The Transylvania Times -

County's Domestic Violence Investigator Faces Challenges-Transylvania County, NC

 

July 1, 2019



The issue of domestic violence as a criminal matter is getting a lot more attention in Transylvania County thanks to the funding of a position dedicated to addressing it.

The position was created in 2017 to serve as the investigative, law enforcement component of a community task force to help address domestic violence cases in the county and reduce rates of reoccurrence.

The position was initially grant funded, but commissioners recently agreed to fund it in the 2019/2020 county budget, which goes into effect today.

Chris Owen, the county’s domestic violence investigator, is confident his position will be successful in decreasing the rate of domestic violence cases in the county. While that rate is not increasing, it is difficult to prosecute due to the likelihood of victims to drop charges.

“(Sheriff David Mahoney) identified that there’s not a drastic change in domestic violence, but we have a lot of recidivism,” said Owen. “We needed someone to spend time (on these cases.)”

Owen said that prior to having an investigator, domestic violence cases were investigated by the same officers working on other crimes, such as theft, breaking and entering, and drug offenses.

“We don’t have a lot of murders or serious assaults,” he said. “(Domestic violence cases) are low-grade crimes, and they don’t get a lot of attention. My position was created to give those crimes specific attention.”

Now with Owen, in addition to full-time, grant-funded positions at SAFE and the District Attorney’s office, the county is dedicating specialized resources for the survivors of domestic violence.

These resources range from food, shelter and other necessities to community personnel trained to help victims develop escape plans in the event of escalating violence and counseling services to address mental health problems in both victims and offenders.

One obstacle when it comes to ending domestic violence is the stigma attached to the crime.

“I think we’re always fighting stigmas with ‘he won’t do this again’ or ‘They were just mad,’ or ‘I kind of deserved this’… No one deserves to be physically assaulted,” said Owen.

Owen noted there is a also stigmatization within some communities about domestic violence.

“You get certain communities that don’t really identify domestic violence as an issue,” Owen said. “For ages it’s been what happens in a house is private business, and it’s not when it comes to violence.”

Owen said that when a community is unsuccessful in overcoming stigmas, victims will choose to drop charges once the case reaches the courtroom.

“Sometimes I get frustrated… but you learn to support them either way,” Owen said. “The last thing that I would ever want to do is act like I would ever make a decision for a victim and act like a bully on top of the situation.”

During their budget discussions, commissioners reached consensus on funding the position but requested that more information and data on incidents, arrests and outcomes be provided periodically. Commissioners were told that in 2018, there were 89 domestic-violence related arrests, but 52 cases that were dismissed. Commissioners Jason Chappell and David Guice spotlighted the importance of tracking data, while Guice said he was also concerned about the high number of cases that were dismissed and he called for more information, including from the District Attorney’s office and local attorneys.

Commissioner Page Lemel said the “challenge” is to consolidate all the information from agencies, such as SAFE, to track it and “all be on the same page.”

 
 

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