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Domestic Violence in Washington, DC, CSOSA

Domestic Violence in Washington, DC, CSOSA

Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

See radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/10/domestic-violence-washington-dc-csosa/.

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I am your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentleman domestic violence is the topic of our program today, domestic violence in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States. This is Domestic Violence Awareness month for the month of October. We have two people from my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency with us today to talk about their supervision and treatment process regarding domestic violence individuals. We have Princess McDuffie, she is a Community Supervision Officer for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program and we have Marc Countiss. He is again the Community Supervision Officer – what other organizations call Parole and Probation Agents. Again he is with the Domestic Violence Program, Intervention Program here at The Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, our website www.csosa.gov to Princess and to Marc welcome to DC Public Safety.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Thank you for having us.

MARC COUNTISS: Thank you.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright this is really important. I mean you all deal with people who have been adjudicated as somehow, some way a court has said you need to supervise this individual and that person has put this person on probation and says that you all need to both treat and supervise this individual and keep the victim safe. Do I have that right?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: That’s right.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay and do we involve people coming out of the prison system who are either on probation or mandatory supervision? Do we have, are they involved in the Domestic Violence Unit?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes, that’s correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, so again we have parolees, we have people who are mandatorily released which means that they have served their time 85% and now they are out and we have probationers. So we have a wide variety of people. What do we have, about 30 employees doing this?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay and we have how many teams, that’s broken into how many teams.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: They are broken into four teams. So there are three supervision teams and then there is one treatment team.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, we have a lot of the people who are being supervised and treated in the Domestic Violence Unit. Correct?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes

.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, tell me about it. Tell me about your experiences. I mean domestic violence is a very important topic to me. I remember as a young police officer, an awfully long time ago, dealing with domestic violence issues and it scared me half to death. I mean I have never seen my parents fight. My first case involving domestic violence we rode up and there was a woman who answered the door, a neighbor called. She didn’t call and her face was like twice its size. Her husband beat her with a frying pan and I was just floored, I was just appalled over this vicious act against people who supposedly love each other. I have gone to other cases where a man was firing bullets into the wall with his wife on the other side of it. I mean domestic violence is a real issue. It is an insidious issue. It is something that impacts way too many American families. Correct?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes this is correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Tell me about it; tell me about your experiences. How long have you been doing it Princess?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And so, I have been here at CSOSA for eight years. I have been on the treatment team for two going on three years.

LEONARD SIPES: Were you on the supervision side for domestic violence before you worked for the treatment unit?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: I was for five years.

LEONARD SIPES: For five years, so you have been, your entire experience has been involved in domestic violence, right?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes it has.

LEONARD SIPES: Right tell me about that. What are your feelings? You have eight years supervising at this point. You have come into direct contact with thousands of people involved in domestic violence cases, right?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Tell me about them.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And so initially it can be a bit overwhelming. Folks come in with different belief systems and it is our job to penetrate those different belief systems. It is our job to help them and arm them with tools that they need in order for them to have healthy relationships. And so part of that is providing them with information about respect, accountability, boundaries, making sure that they are aware of their behaviors. You know domestic violence is something that can be intergenerational you know, it can be something that they witnessed as a child and so therefore they are mimicking the same behaviors that they had seen as children and no one has challenged them to change their behavior. The environments that they surround themselves in also perpetuate that same type of behavior. So it’s our job to give them the information that they need to make changes and have positive and healthy relationships.

LEONARD SIPES: For a lot of individuals Marc, on community supervision that we deal with, for the first time, in many cases for the first time in their lives they’re being told that they can’t do this.

MARC COUNTISS: That is correct. Because as Princess said, a lot of times when we talk about domestic violence, we are talking about something that is a learned behavior, where individuals have gone through different generations learning that and feeling that violence is acceptable and it’s appropriate and this is probably the first time that many of our offenders have been told that this behavior is inappropriate and the fact is, it’s not going to be accepted or tolerated.

LEONARD SIPES: And that is very difficult for a lot of them to accept because they have grown up in households where they have seen domestic violence. They see that as normal. They don’t see it as abnormal. They see it as normal behavior, the right to strike your wife or the right to strike your husband is a normal action that there is nothing wrong with it.

