Sheriff’s office changes procedure to protect victims of domestic violence

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By Laura Camper / [email protected]

This month, the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office implemented new procedures to protect victims of domestic violence.

sergeant. Toby Nix, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said under procedures put in place on August 1, a person charged with domestic violence will now be detained for 24 hours unless released. earlier by a judge.

This allows time to contact the victim and provide them with the resources needed to stay safe, Nix said. Deputies also verify the victims a few days after the initial appeal, gathering more evidence during this visit.

“We’re a service agency,” Nix said. “Our policy cannot be to put the offender in jail and then we’ll be done with the case. We have to make sure that the victim has all the protection we can offer.

Deputies began distributing a victims’ bill of rights to victims, at the suggestion of the Coweta County District Attorney’s Office, he said.

Victims often don’t know what resources are available to them or even what their rights are, said Sandy Wisenbaker, solicitor general for Coweta. For example, many victims of domestic violence do not realize that they have a right to be at the offender’s first appearance hearing.

Lt. Keith Addis of Coweta County, who led the push for procedural changes, even said he didn’t know it was a victim’s right until he started talking to other agencies.

When creating the new procedures, they looked at other counties’ procedures for guidance, Addis said. In Troup County, they found the department had obtained a warrant for every domestic violence arrest and put in place a 72-hour hold.

They opted for a 24-hour wait in Coweta County to protect families from further disruption, Addis said.

Wisenbaker said people often don’t realize that victims have rights just like offenders. The state of Georgia has a long history of protecting victims through legislation, she said. But in 2018, Georgian voters approved an amendment to the Georgian Constitution listing the rights of crime victims called Marsy’s Law.

These rights include notification of the accused’s arrest and release, available victim services programs, and the court process relating to the case.

Wisenbaker praised law enforcement efforts to improve victim services, she said. In addition to the bill of rights, she suggested changes to the victim notification and information form given to victims by MPs. The form now includes a request for signature confirming that all their contact details are correct as well as contact details for the lawyer’s attorneys.

Communication is key, Wisenbaker said. This reassures victims and makes them more likely to follow through with the case.

It also helps victims access opportunities that they might otherwise miss out on because they didn’t know existed.

“Good communication from the start and very early sharing with (victims) contact details for my advocates helps us fill in some of these gaps,” she said. “It kind of helps to tighten things up where our processes will work a bit better.”

To that end, the sheriff’s office will now communicate with victim advocates during an arrest involving domestic violence. In the past, lawyers had to go through the arrest log.

“We never thought about it,” Addis said. “There was no process in place (to help defenders).”

Addis began to think there might be a better way to deal with domestic violence cases after taking classes on the subject. He consulted with Wisenbaker, local judges and victims’ advocates when creating the new procedures, he said.

The average victim of abuse is assaulted six to eight times before reporting it to the police,

said Addis. The ministry must do a better job of protecting them, he said.

“As a ministry, it’s going to help us educate victims of domestic violence, and also, it’s going to help in the prosecution,” he said of the new procedures. “It will help us build a better case.”

All law enforcement officers have been called for domestic violence cases. Abuse is pervasive but hidden in our society.

According to the Georgia Domestic Violence Commission, in 2021 there were 114,640 crisis calls to Georgia’s certified domestic violence and sexual assault agencies, which is 20% more than in 2020. In 2021, there were had a 49% increase in domestic violence related deaths.

“You may not be a victim personally, but the person who sits next to you at church or the person who sits in the cubicle next to you at work could be,” said Wisenbaker. “Being able to hold the offender accountable is a priority because it protects the victim in the long run and it protects the community.”

Victims of domestic violence are often afraid to speak out about the abuse they experience, Addis said. Sometimes, he said, victims recant because they fear retaliation. But under state law, police don’t need the victim’s cooperation to charge a suspect.

“I don’t need their permission. I don’t need a statement from them,” Addis said. “If I can document and articulate domestic violence, I can lay the charge.”

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