DA's office explains successes with new domestic violence team

Advocate task force working to stop abuse gets update from DA's office

By Courtney Friedman - VJ, Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - As the city and county populations grow, so does the domestic violence problem, which is why agencies from across the spectrum joined to create a task force to stay ahead of the issue.

The Bexar County District Attorney's Office's chief administrative attorney on Thursday filled in the task force on how her office is making strides. 

Domestic violence is still outgrowing all the work advocates are putting in daily. Last week, the Battered Women and Children's shelter hit its highest census ever with 200 occupants.

One area that's seeing improvement is the justice division.

"What we're seeing is more sentences, more trials, longer sentences," said former Judge Juanita Vasquez-Gardner, the DA's chief administrative attorney.

Judge Vasquez-Gardner said big changes have yielded big success. In the beginning of 2016, DA Nico LaHood funneled all the domestic violence and child abuse cases to a special team of 10 prosecutors. 

"They used to be handled by the criminal trial division and now that they're handled by a specialized unit whose also receiving very specialized training," Vasquez-Gardner said.

At the Domestic Violence Task Force meeting, Vasquez-Gardner said they're seeing fewer trial resets and making a dent in the tremendous backlog of domestic violence cases. It's all helping to establish more trust with survivors who are seeing a more efficient system.

"We're hoping to continue the trend, because I think the more attention is paid to it, the better we get at doing our jobs, the quicker the resolution of those cases," she said. 

Vasquez-Gardner answered questions from advocates all over the country, working together to lower domestic violence rates.

"I didn’t expect that many people to be a part of this task force, but it’s very exciting because I think with San Antonio and Bexar County growing the way they are, the problem, I think, is just going to get worse," Vasquez-Gardner said.

Although prosecutors are often on the reactive side of violence, the DA's office is working on proactive efforts like the rest of the advocates. 

"When we get women who have been abused and they have children with them, sometimes part of the education involves the children," Vasquez-Gardner said. It's an important step to stopping the consistent cycle of abuse.

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