MARC COUNTISS: Right and typically we get a lot of resistance. We get a lot of defenses when individuals come to us for services because it goes against their core really. It goes against the belief systems and our challenge is to dispute these irrational beliefs and show them that there are healthier ways and more appropriate ways of being in a relationship.

LEONARD SIPES: There are times where you have to say, “You can’t do that. You cannot continue this behavior. It is not only wrong, it is not only illegal, it is just flat out unacceptable and you can’t do it.” and I have talked to different people who have worked for our agency throughout the years, again Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and I should remind the audience throughout the country that we are a federally funded parole and probation agency serving Washington DC so that will give people a context in terms of when I say talk to our people. But I have talked to people on the domestic, in the Domestic Violence Unit for years and they have told me that it is very difficult sometimes to get through to the individuals who we supervise. “You can’t do this its wrong and I am going to try to give you the tools that you need to understand how you can respond appropriately to your loved one in the future.” Correct?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct. And so the beauty of facilitating groups is that there are peer groups and so there are folks in the grope that are just like, you know, they’re all alike in a sense, you know, a lot of them come from the same backgrounds. They have been charged with similar offences, and so when they challenge one another it is authentic. You know it is something that they can appreciate and that they can respect as appose to a facilitator whose life and walks of life and background is quite different from theirs. And so that is the beauty of facilitating a group and allowing the peers in the group to challenge each other and let them know that, you know, what you are doing is wrong and these are ways that you can change things. Yes this is; you know I was arrested for this but these are ways that I can change my behavior. These are some of the things that you can arm yourself with to change your behavior as well.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, we have individuals there who don’t do well under supervision and we do have to talk about the supervision process. One of the things that we here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency are dedicated to is a twofold process of both supervision and assistance. So you guys are in the assistance part of it, in terms of running the groups to try using the Duluth model I think it is which is a nationally understood, nationally known model of dealing with people who are in domestic violence case loads; but at that same time we do supervise them and we do hold them accountable for their behavior. So if there is a court order saying that you have got to stay away from your wife and you have to give, what’s the boundary for a typical protective order for a female involved in domestic violence or a woman, a victim involved in domestic violence, what is it?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: So that person would have to stay 100 feet away from the person, away from the school, child care, home, place of employment. Those are some of the boundaries that they would have.

LEONARD SIPES: Right, okay so we can actually, if we find that they are violating that or coming close to violating that we can put them on GPS tracking, Global Position System Tracking so we can keep track of their whereabouts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I am not saying that somebody is looking at a computer monitor but we do come in and look at where he has been and where she has been and we can tell whether or not they are violating that restraining order correct?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes that’s correct. The GPS is another tool that we can use to help assist us in victim safety. We also do periodic case staffing, if we find that an individual is having difficulty remaining in compliance or following the stay away order so we are always meeting with the offender as well as the victim in the cases to make sure that we are doing what we can to make sure that she remains safe.

LEONARD SIPES: Now it is 90% to my knowledge and correct me if I’m wrong, I am not asking you for exact numbers, but my experience has been 90% of the victims of domestic violence are women. Am I correct, for our particular case load? So we are talking about the overwhelming majority of cases men battering women.

MARC COUNTISS: Yes. Right.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, they could be married. They could be cohabitating, they could be dating but they are intimate with each other. They are not strangers to each other. This is not a stranger to stranger crime. This is the people who do know each other and have had a relationship with each other.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes, but I also want to make it clear that we also have female batterers groups and so females are also perpetrators of domestic violence.

LEONARD SIPES: Right and for those groups we have women who need to be given the same message that they cannot batter. That it is inappropriate and wrong and they can’t do it.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Do we find that women pick up on this better than the men, worse than the men, same thing.

MARC COUNTISS: I would say both men and women have some of the same belief systems so we have to make sure that we are challenging both those beliefs as well because when you talk about it being learnt behavior sometimes men learn that violence is acceptable as well as women learn the same thing.

