This image was reprinted with permission from the Domestic Abuse Project, Minneapolis, MN (612) 874-7063.


  Scott Martin,  
  CNS News & Features  
  Ask any San Francisco police officer what is the number one crime they are called upon to remediate and one might expect the response to be murder, rape, robbery, or arson. Think again. "Domestic violence is the number one call they get," said victims’ advocate, Ken Theisen. Last year, there were nearly 10,000 calls for domestic violence in San Francisco. And forty-percent of those calls were weapons-related calls.
  Under dogged criticism of inadequate response to this epidemic, the San Francisco Police Commission in 1995 approved a specialized police domestic violence unit consisting of six officers who handle only domestic violence cases. Since its creation, domestic violence offenses recorded by the police department have nearly doubled. In 1990, there were 1,829 offenses reported. In 1996, there were 3,359 reports. In response to the increased demand for responding to and following up on these crimes, the domestic violence unit, overrun with cases, increased its size from six to 20 investigators within a year.  
  Today, the domestic violence unit follows up on every call for domestic violence in San Francisco after a regular patrol report. Some of the improvements mean life and death differences in the way officers intervene in lethal situations.  
  Police now remove guns for 72 hours from homes where domestic violence is reported. They also have quicker access to emergency protective orders which are temporary restraining orders that a police officer can get at the scene of a crime by calling a judge. The order lasts 5-7 days.  

Officers issued only three restraining orders out of 9,286 calls for domestic violence in 1992. Officers now issue over 1,800 a year because they have been trained on how to easily obtain them. Theisen, who was involved in the protective order training, said, "Police have been outstanding, once they got the training."

  In addition, the domestic violence unit benefits from outreach work done by domestic violence services provider, Woman Inc. Woman Inc. started a program where outreach workers go out with the domestic violence officers to give referrals to victims. "We provide crisis support services to victims of domestic violence at the scene of the crime," said outreach worker, Roslyn Sledge. "We provide a shelter or emergency housing when shelter is not available."  
  Sledge explained they get paged by different police stations throughout the city. There are two outreach workers who go out with inspectors from the domestic violence unit to follow up the regular patrol’s reports. She said they manage to cover all the calls. "The inspectors that we work with are excellent," she stated. "They’re very good with victims."  
  But the San Francisco Police Department has more work ahead. Despite drastic improvements, domestic violence unit Inspector Dolores Casazza feels that the unit is outgrowing its current office. She said that the unit also needs more Polaroid cameras to better document victim’s wounds. "We need more space and more personnel."  
Greg Merrill, Director of Community United Against Violence, a service provider for victims of gay and lesbian domestic violence, stated that the new units are helpful. "I think that the police investigators in the newly-created domestic violence investigations unit are phenomenal. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with them," Merrill said.  
But he blasted regular patrol officers. "I do need to say that there is a huge problem with the responding officers," Merrill added. "The regular patrols are horrendous in same-sex battering cases. They rarely make an arrest, especially if it’s a woman-woman situation.I think that officers don’t think that one woman can harm another. They frequently arrest both parties and sometimes they arrest the wrong person."
  Beat officers, he said, have a very difficult time assessing and intervening appropriately in same-sex domestic violence calls. "It’s a huge training issue at the police department that they need some assistance with. There needs to be comprehensive and wide-spread training on how to identify the primary aggressor in same-sex situations, absolutely," Merrill said.  
  The District Attorney’s Office is working to educate officers on same-sex battering to identify batterers from victims. Crystal Weston, a victims’ advocate who works for the District Attorney’s Family Violence Project, stated that they are working on a program to teach primary aggressor training to officers. District Attorney Terrence Hallinan, she said, is responsible for these and other drastic changes in the DA’s office. "He said he was going to make it his number-one priority and he’s done it."

  Assistant District Attorney, Susan Breall, added that it’s a city-wide cooperative effort. "It’s not just whatever the police department is doing. It’s really the combined efforts of the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation, the Domestic Violence Consortium, the DA’s office, and the police," Breall said.  

