Bexar County's first court-ordered commission on domestic violence lays out bold strategy
Policymakers, judiciary, law enforcement, nonprofits, among others collaborate
SAN ANTONIO – Agencies and organizations across Bexar County are attempting to do their part to lower the region's record domestic violence statistics.
Last year, Bexar County had the most abuse-related deaths in Texas.
Regardless of job title, leaders agree there are massive gaps between their services and positions need to be filled now, which is why Judge Monique Diaz, of the 150th District, and Judge Peter Sakai, of the 225th District, linked up with San Antonio Assistant City Manager Dr. Colleen Bridger. Together, they've created a new, court-ordered domestic violence commission aimed at collectively stopping rampant abuse.
The Battered Women's Shelter is full and still extending services. Prosecutors are working double shifts to tackle backlogged abuse cases. Police are adding new training for officers. And the city is proposing protective plans.
So the question remains: Why isn't all of this working to bring down the domestic violence numbers?
"We need to start communicating with one another, collaborating with one another, so that people don't fall through the cracks," Diaz said.
For the first time, a commission has formed involving local government leaders, the judiciary, law enforcement, prosecution, nonprofits and health care agencies. Once they get the ball rolling, they plan to involve local schools.
"Go to the school superintendents and ask them to please sign on, and let's find a way to get programs into our schools so we can break this culture of violence," Sakai said.
Bridger's focus on the commission is on prevention and she agrees that has to start with children in school.
"We are going to be working with (San Antonio Independent School District) on Too Good for Violence, which is a violence prevention curriculum for middle school students, so that's a good first step," Bridger said. "We're also going to be working communitywide to create the expectation that you should feel safe with your partner, and if you don't feel safe, here are resources in the community that can help you."
Since May, a team has been collecting a wide range of data, including comments from abuse victims.
"One chapter is the gap analysis. That process has been completed," Bridger said. "Where we are now is to take those gaps, share them with the commission and let the commission say, 'OK, well, prosecution wants to work on this, health care wants to work on this,' and then they will figure out what they want to do to fill that gap."
The conversations are already in progress. The commission met for the first time Friday, breaking down into five committees of members with different areas of expertise to explore specific problems.
"One of them in particular that I look forward to working on is the issue of dangerous weapons in the possession of individuals ordered to not possess them," Diaz said.
"I'm going to challenge our court system, our judges, that we need a better way, a better system that we can make sure the victims are heard," Sakai said. "It is a tremendous issue, but it also shows with the gap analysis that we may perhaps need more courts or we need more judges so we can give more time to these victims and families."
Ideally, solutions will translate to policy on local, state or federal levels.
"I'm confident this commission will be able to come up with solutions and be able to present it to our City Council and our county commissioners and say, 'This is the plan and this is what we need,'" Sakai said.
He said the the obstacles may seem overwhelming, but they're not insurmountable.
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