LEONARD SIPES: But you know that is the interesting part of this. We are not talking about somebody who decides to commit an act, say, use drugs and its episodic and it happens every once in a while and that is a decision a person makes at 14, 17, 25 whatever. This is ingrained in that individual, in many cases, if not mostly all cases throughout their lives. This is something that is part and parcel to their own personality, part and parcel to their own makeup. So convincing them that this is not something that they can do, should do, convincing them that it is wrong takes a lot of doing does it not?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And it does and we focus a lot on you know, changing that behavior. Talking about the flip side, well it is still the Duluth model but the equality wheel. We talk about respect, accountability. We talk about responsible parenting but we also talk about consequences. You know, the consequences of your actions led you to CSOSA, and so we defiantly talk about, you know, your actions can result in incarceration, can result in you being away from your friends and family that you love and so we defiantly talk about the outcome of your behaviors.

LEONARD SIPES: And we are not going to hesitate, if he violates the order, we go back to the judge. If he provides problems for us or her, if they don’t meet the stipulations of their supervision under our agency, we can take them back to the parole commission, we can take them back to the courts and they can go back to prison or go to prison.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: I mean that’s a very serious consequence if they do not meet their mandate.

MARC COUNTISS: Yes it is.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay we drug test them as well do we not?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay I’m finding throughout my career that drugs and alcohol are heavily connected, correlated to domestic violence. Am I right or wrong?

MARC COUNTISS: This is true. A lot of the individuals that come to our program do have histories of alcohol use and drug abuse. However, we have to be very careful when we are looking at this issue of substance abuse because we don’t want to get to a point where we start to rationalize or justify an individual’s behavior and say that this is why they were violent or abusive, because they were on drugs or because they were drinking because it is often times that individuals are drinking and they are not violent or abusive. So we don’t want to give them an excuse to say this is why they became violent.

LEONARD SIPES: Right, but we do drug test them do we not? I mean we do test them for drugs and alcohol and that is often at times can be another factor that we have to deal with in terms of their, shall I say the word recovery. There are adjustments that we have to deal with. There are substance abuse issues, do we not?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. And so we do either refer them out to other agencies or if they are serious enough we take care of it ourselves here within Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. What about mental health problems? Over a third of our case load has had histories of mental health issues. So I am trying to, I guess, provide layers of the complexity of what it is you have to do because you have to deal with mental health issues as well as substance abuse issues, as well as something that they thought was appropriate behavior.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And that is true, you know, as being on the Domestic Violence Intervention Team we have a treatment program that is specifically geared towards those that have mental health diagnosis and so one of the things that we do, we use the same curriculum but we defiantly take things in a different direction for them based on their mental health illness.

LEONARD SIPES: We are more than half way through the program. We are doing a program today on domestic violence and the way that we do it here in the District of Columbia but it represents efforts from throughout the United States in terms of parole and probation agencies. We have two people by our microphones today: Princess McDuffie, she is a Community Supervision Officer, again, what other agencies, virtually all other agencies in the United States call Parole and Probation Unit that she is with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program and we have Marc Countess. He is a Community Supervision Officer with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program www.csosa.gov is the website for the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

And we just did a program with the Superior Court here in the District of Columbia on the issue of domestic violence just a couple of weeks ago and I will put in the links to that show as well to give the listeners a comprehensive overview of what we do. We had the judge who was in charge of the Domestic Violence Program for the Superior Court. He was very complementary of CSOSA. Their program is special. They have two intake units throughout the city. They deal with close to 100 cases of domestic violence a day which I found astounding and they work with a lot of agencies including ourselves to try to provide services to individuals because people come to us with employment issues, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, child care issues and so we try, they and we try to do wrap around services to try to get that individual in as many services as possible to stabilize their situation right or wrong?

MARC COUNTISS: That’s correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Tell me about it.

MARC COUNTISS: There has to be a coordinated community response to domestic violence. The courts can’t handle it alone, intervention programs cannot handle it alone, victim servicers programs can’t handle it alone. We have to work in conjunction with each other to make sure that individuals are receiving the services that are necessary.

LEONARD SIPES: Right. Now on a community supervision side again we are, I mentioned GPS before, I mentioned drug testing. We are in constant contact with this individual in the community are we not, on the supervision side?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: We are.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, and so we are going and making home visits, sometimes unannounced home visits. We meet with them in the office so it’s just not you guys who are working on the treatment side, there are people within our agency who are concurrently supervising that person, making sure that they are not engaged in any other nefarious actives out there in the community. Correct?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct. And even on the supervision and treatment side, you know, we make sure that there is a coordinated response when things do happen. While we may not discuss in detail about the group process and what is talked about there, you know if we feel like someone may be in imminent harm or danger we will make contact with the supervision officer and we will have a coordinated effort to make sure that the victim isn’t being re-victimized.

