As a police officer Mike Verbanic knows domestic violence can carry a stigma.
“Unfortunately, it’s something that sometimes happens behind the scenes. It’s not something that’s talked about a lot,” he said.
In his new job, Verbanic will focus on helping those victims who might not feel comfortable coming forward.
Tarik Khatib, Lawrence’s interim police chief, on Wednesday promoted Verbanic to detective, a job in which he will primarily investigate domestic violence cases. The department recently received a grant for the position.
“I think the department has a very important opportunity to do a lot of good work and assist this group of victims that we’re talking about,” Verbanic said. “I take that opportunity very seriously, and I look forward to working not only with everyone in this room and this department but with other agencies.”
A leader with one of those agencies said she was thrilled with the creation of the position.
“The more experienced professionals providing these services the better,” said Audra Fullerton, director of community engagement for the Willow Domestic Violence Center.
The department and Douglas County District Attorney’s Office received the grants from the federal STOP Violence Against Women Act administered through the governor’s office. Funding allowed the department to promote Verbanic from patrol officer to detective. An outside person will be hired to fill his patrol position.
District Attorney Charles Branson said his office hopes to announce the hire of a new domestic violence prosecutor in coming weeks.
“(Verbanic) is a great officer, and I think he will make a great detective. We’re looking forward to working with him,” Branson said.
Police have said that officers in 2009 investigated 975 domestic disturbance calls, plus 71 rapes and 598 incidents of domestic battery. Police and prosecutors have said the cases are often complicated to prosecute because victims and suspects have some type of ongoing relationship, unlike with most other crimes.
Verbanic, who grew up in the Kansas City area, came to Lawrence in 1991 and graduated from Kansas University with a biology degree. His twin brother, Steve Verbanic, is also a patrol officer. Mike Verbanic started as a Lawrence officer in 1998 and worked for two years beginning in 2005 as a juvenile crime investigator.
“He really developed a reputation as a tenacious investigator,” Khatib said.
Verbanic said his new job would be difficult but he was excited about the opportunity.
“It’s going to be my goal to maintain contact with those victims,” he said. “And to make sure that we are staying in constant contact with them during the process.”