The District Attorney’s Office has set up a separate unit for domestic violence cases. They now have individual assistant district attorneys assigned to follow cases from start to finish. In the past, many different assistant district attorneys would handle a case. This year Hallinan hired four new attorneys to add to the domestic violence unit. The new attorneys are trained for domestic violence prosecutions. Results are in. "Prosecutions have doubled," said Breall.  
  The DA’s office has hired more victims’ advocates at the Family Violence Project. Advocates there help victims make it to court to testify. The Adult Probation Department has also put together a specialized unit that consists of seven case workers who handle only domestic violence cases. "Cases are much more carefully supervised," project spokesperson Barbara Brooten stated. Previously, case workers would have all different types of cases. Probation officers make certain that the offender is going to batterer’s treatment. Mandatory batterer’s treatment is required for a year for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence charges. "If anybody violates their probation, we take them right back to court," Brooten said.  
  City officials cite the 1990 murder of Veena Charan as the watershed domestic violence case in San Francisco. She was shot down in front of her son while she dropped him off at an elementary school in the Excelsior District. Her husband, Joseph Charan, shot her and then killed himself.  
  The Commission on the Status of Women studied the Charan case in 1991. They reported that the city needed to fill gaps in city services for domestic violence. The report recommended changes in San Francisco’s Police Department, District Attorneys Office, Adult Probation Department and Criminal and Civil Courts.  
  The Charan report findings concluded that had the investigator assigned to the Charan case looked at the pattern of violence committed by Joseph Charan, and presented the case to the District Attorney’s Office, they might have taken stronger action to prevent Charan from continuing the escalation of violence that led to murdering his wife.  
  By 1990, Veena Charan had contacted six agencies to stop the violence that her husband had inflicted. Some of those agencies were reported to have known that Charan owned a gun and had threatened to kill her. Charan had been convicted on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence, which today by federal law, prohibits gun ownership.  
  The Charan report concluded that the city had failed to protect Veena Charan and that her case and others like it could be prevented in the future if changes were made. The report recommended 107 changes to the city’s services. Currently, it is estimated that about 40 changes have been implemented.  
  San Diego’s Police Department has influenced the SFPD. In San Diego the domestic violence unit has reported a decrease in the number of domestic violence related homicides. Their police department set up a specialized domestic violence unit consisting of 19 officers who take only domestic violence calls. Since the unit began in 1992, domestic violence homicides have declined by 50 percent. San Francisco city officials hope to get similar results.  
  In 1986, before the San Diego Police set up their domestic violence unit, they and other departments were admittedly lax. Most incidents of domestic violence were minimized. Victims had very little hope of protection by the police or of improving their situation. Since batterers were seldom prosecuted, individual police officers shunned involvement in domestic violence cases.  
  The new units are now better able to report incidents. Since 1992, the number of reports for domestic violence has increased 60 percent in San Diego.  
  Victims need shelter, but funding is scarce. At the battered women’s shelter, La Casa de las Madres, the turn-away rate is four out of five. They received federal funds in the last two years and have added 30 more beds. Even so, Director, Nina Yusaf, said that the shelter is always full.  
  "We’re still spending more money on animal shelters than battered womens’ shelters," Theisen said. San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance, a federally-funded legal office to help victims, was cut 57 percent last year by Congress. "The reality is that we have managed to keep our services for domestic violence open, but how long we can do that is the question," Theisen continued.  
  When La Casa recently took in "Jeannie," a long-term abuse victim, she needed something to change her life. They did. La Casa put her in a private room with her child for nearly three months. "You have food, you have peace of mind, you’re surrounded by people who are in the same boat as you, so you don’t feel like you’re the only one," Jeannie said.  
  Everyone else, she added, had failed her. She was at the point where she could have fallen back into the abusive relationship cycle. They recognized that and snatched her out of danger. "When I look back, I think that they took me in there for fear that I would go back," Jeannie said. "La Casa saved my life."  
  "People tell you that you need a man, and I was basically trying to provide a man and he was the worst influence that I could have ever had on my son," Jeannie said. "My son doesn’t even live with me now. He runs away, he’s in a group home, he’s messed up."  
  Money is also scarce for batterers’ counseling. "The reality is most guys, if they do get jail time, do not get counseling," Theisen said. Antonio Ramirez, who works for Man Alive, a privately-funded treatment center, explained that treatment is paid for by the batterers. They do not compete for the small pools of federal money that are available to service providers, he said. Instead they have agreed to let the battered womens’ shelters take the money because their funding is more immediately crucial to saving lives. "We are committed to non-competitive funding, which makes it very hard for us because there’s not a lot of money out there already for domestic violence," Ramirez said.  
  Ramirez stated that mandatory batterers’ treatment works well. "It is a very clear message that society, as a whole, is not going to tolerate that kind of behavior." Ramirez added he would like to see a greater focus on education for domestic violence. "We believe that this a cultural issue. Society has created this culture of masculinity, so we need to undo that masculinity and the only way to do it is through reeducation," he said  
  Jeannie explained that she was in a violent relationship because she was used to abuse. It was what she grew up with as a child. "It’s the same feeling I would get when I was a little child and my father would come home from work," she said. "It was a very familiar feeling."  
  Education is the key to prevention. San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance is getting a state grant to teach domestic violence prevention to boys and girls. They are going to try to teach it in all ninth grade health classes in San Francisco. Their philosophy is to get to the kids before they become victims and batterers.  
  Yusaf, who speaks regularly about domestic violence prevention in the public schools, said that she frequently has kids approach her to talk about domestic violence in their lives. "Sixth graders are already impacted," she said. "It just breaks my heart."  

  Domestic violence services in San Francisco:  
Woman Inc. (24 hour hotline) 864-4722
La Casa de las Madres 333-1515
Rosalie House 255-0165
Asian Womens Shelter 751-0880
District Attorneys Family Violence Project 552-7550
Men Overcoming Violence 777-4496
Community United
Against Violence