LEONARD SIPES: And we are also working with law enforcement agencies, specifically in our case the Metropolitan Police Department, but there are lots of other law enforcement agencies in the District of Columbia, they are the principal, by far, law enforcement agency but we will work with law enforcement agencies to coordinate the response and to pick up intelligent because often at times that law enforcement officer will contact us and say, “You know that person who beat up his wife, I saw him on the corner making noise and obviously he was, you know, drunk and neighbors were complaining so I’m passing that information along to you guys so you can take appropriate action.” That happens as well does it not?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: That’s correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay so all the agencies are suppose to be working together to protect the victim and make sure that the offender gets the services he or she needs.

MARC COUNTISS: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, how do you feel about this, by the way? I am going to ask you the same questions I asked a Superior Court Judge you know, how do you feel after years of dealing with folks in the Domestic Violence Unit? I mean that’s got to take its toll on you personally as members of this agency.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: It does at times but it’s one of those things where you want to make sure that the person who is the perpetrator is getting what he or she needs so that ultimately they can have a healthy family, a healthy life. Making sure that their children even recognize that there has been some changes in Mom and Dad because they have the tools that they need to be successful and be healthy.

LEONARD SIPES: Now I would imagine that an awful lot of these cases, if not the majority of these cases do involve kids, do they not Marc?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes they do.

LEONARD SIPES: Right so you’re talking about a man and a women, we are talking about kids, we are talking about in many cases substance abuse, mental health problems, in some cases joblessness, again we are not making excuses for those people who batter but we are saying these are realities of what it is you have to deal with. Correct?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes, what we have to do is we have to make sure that when individuals come to our groups that they know that this offence not only impacts them and the victim it also has an impact on their children, it has an impact on society and our community and to let them know that there are healthier ways of managing conflict and dealing with dispute. So it’s an ongoing battle and struggle to get this across because normally individuals may not get it the first time. So that’s why our groups are approximately 22 weeks long. And so over that time individuals get an opportunity to practice their skills and utilize the tools and normally their defenses become lessened and they embrace more of the information.

LEONARD SIPES: Well they have to come to grips with this because it just doesn’t affect them it affects their spouse, it affects their kids. I mean if we can intervene here at this level and straighten it out and make sure that the kids understand that what Dad did or what Mom did is wrong by involving them in the process, we could be putting a stop to, Princess, you mentioned something that is often at times intergenerational. This is something that has been going on for decades and sometimes grandparents and parents and kids are all part of the same spectrum.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And that is correct and part of it is making sure that the parents are armed with what they need to be armed with so that it then trickles down to the children and so we can stop the cycle of abuse. We have to make sure that they are implementing the concepts that we are talking about when we are talking about, you know, isolation – what does that mean? Have you seen this done before. How can we prevent those types of things? And again we talk about consequences. What are the consequences of your actions? Making sure folks are held accountable for what they have done and taken ownership of what they have done.

LEONARD SIPES: Well I think that you guys probably have one of the toughest beats I can possibly imagine because when I was a police officer I said to myself, you know there is no way I could handle this sort of thing day in, day out. There was just no way, it was too traumatic. Give me an armed robbery, give me a terrible automobile accident, give me anything besides seeing people who supposedly love each other, destroy each other and to see that the kids are involved in it at the same time. For me it was very emotional. I found it to be probably the most difficult thing that I handled beside you know a fatal accident or somebody dying, the probably most difficult thing I had to handle as a police officer. That is why I was asking you how does it impact you directly as people.

MARC COUNTISS: It does have a direct impact on us but it is also important that we as facilitators, we as community supervision officers make sure that we take care of ourselves as well, so self care is a big part of it, dealing with this level of stress, this level of secondary trauma. So it is important that we do the things that are necessary to take care of ourselves.

