the victim should be given the name and phone number of the offenders probation officer before leaving the courthouse following sentencing.

Within Metro police, changes have already been made to improve the department's response to domestic violence calls.

According to the Metro Police Chief, his department has added detectives to the domestic violence unit and is in the process of upgrading computer systems so officers on patrol will know who in their zone has a protective order.

Chief Steve Anderson said officers will make welfare checks on the victims who took out the protective order and will make random checks of the defendants to make sure they are abiding by the courts order.

“Whenever a uniformed officer is involved it makes an impression on the people who are there,” he said. “If it stops even one incident it will be worth it.”

The district attorney's office has also expanded its domestic violence unit by adding prosecutors.

District Attorney General Torry Johnson said his office wants to cut down on the time it takes for prosecutors to contact victims and to get an offender out on bond back into court.

He said on average there is a 50 day period between when an offender bonds out of jail and when the offender must reappear in court.

Offenders in jail because they cannot make bond are brought before a judge sooner than that following their bond hearing.

“Two weeks would be ideal that would give us a chance to contact the victim, be able to let them calm the situation down and then get both parties into court,” Johnson said. “There is a dynamic in domestic violence cases that is different from any other case because these people have some sort of relationship.”

Melissa, who is a survivor of domestic violence, said the recommendations would have made a difference in her life had they been in place years ago when she was in an abusive relationship with her ex-boyfriend.

News 2 is not using Melissa's last name to protect her privacy.

“I feel like my world would have been different sooner,” she said. “I would have been able to leave.”

Melissa now works with women who are in abusive relationships to help them leave safely.

“The message to the victim is going to be that the community cares and that you can reach out,” she said. There are people from start to finish to help you through the process.”

Mayor Dean said he hopes to have all recommendations implemented within one year.

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