'We still have a lot of work to do with the public'

March 10, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

See also: Her batterer is sent to prison following a year-long ordeal

Washington County has taken numerous steps to address the problem of domestic violence, but the work isn't over, say victims, advocates, legislators, prosecutors and police.

"The system is somewhat more supportive now than when I started 20 years ago," said Vicki Sadehvandi, executive director of the Hagerstown shelter for women.

"But I think we still have a lot of work to do with the public. Yes, this is the home, but domestic violence is a crime."


Area businesses could promote community awareness through catchy local television advertisements, Sadehvandi said.

Legislators could designate funding for educational programs in elementary schools, said Sadehvandi and State's Attorney M. Kenneth Long Jr.

"Funding goes to deal with stuff after it's happened," Long said. Money funneled into early intervention programs would help prevent many of the domestic crimes seen in court, he said.

Funding is also needed to allow established advocacy groups to take programs to outlying areas of the county like Hancock, Sadehvandi said.

In the courts, one advocate for victims of violence said she would like to see judges require everyone charged with abuse to go to a counselor specifically certified in domestic violence.

Jill Ritter, victim-witness coordinator for the State's Attorney's Office, said the idea would be costly, although one solution might be better funding for agencies that already offer long-term, costlier programs.

Better tracking of domestic violence cases by police and courts is needed countywide, several people said.

City, county and state police could ensure better outcomes if they all handled the crime the same way, said Trooper Daniel Hoffman, regional family violence coordinator for Maryland State Police

Dedicating one police officer to coordinate cases would help, Hoffman said.

Better information is needed also for a group that formed in July to combat the crime.

The Washington County Family Violence Council intends to create a central database about domestic violence as it develops a strategic plan to deal with the crime.

Funding to train and expand the Hagerstown Police Department's citizen advocacy corps would provide an additional resource to help police fight the problem, said Hagerstown Police officer Randy Rourke.

New laws

In Annapolis, legislation is needed to allow police to remove guns from homes during the dangerous period right after women obtain court orders to keep their abusers out of the house, said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Washington/Frederick.

Funding for storage of confiscated firearms must accompany such legislation, Hecht said.

Continued police training on new domestic violence laws and policies will ensure that changes are being enforced properly, she added.

"It's not good enough to pass a piece of legislation, you have to go back and make sure people understand it and are using it correctly," she said.

Establishing a family court in the county or expanding the powers of the Circuit Court's family division could lessen the burden on District Courts while providing more specialized services to individuals and families in crisis, said Long and District Court Judge Noel Spence.

Judges specifically trained to handle domestic violence cases might also increase judicial sensitivity to the issues involved in such cases, victims said.

Community awareness has been raised, legislators have targeted domestic violence, police have adopted pro-prosecution and arrest policies and some funding has been designated to fight the problem- but there is more work to be done, Sadehvandi said.

"You have to understand that no program has a magic wand that's going to make this problem go away in a short time," she said.

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