LEONARD SIPES: Do we, I’m assuming we have our fair share of victories. I’m assuming we have our fair share of individuals who come to grips with the fact that they can’t do this and understand the impact that it is having on the kids and understand the impact that it’s having on their spouse or their loved one? That’s got to be gratifying at the same time when they finally come to grips with, they can’t do this. Now they understand the damage that they have done. Now they own up to it and now they are looking for ways to end this pattern.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And so in treatment like Marc said. They are 22 weeks with us. I mean that is just shy of six months on a weekly basis for an hour and a half. You meet with us, we have a group. And so as Marc also said initially they are resistant, you know they are defensive, they don’t want to talk about the issue. They want to blame everybody else. But you notice some change talk within those 22 weeks. You notice them coming around. You notice them, you know, being accountable for what they did. You notice them saying, “You know what I am responsible for what happened. I am responsible for being here in this setting but there are some things that I can do to change that and this is what I am going to do.” and so that is the beauty of the treatment process in that you can see someone who was very resistant start to change, start to accept responsibility and say, you know, today is a new day and I am going to do things differently.

LEONARD SIPES: Do they really apologize to their kids? Do they really apologize to their spouse for their behavior?

MARC COUNTISS: In some cases where they may have contact with that individual there is a portion where they can make amends. When we talk about accepting responsibility and acknowledging it and being able to apologies and say that they are sorry. So in the event that there is a stay away order in place we don’t advise it. However, if an individual still maintains contact or sees their children, we recommend that the individual apologize and they try to make things right.

LEONARD SIPES: And in the program in terms of the courts that we did that there are safe places where the batterer can come into contact with his kids, that is being supervised by the courts or supervised by us, where they can interact with their kids and the victim does not have to worry. Correct?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: That is correct, the visitation center.

LEONARD SIPES: So there is all sorts of contact that is still going on even though a protective order may be in place but it’s a supervised, safe place for the victim?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Now we deal with same sex couples as well.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes, we do.

LEONARD SIPES: And is there anything different in terms of same sex couples?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: No the curriculum is the same.

MARC COUNTISS: And really when we look at the dynamics of domestic violence, you find a lot of similarities whether they are same sex couples or not.

LEONARD SIPES: Young adults, we have younger individuals on our case loads and they have been involved in acts of domestic violence. I would imagine dealing with the younger folks as a bit more difficult than dealing with the older folks. Am I right or wrong?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: There are challenges. There are definitely challenges when you talk about age, the difference in age. And so what the facilitators tend to do is to use some of the things that pertain to that particular population and so whether that is pulling something out of the headlines, whether that is music. We use the Duluth model but we also try to use some different things so that it’s relatable.

LEONARD SIPES: But I would image especially with younger people but I think it crosses over to everybody involved, that we do have the music, we do have the culture. I am amazed when I listen to music, of music that does, almost encourage violence towards women, movies, television shows, sometimes I feel that they are not just getting the wrong message from their upbringing they are getting the wrong message from society as well.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And that is correct. And what we try to do is personalize it. You know, would you want that going on with your Mom or your sister? We try to make sure that we speak to them in a way that you know, they can understand. Speak to them in their culture, in their language, making sure that they understand the consequences of their actions.

LEONARD SIPES: But we’re trying so hard to provide services and instruction so that they can straighten out their lives, so that they can understand that it is wrong but again I do want to emphasis that if that does not work we will go back to court and we will go back to the Parole Commission and say, “I think this person needs to be off the streets.” If that person violates the protective order we take a look at our GPS coordinates, we hear from police that he is in the area. We can put him back; we can put him in prison or put him back in prison, correct?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Well we can take them before the judge and have the judge make that recommendation.

LEONARD SIPES: Right we don’t do it but we have to take them to the judge and we have to take them to the Parole Commission so the bottom line is that we will do it if necessary but we will do, we will take all steps necessary to try to convince them that they need to straighten out their path. Correct?

MARC COUNTISS: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright, I want to thank both of you for being on the program today. I can’t think of anything more difficult than the domestic violence beat and I want to personally thank both of you and everybody in this agency and parole and probation agencies throughout the county that are dealing with domestic violence victims. Ladies and Gentleman our program today has been on domestic violence here in the District of Columbia and again I think it is very typical what we discussed today happening throughout the country. This is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Our guests today have been Princess McDuffie and Marc Countiss, again they are with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very, pleasant day.

