L.A.'s response to domestic violence is underfunded and disjointed, audit finds

Mayor Eric Garcetti started 2015 by announcing that, in the face of rising crime statistics, he would devote more money and manpower to helping victims of domestic abuse, a crime that had beenunderreported by the Los Angeles Police Department.

So far this year, reported cases of domestic violence are up 5%, according to the LAPD, and an audit released Thursday found the city’s domestic violence services “were disjointed and inconsistent and did not include all of the elements” of a successful program.

“I typically don’t find myself advocating that more money be spent,”Controller Ron Galperin said at a morning news conference outside City Hall. “But looking at how little we have spent on these programs, it’s clear that we have to make them a priority and commit more money.”

Los Angeles spent $3.2 million on domestic violence programs, including intervention efforts, education programs and shelters, in fiscal year 2013-14. New York spent $107.2 million, while San Francisco spent $4 million and Chicago spent $3.3 million on similar programs in the same period.

Police respond to an average of 48,000 domestic violence calls a year in Los Angeles. Last year, police filed more than 15,000 reports and made 6,100 arrests for domestic violence.

The release of the audit coincided with the first day of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. LAPD Cmdr. Kevin F. McCarthy noted the agency’s response to domestic violence calls has changed dramatically in recent decades. At one time, the strategy was “to keep the peace.”

“Whether it was to separate them in different rooms, whether it’s somebody left the house for the night, one of those things,” McCarthy said. “But it’s not that way anymore. Now we do investigations, we do criminal investigations, we take photos, people go to jail. It’s serious business.”

In 10 police divisions, Domestic Abuse Response Teams, known as DART, respond to police calls and work with victims to help get them social and legal services. At the direction of the mayor and with a $1-million increase in funds, those teams will expand to the city’s other 11 police divisions, where contracts have been signed, the mayor said, although some teams are still in the hiring process.

DART has been touted as a successful model, but data from the mayor’s office and LAPD showed there were only enough volunteers and money to respond to 1 out of every 30 domestic violence calls to police.

Auditors also found that cities such as New York and San Francisco amended their city charters to create offices that couldcoordinate their response to domestic violence. Los Angeles lacks a similar entity, but Garcetti has taken steps tocreate a domestic violence working group made up of city employees. Each city department will be asked to appoint a liaison to raise community awareness ofthe city’s prevention and intervention services. They will also be responsible for seeking new resources to expand existing programs.

“This will take us in a bold step forward,” Garcetti said.

The mayor's directive also asks city officials to open three family justice centers, where staff would coordinate law enforcement, medical, social and legal services for victims of domestic violence. One woman who works with domestic violence victims questioned that strategy.

Tulynn Smylie, director of special projects for the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, said the new centers may not be a solution for many immigrant victims of domestic violence who distrust government.

“Those folks are never going to go to a family justice center. That’s why we need to keep funding for the shelter-based agencies,” Smylie said, explaining that groups like hers are hearing from more victims but their funding remains flat.

At the news conference Thursday, a woman identified only as Destiny said she had to call six shelters to find a place where she could escape her abuser.

“I got my voice back. To be somewhere and to be heard after being told that you’re stupid, you’re nothing and you’re worthless — and you have people who love you and want you to know that you’re loved,” she said, wiping away tears.

Auditors reviewed programs and funding from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2014.

During their research, auditors found that police officers did not consistently note when an assault took place between intimate partners. As a result, 27% of the city’s domestic violence cases were misclassified over a six-year period. For example, in 2013, auditors concluded that there were 14,112 domestic violence cases, significantly more than the 10,184originally reported by the LAPD.

The LAPD has since created the Data Integrity Unit, which will centralize how police reports are categorized.

“That will eliminate a lot of the errors that were made in the past,” McCarthy said.

alice.walton@latimes.com

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