City officials on Tuesday unveiled a new strategy for combating domestic violence in New Orleans, a plan involving nearly every component of the city’s criminal justice system.
It amounts to a set of policies and procedures for dealing with domestic abuse cases in ways designed to head off the threat of serious violence. It includes instructions and training for everyone from 911 operators to police officers, prosecutors, judges and jailers.
The city developed the plan, which is called the “Blueprint for Safety,” with a $396,500 grant from the federal government, basing it on an approach rolled out by St. Paul, Minnesota, under the same moniker in 2010.
Local advocacy groups also helped shape the final product, including the New Orleans Family Justice Center, the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, Women With a Vision and Total Community Action.
“We can stop violence. We can save lives,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said during a news conference at Gallier Hall. “We can only do this by working together and standing together against what I consider to be a very serious problem.”
Reflecting the broad array of agencies involved in the new approach, Landrieu was joined by his new police chief, Michael Harrison, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, judges from both criminal and civil district courts and members of the state Legislature and the City Council.
Much of the strategy, outlined in a binder-size document produced by City Hall, is aimed at taking a more proactive approach to intervening in domestic disputes at different levels of the criminal justice system.
For instance, 911 operators are supposed to designate specific cases as either “Priority 1A” or “Priority 2” for responding police officers, indicating how dangerous the situation is. Then they’re supposed to check on whether there have been previous calls from the same parties or address and remind victims that they can call as often as necessary.
Police will be trained on a series of four “risk questions,” including, “Do you think he/she will seriously injure or kill you or your children?”
The DA’s Office will incorporate the risk of further violence in deciding how to charge suspects, make bail recommendations to judges and negotiate plea agreements. And the Sheriff’s Office is supposed to bar visits between victims and inmates who are the subject of “stay away” or other protective orders.
The courts are to play a role as well, gathering information from victims in order to improve supervision of past offenders; referring offenders to so-called batterer intervention programs, rather than anger management classes; and considering the risk of repeat offenses in decisions about whether to release suspects from jail.