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Domestic Violence in Washington, DC, Superior Court

Domestic Violence in Washington, DC, Superior Court

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/09/domestic-violence-washington-dc-superior-court/

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I am your host Leonard Sips. Ladies and gentleman today’s show is on Domestic Violence it’s a hot topic in the news. We wanted to explore what is happening here in the nation’s capital. We have three principals sitting before our microphones today. Jose Lopez is a Judge he is the Judge, the presiding Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit a position that he has for several years now. We have William Agosto he is the Director of the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit which means he supervises all staff within the unit and we have Natalia Otero, she is with DC Safe and Advocacy group, one of the partners in the two Domestic Violence Intake Centers and we want to thank you all for being here. Judge Lopez, William Agosto, Natalia Otero welcome to DC Public Safety.

JOSE LOPEZ: Pleased to be here.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: I’m pleased to be here.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright, I’m really happy for you gentlemen and Natalia for you to be here today because you know domestic violence is a hot topic in the news, it is something that is of extreme concern but before we get into the gist of the show Judge Lopez just give me a sense of the Domestic Violence Court within the Superior Court here in the District of Columbia.

JOSE LOPEZ: Well it’s a specialized unit with four judge’s handling cases. The civil, restraining orders and the criminal cases and we have fantastic staff, well organized and we do about five thousand criminal civil restraining order cases a year and about three thousand criminal cases a year.

LEONARD SIPES: Five thousand restraining orders and three thousand criminal cases that is eight thousand cases in one city for domestic violence and those are just the cases that are reported to law enforcement.

JOSE LOPEZ: That is correct. I mean the DC police department gets about 90 calls a day for domestic violence.

LEONARD SIPES: 90 calls a day that is an amazing amount of calls.

JOSE LOPEZ: It’s tremendous.

LEONARD SIPES: So domestic violence is an issue here for us within the District of Columbia.

JOSE LOPEZ: It is a big issue.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright and you have been presiding over this court for how long Judge Lopez?

JOSE LOPEZ: It’s been about seven years.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s a long time and that has got to take its toll on you after hearing at this point thousands of cases.

JOSE LOPEZ: Well it doesn’t take a toll in a negative sense I guess it shows me the challenge that we are presented and the difficulty that we have with domestic violence and the need for further education of the community.

LEONARD SIPES: And this is one of the reasons why we are doing the program. William Agosto the director of the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit. Give me a sense William as to what it is that you do in terms of the Superior Court as as it pertains to domestic violence.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: In the DV Unit we process the cases. We create the calendars for the Judges. We schedule people to be able to get before the court and that happens when somebody comes in with an emergency request to see a Judge that same day and a couple of weeks later when they return to get an order that would last for an extended period of time.

LEONARD SIPES: So in terms of the protective orders your, it is up to you to handle the administrative structure to quickly get that protective order and that is a huge responsibility.

JOSE LOPEZ: Correct. It is one that we take very seriously.

LEONARD SIPES: So if that request for a protective order comes in at 4’o clock in the afternoon you guys have got to scramble to make sure that it happens.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: Yes sir.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright and that is an amazing responsibility.

LEONARD SIPES: Natalia Otero your DC Safe give me a sense as to what DC Safe does and your part in this partnership.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes of course DC Safe is the 24 hour crisis intervention agency here in the District of Columbia and we are charged with being available to domestic violence that person and to any first responder and to the court. We have a program that is called The Legality Assessment Program that allows us to try to find the percent of the population that is more at risk for homicide or re-assault and once we identify this percentage of the population we attempt to partner with government and non government agencies to provide expedited services so we go ride-alongs with the Metropolitan Police Department. We have a response line for people to call in. We are able to provide emergency assistance with the Courts with filing either emergency orders or civil protections orders. We attend Court every single day with clients. We are also able to actually house people within an hour of a violent incident and crisis shelter which is another important aspect of safety along with the court and the criminal justice piece of it.

LEONARD SIPES: You know it is so common throughout the United States to have domestic violence cases fall through the cracks and I am not being patronizing because you are sitting in front of me and because I am part of the DC Criminal Justice System but in the District of Columbia ordinarily and especially as it applies to the Superior Court again I am not simply being complementary, I want people out there to know that ordinarily the Superior Court does it well. It doesn’t matter what topic it is, whether its drug court other specialty courts, the domestic violence court it sounds as if between yourself, Judge Lopez and William and Natalia you have got it pretty much figured out in terms of how to process a massive number of domestic violence cases that come to the courts attention.

