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To curb rising domestic abuse, L.A. needs a more coordinated approach

To curb rising domestic abuse, L.A. needs a more coordinated approach
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck speaks during a news conference on Sept. 2. Earlier this year,Beck attributed part of a recent rise in violent crime to a spike in domestic abuse cases. (Nick Ut / Associated Press)

Reports of domestic violence are on the rise in Los Angeles, yet L.A. spends a substantially smaller share of its budget than other big cities on services to help victims, and it lacks a coordinated approach to ensure that the little funding it does commit is spent wisely. The result, according to a new audit by City Controller Ron Galperin, is that the city's effort to alleviate domestic violence has been inconsistent and poorly managed, leaving too many victims without the help they need.

One problem is that the Los Angeles Police Department has done a poor job keeping statistics in this area. The controller's audit found that the department mislabeled domestic violence assaults as generic assaults more than 25% of the time over the last five years. This is especially worrisome because the LAPD prioritizes its staffing and crime-fighting strategies based on statistics. If the LAPD is undercounting domestic violence incidents, then the city is presumably understaffing and underfunding its domestic violence response.

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After Police Chief Charlie Beck attributed part of the rise in violent crime to a spike in domestic abuse cases, Mayor Eric Garcetti this year committed a one-time boost of
$1 million in public and private funding to give all 21 police divisions a Domestic Abuse Response Team — which can include specially trained officers and advocates who counsel victims on their options. The audit found, however, that only 10 of the city's divisions had such a team as of last month. And even at those 10 divisions, advocates were able to respond to only 1 out of every 30 domestic violence calls.

Despite Garcetti's infusion of funding, the city is still spending less than it used to on domestic violence programs and less than other big cities. Funding has declined in recent years, which has reduced the number of shelter beds available for victims and the number of specialized city attorney teams that prosecute domestic violence. L.A. now spends $1.04 per capita on shelters, intervention and prevention compared with New York City's $12.75 per person, San Francisco's $4.84 and Chicago's $1.23. With so little money budgeted for domestic violence, the city at least needs a clear strategy for how to put the funding to best use. It doesn't have one.

Domestic violence is one of the most prevalent and destructive crimes, and the societal costs are huge. Victims of abuse are more likely to end up homeless, and children who witness violence at home are at greater risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence. The city needs a better strategy to address this difficult issue, starting with accurate statistics on the problem, an analysis of what programs work and the right level of funding.

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