A 30-year-old policy that prevented Honolulu prosecutors from dropping domestic violence prosecutions no matter what a victim said is over, and law enforcement will partner with a local nonprofit to help ensure survivor safety.
Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm; Tiffany Kaeo, division chief of the Family Prosecution Division; and Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center, gathered to discuss the policy shift and partnership at King Kamehameha V Post Office Alan Sanford Davis Park on Tuesday. October is national Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Prior to the change, Honolulu and two rural counties in Georgia were the only known jurisdictions that proceeded with prosecutions of domestic violence cases regardless of whether a victim was in danger or circumstances suggested law enforcement should take another route to resolving allegations of abuse, according to Alm. Kaeo brought the department’s no-drop policy to Alm’s attention earlier this year, initiating a review. Alm and others researched comparable policies in other jurisdictions and spoke to victim and witness counselors and others before making the change.
“As part of restoring trust to the prosecutor’s office, I wanted to make sure we were following best practices in the area of domestic violence,” Alm said during the news conference. “We are now listening to the victims and will be much more victim-centric.”
Kreidman highlighted the importance of partnerships in addressing domestic violence and pointed out her staff is available to prosecutors for early outreach and to help victims and survivors if the department drops a case. Victim services and counseling from the department end when a case is discontinued, creating a need for assistance that the DVAC will meet.
“We ask the community to join us in looking around them and seeing who may need support, who may need referrals, who may need a safety plan, and reach out to the Domestic Violence action center. … Safety for victims, accountability for abusers — the promise for the future really belongs to all of us.”
Kaeo said early and consistent contact with victims is an essential piece of a successful prosecution.
“Victim safety, access to resources and holding offenders accountable are all important priorities,” Kaeo said. “We also know that domestic violence cases are some of the hardest cases to prosecute, and that is why we are pleased to partner with the Domestic Violence Action Center as we take a more victim-centric approach to prosecuting these cases.”
Alm’s office prosecutes any act or violence or threat of violence between people who are or have been in a relationship or have a child together. The offense may be a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the injuries sustained by the victim. The offense might include include coercion, intimidation or disregarding a restraining order.
The Domestic Violence Action Center handles about 300 cases a month. Over the past 19 months, DVAC had more than 50,000 contacts with clients, the highest volume in more than 30 years.
In April 2019, DVAC’s 31 direct services staff members had contact with clients 519 times. In April 2020 there were 3,304 client contacts.
In June the Honolulu Office of the City Auditor recommended that the Honolulu Police Department and prosecutors implement data collection practices that would integrate both departments to reduce redundancy.
One of the recommendations called on both departments to create an official understanding of “categories to be reported under domestic violence; and provides consistent and uniform definitions, terms, and jargon that facilitate domestic violence reporting and communications.”
Currently, data is collected on violation of Hawaii Revised Statues 709-906, regarding abuse of family or household members. However, other offenses could be classified as domestic violence. For example, if police arrest a man for punching his girlfriend and breaking her nose, the case would be prosecuted as second-degree assault, and an incident of domestic violence may not be recorded.
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