JOSE LOPEZ: We put significant emphasis on client’s service and we are constantly struggling to make sure that every case that comes in that door for an emergency order will be seen by a judge that very same day for safety reasons.

LEONARD SIPES: And that is important and that doesn’t happen throughout the rest of the country. So what we do in the District of Columbia we take for granted but I think we do set a bit of a standard for what is happening throughout the country in terms of Domestic Violence am I right or wrong William.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: You are correct particularly the development of partnerships that we have created with different stake holders in the community and other agencies making sure that we all work together to have a coordinated response to domestic violence.

LEONARD SIPES: Now I want to get into our personal perceptions on this just for a second. You know a lifetime ago when I was with the Maryland State Police I went to, well it was my first exposure to a domestic violence case, went to a domestic violence case and the woman opened the door and her head was twice its size. There was blood running down her. A neighbor had called and the victim insisted that we not take her husband, not remove her husband from that house and it was obvious battery and as far as I was concerned it was an aggravated assault with is a felony. I was so affected by that. I never saw my parents fight, let alone hit each other and I remembered that from hence forth every domestic violence case that I would ever go on and one of them involved a shooting, an attempted shooting. These are terrible tragic events in the lives of human beings. We say the words domestic violence and I am not quite sure it really carries the true impact as to how destructive this act is. So I just wanted, for three people who have been involved with the issue of domestic violence for years, and years, and years, give me Judge Lopez I am going to start off with you, how does it affect you after all these years on the bench.

JOSE LOPEZ: Well I have learned a lot about what domestic violence is and you know what those cases with the bloody head, those are minimal compared to those that you don’t see any blood and there is a lot of human suffering, there are a lot of destroyed families, there are a lot of depressed children and depressed family members and go out onto the street every day and just don’t have a solution to their problem. And like that lady who would not her husband arrested, we have the complexity that there is a certain attachment and its difficult for them to just get him out of the house or to have his arrested because they are interdependent with each other so that creates a greater complexity in those cases.

LEONARD SIPES: This is something that has an enormous impact not just on the victim but the victim’s family, the larger community. It is not unusual at all to have kids involved. William let me ask you the same question. You have been working this beat for quite some time do you every just get frustrated at the larger issue of why people batter other people.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: Of course it can be frustrating but we have to keep in mind domestic violence cases are crimes committed against a vulnerable individual. A crime is a crime. We need to make sure that we do not forget domestic violence is not a different action but we have to make sure that we look at them as crimes. That people don’t forget that. These individuals are related the act that is committed needs to be treated and handled as a crime.

LEONARD SIPES: Natalia okay you’re with DC Safe you specialize in domestic violence cases certainly you have an opinion on all of this.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes I think what is important really and I think something that Judge Lopez said kind of when you speak about this and that is in addition to the complexities to the relationship there is also a complexities and how many systems a victim may have to access in order to make herself safe and we have to be sure that we are keeping our word and like William said this is a crime ultimately and the important thing is to make sure that we have the appropriate multidisciplinary response to it because what happens when a victim reaches out and she finally is ready but the abuser might be knocking on her door the next day because he was released or it has to be dealt with on multiple levels not only through the courts but through the Criminal Justice System and to all organizations that provide supportive services and housing for these victims and the children.

LEONARD SIPES: But this is a process oftentimes and I am going to be stereotypical here but I believe it to be true, mostly male perpetrators against female victims although I do know that women can and do batter men, that this is something that’s ordinarily taken place over a course of months or years. This is something that she ordinarily has had to suffer through for a long time until the point where somebody actually calls the police whether it be a neighbor, whether it be a friend or whether it be herself. This is something that is filled with emotion a long term event and something that again, once again is really devastating not only to generally speaking the female victim but the kids involved and it is not unusual for kids to be involved. Natalia I am going to let you continue with that answer.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes I definitely think that that is something that feeds into the response that a victim has about their own abuse but also their own perception of risk and that is really important because we are not in the relationship and I think it is also kind of crucial to understand that there are factors there that are creating a situation where the victim is thinking that they need to, that they are mitigating the situation and a lot of times that has to do with not involving the police. We are acquiescing to certain things with you know keeping, maybe like walking on egg shells so to speak but they are mitigating their risk with their responses and sometimes the way that the mitigate the risk does not make sense to an outside person.

