In Duluth, Minn., when a police officer responds to a domestic violence call, he's accompanied by a social worker. The officer handles law-enforcement issues. The social worker, a woman, counsels the victim.
It's an approach that, according to Douglas County Assistant Dist. Atty. Angela Wilson, excels at holding abusers accountable and helping the victims.
Wilson and other members of the Community Coalition on Domestic Violence want to see a similar approach taken in Douglas County, where, generally, help for victims is made available upon request, even though they may not be in a position to ask for it.
"We don't have anything close to what's going on Duluth. I wish we did," said Brenda Albright, victim advocate for the Douglas County District Attorney's Office.
The coalition has started a series of monthly meetings aimed at improving Douglas County's response to domestic violence. The group met during the noon hour Tuesday at the Lawrence Public Library.
Duluth's approach to domestic violence is considered one of the most progressive in the nation.
In Douglas County, Wilson said, domestic violence accounts for at least one arrest a day, sometimes two. On average, officers respond to seven domestic calls a day.
Sgt. Kirk Fultz, representing the Lawrence Police Department, said a responding officer's "main concern is the safety of the people at hand." But their efforts often are hamstrung, Fultz said, by victims' fear of their abusers.
When the abuse is not apparent and the victim won't say what happened, officers often lack the evidence they need to arrest the abuser, Fultz said.
"It gets really tricky," he said, adding that he fears for victims' long-term safety.
Putting abusers in jail isn't a cure-all, Fultz said. "It's been my experience that their behavior doesn't change once they get out."
Fultz said that contrary to rumors, victims are not arrested for defending themselves.
Sabra Moses, a victim of domestic violence, asked the group to realize that when an officer responds to a domestic violence call, he's "coming into a situation that's chaos hysteria."
Many victims don't cooperate, she said, because they're unable to think clearly or independently.
"When you're going through it, your mind isn't thinking right," Moses said. "You don't have any money, you're isolated, you don't have access to transportation, and you're scared about what's going to happen to your kids. You feel trapped."
Coalition members expect to begin crafting recommendations later this summer.
"The first step is to break down the myths that surround domestic violence and law enforcement's response. I think we saw that today," said Sarah Terwelp, executive director of Women's Transitional Care Services.
During the coalition's July 30 meeting, the group will explore what happens when a case reaches the District Attorney's Office.