Most domestic violence incidents still unreported, report says

This story was produced as a project for the 2019 California Fellowship, a program of USC Annenberg's Center for Health Journalism.

Other stories in this series include:

Economic Hardship May Be Factor In Domestic Violence Cases

Solutions are hard to come by for domestic violence victims

Part One of a three-part series

LOS ANGELES — Four years after the city of Los Angeles expanded its domestic abuse response team program to all 21 divisions in the Los Angeles Police Department, a report says the program falls short of its target due to low levels of implementation by patrol officers.

The report, by Aaron Celious of the Maroon Society, a private research and strategic planning firm in Los Angeles, also said that victims of domestic violence in areas of the city with the biggest need “are the least likely to receive immediate crisis intervention services.”

In 2015, Mayor Eric Garcetti expanded the city’s 25-year-old domestic abuse response team program from 10 LAPD divisions to all 21 “to provide residents more equitable intimate partner violence services.” 

The program deploys an intimate partner violence-trained team — a police officer and a community advocate — to the scene to counsel victims and help them obtain shelter, emergency protective orders, medical referrals and other services.

According to Celious, “LAPD South and Central Bureaus experience the greatest frequency of intimate partner violence, a disproportionate burden … and greater levels of lethality than all others. …”   

Under a contract with the city, Celious evaluated the LAPD’s implementation of the program. The analysis showed that most victims in those bureaus were less likely to receive an on-scene visit from a team compared to victims in the city overall.

Celious concluded, “The teams were successfully implemented by all 21 [LAPD] divisions. However, in its current form, [the program] falls short of its target due to low levels of implementation by patrol officers.

“This is not a critique of patrol officers; it is an example of how lack of protocols stipulating when and how to engage [the teams] yields low levels of program utilization by … survivors … and more importantly … survivors are underserved.” 

Jeff Gorell, deputy mayor of public safety, said, “We order and budget for these evaluations to help guide how we grow and improve the program as a crucial part of our work to break the cycle of domestic violence — which impacts the lives of far too many Angelenos.

“We’re constantly working with the LAPD to pursue additional resources to support its growth and review the program to improve services wherever possible,” Gorell added.

“Since expansion to all 21 LAPD Divisions … the teams have served more than 6,000 domestic violence victims annually, which shows just how impactful the program has been.”

Celious also found concentrations of intimate partner violence in Central and South Bureaus, where some households call 911 more frequently. “Households making multiple calls …experience greater levels of lethality with each additional call,” he said.

Gail Pincus, founder of the first domestic abuse response team at the Van Nuys Police Division in 1994, said the LAPD needs to pay attention to Celious’ report.

“The evaluation has been completely ignored … by LAPD,” Pincus said. “It is a very important document that gives concrete solutions and talks about all the barriers LAPD has put in the way of the program being allowed to be successful and make a difference.”

LAPD staff did not respond to repeated requests for interviews for this story.

Bernita Walker, founder of the second domestic abuse response team in 1997 at the 77th Street Division in South L.A., and the executive director of Project: Peacemakers, said the department hasn’t “followed the recommendations. Most officers do not have the proper training to deal with domestic violence issues and not enough money is provided for 24-hour-a-day service.”

According to a statement from Mayor Garcetti’s Office, the city has been awarded two state and two federal grants totaling $2.03 million for domestic violence programs, and since the evaluation, has increased general fund allocations for the team program and related domestic violence services. The increased general fund allocations helped pay for a Family Justice Center located in the Central Bureau.

The statement said the city has established a restraining order clinic in the center; enhanced services for disabled victims; expanded support for the teams and domestic violence training for the LAFD and LAPD team officers; increased roll call trainings at all 21 divisions; and created a pilot shelter placement program.

Housing and Human Investment Department employee Abigail Marquez said, “To respond to the crisis, the city has added beds and services — including for human (sex and labor) trafficking victims.” 

L.A. Homeless Services Authority staff member Tom Fox said, “This year, the federal Housing and Urban Development Department funded … slots for rapid re-housing of domestic violence survivors; transitional housing; and a team [to] strengthen alignment between the ‘homeless-domestic violence systems.’”

Elizabeth Eastlund, executive director of Rainbow Services in San Pedro, voiced concern about permanent housing. “A lot more needs to be done around [that] and addressing the economic security of survivors.  Once people are out of shelter, where do they go?”

Pincus, executive director of Domestic Abuse Center, a domestic abuse response team agency-provider in Van Nuys said, “We do counseling, crisis intervention. We connect victims with resources. Our biggest job is to give them real information. Abusers don’t want their victims to know their rights and options.”

One anonymous domestic violence survivor, a client of agency-provider Project: Peacemakers in South Los Angeles, expressed gratitude for that agency’s prevention-intervention services and training: “I want people like me to know there is a way out.”

Another anonymous Project: Peacemakers client described her experience: “Before this program I was a victim of domestic violence for quite some years and living in such a negative environment. I didn’t realize it was hurting my children.”

Celious said, “Given that blacks and Latinos have less trust in police officers than their white counterparts … it is likely that the size and burden … is even greater than reported.”

Angela Parker, the education director for the Jenesse Center, a South Los Angeles-based organization that deals with domestic violence victims agreed: “The full extent of domestic violence in L.A. isn’t captured.  It is probably far greater.”

Eve Sheedy, the Los Angeles County domestic violence council executive director, commented that, “People who are abused … seek services in other systems as well … and many people experience domestic violence, but they don’t see it as such.

The bottom line is there are insufficient services to meet the needs of survivors and their families.”  

Pincus also cites the huge threat of deportation within the immigration communities in the city.

“Language barriers are big issues. The ‘U-Visa’ waiting list is years long and some policies are changing.   The other big group is people who have overstayed their visas. Many nationalities have.  People are very afraid. Abusers try to get victims deported because then nothing is going to happen. If there are children, they are affected.”

Marie Sadanaga, LAPD’s domestic abuse response team coordinator said, “LAPD’s longstanding policy is, ‘We don’t ask. Documented or not, it doesn’t matter to us.’ We don’t want them to be afraid of being deported if they come to us and report domestic violence.”

[This article was originally published by WAVE Newspaper.]