Police to get DV crisis advocates to assist in evening, weekend calls

By Joanne Zuhl

On its first meeting in what is Domestic Violence Awareness month, Portland stepped up its game by funding a new program to have domestic violence advocates work alongside the police on evenings and weekends.

Domestic violence accounts for about 5,000 calls to the Portland Police Bureau each year, the majority coming on evening and weekend hours when other services are closed. Under the one-year pilot project, two full-time crisis response advocates will partner with officers responding to those calls to provide safety planning and resources to victims.

This morning the City Council voted unanimously to dedicate $41,720 to the joint project with Multnomah County, which is contributing more than $83,000 in federal grant funding.

“We know in the District Attorney’s Office that the best practice is going to be hands-on at the front of the case,” said Rod Underhill, Multnomah County chief deputy district attorney, who testified at the council meeting. “We gather more evidence, we gather more trust and we gather more support. The involvement at that front end is a critical stage.”

The ordinance comes on the receipt of the first-year figures from The Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services, which opened in September 2010, the first of its kind in the county. The center, located at 103rd Avenue and East Burnside, received more than 2,000 participants seeking assistance in more than 4,500 visits.

The Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services

With 19 partners from health, legal and housing services, the one-stop center provides a comprehensive spectrum of options for someone seeking help escaping domestic violence. In its first year, center staff facilitated the filing of 557 restraining order applications, in 15 languages. And it is the only location in Multnomah County where petitioners can teleconference with a judge to have their restraining order approved by the court.

The center also provides childcare for parents while they receive consultation and assistance.

“This city-county collaboration that got the idea off the ground is a reflection of our shared commitment to address the epidemic of domestic violence in our community,” said Jeff Cogen, addressing the council. “While crime in general has been declining, domestic violence is an exception to that, and the incidences have been increasing.”

County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury addressed the council saying that the center has created a new entry point to services for women and children who wouldn’t traditionally approach services. In Multnomah County, the service portal for domestic violence assistance is primarily through shelters.

“The existing system is structured and funded for crisis and post crisis response and not prevention,” Kafoury said. “And in nearly every case, when a woman calls a shelter for assistance, she is told that there’s no room at the inn. We can and should do more to help these families before they reach the crisis point.”

As a pilot project, the two new positions are tapping into the city’s one-time money, and come as an emergency request by Councilman Dan Saltzman outside of the regular budget process. Commissioner Randy Leonard raised the point that while he supported the service behind the request, and voted for it, it will become a bigger issue next year when the city will be looking at funding cuts between 4 and 8 percent across its bureaus.

“I’m trying to understand the consistency of now buying into what will inevitably be a request for ongoing funding, knowing we’re going to have to cut live firefighters, live police …”

Leonard said. “I’ve ruminated over where we are going to begin identifying more than $4 million in cuts in the fire bureau, over $6 million cuts in police, and I don’t know how many million cuts in the parks bureau.”

Commissioner Amanda Fritz said that in light of upcoming budget cuts, the results of the pilot project could help determine how resources are applied, such as shifting hours and staffing to cover evenings and weekends that might not mean additional costs in the future.

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