Flanked by law enforcement, prosecutors and service providers in York County, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett on Thursday unveiled a new multipronged approach to combat domestic violence in the county and state – which again has taken the top spot in the nation for women killed at the hands of men.
“South Carolina, again, leads the nation in an area where we want to be last,” Brackett said, citing the Violence Policy Center’s homicide data analysis. “Instead, we are dead first.”
The center’s most recent numbers are for the year 2013 and were released last week. South Carolina had the highest homicide rate for women that year at 2.32 per 100,000 women. Specific numbers for York County are not available, but Jada Charley, executive director for the women’s shelter Safe Passage, said York County ranks in the top 10 in the state.
Brackett told reporters Thursday morning that he began working with area law enforcement and service providers after the S.C. General Assembly passed a domestic violence reform bill in June. They used the revamped laws as a foundation and broke into groups to assess what each entity has been doing to combat domestic violence and what more can be done.
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“We broke into sub-committees and started analyzing what it is each of us does and how we can work together more efficiently in a coordinated fashion,” he said, “so instead of each of us working in our own little silos addressing the issue from our own perspective, we could coordinate our response and hopefully make a difference.”
This new coordinated effort seeks to approach domestic violence from multiple angles, including a uniform protocol for law enforcement response to domestic violence calls, stiffer sentencing for offenders and better outreach and education.
Lt. Rich Caddell of the York Police Department said local police agencies examined their own protocols for responding to domestic violence calls, and also looked at protocols for agencies around the country.
“We were able to interject them into one single protocol that each officer in this county will be trained on,” he said. “It offers our officers the ability to have communication with all the agencies that have been mentioned, to work better as one unit and hopefully be able to stem the tide of domestic violence in York County.”
The new law allows prosecutors to move all the cases that were previously filed in magistrate-level court to General Sessions, which Brackett said is advantageous because circuit court judges can place offenders on probation – a power magistrates don’t have. It also increases the penalty for a first offense from 30 days to 90 days.
The state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services also has appointed an agent in York County to specifically handle and monitor domestic violence cases, the first county in the state to do so, according to Dwight Burns, the agent in charge for York County.
“Our agency is going to take a tougher stance when it comes to dealing with these offenders,” he said, “but also we’re going to take a better understanding to what the needs are of these offenders and how to keep them from re-offending.”