LEONARD SIPES: This is a very overwhelming event in the life of that victim. I mean this is something that is almost paralyzing people always ask me why doesn’t she leave. This is a very paralyzing event. There are kids involved, there are economics involved, th her own safety involved and so I want to take some of the pressure off a victims a tad to say that often at times again its paralyzing and generally speaking the female victim just doesn’t know what to do. Your honor did you want to take a crack at that?

JOSE LOPEZ: well that is just the most significant point of it all. The victim, especially the female victim usually is not so much that she doesn’t know what to do it is that she is juggling all these things and trying to balance the safety of herself, the economics of her situation, the safety of her children and she is making the best decision she can under those heavy duty emotional circumstances and it takes a very long time to finally get a clear head to say I must leave this relationship.

LEONARD SIPES: The bottom line and the question goes out to all three of you. The bottom line is that we want anybody who has any information about domestic violence to get involved in reporting it to law enforcement so then the Superior Court and any court throughout the United States can take appropriate action right. We desperately want people to report acts of domestic violence.

JOSE LOPEZ: Appropriate action is correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay I hear you, hear you loud and clear. Alright within the District of Columbia I complemented you all before. You have two Domestic Violence Intake Centers how do they work, what happens William?

WILLIAM AGOSTO: We have one at the Superior Court it is a conglomerate of agencies, Community Agencies and Government Agencies that provide services to the individual when they come to Court. Particularly those in intimate partner relationships and they get assistance with preparing their paper work, talking to the police, talking to the prosecutor, requesting support, they get services from the advocacy group that Ms. Otero belongs or they will conduct a lethality assessment try to determine how lightly this person is to eventually be harmed further by the respondent. We will also talk to them about safety planning, give them referrals for different agencies that provide either counseling, legal assistance, housing and lately some new partners have joined in who will help with doing a forensic medical examination getting some photographs and preparing the evidence for future hearing and another agencies working with victims that have problems of mental health when they come to visit us.

LEONARD SIPES: So you have specialists in all different areas whether it be forensic, mental health, assistance with child related issues, you have those specialists there to immediately provide assistance to the victim when he or she comes into the Domestic Violence Court.

JOSE LOPEZ: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s amazing; I mean, again most jurisdictions throughout the United States don’t have those resources and the process in the Court room do all cases go before a Judge or do all cases go to trial.

JOSE LOPEZ: No, not all cases go to trial. We have what is called attorney negotiators so when the parties come to court for the first time we attempt to negotiate a civil protection order by agreement and in many cases we will go into an agreement for a civil protection for 12 months. Some few cases will need to go to trial and the judges are prepared to take them to trial.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, now the civil protection order says what to the perpetrator?

JOSE LOPEZ: Well the civil Protection Order which is in effect a restraining order it tells the perpetrator that you may not assault, threaten or harass or stalk the petitioner and you shall stay about from the petitioner at least 100 feet away from her home, work place and also if he needs drug treatment or any mental health treatment that also is in there. If in fact a shared residence we also say to him that he must vacate the residence for safety reasons.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay so there is mental health treatment involved, substance abuse treatment involved, we very specifically say what you can do and what you can’t do and those orders I think are supported by my agency Court Service and Offenders Supervision Agency as well as the Court itself.

JOSE LOPEZ: Yes your agency is extremely helpful in this respect because they monitor the compliance with a civil protection order which is one of the few jurisdictions that has that luxury and so they even have vocational training for some of the people that need it and if they don’t go to the mental health or the drug treatment CSOSA the Court Services Agency will inform us about it so we can bring the case to court to try to correct the issue.

LEONARD SIPES: And if necessary we can put that person on GPS monitoring and monitor that persons whereabouts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and figure out whether or not he is violating that order.

JOSE LOPEZ: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: And if he violates that order we immediately bring that case to the attention of the Court.

NATALIA OTERO: Right I think, oh sorry. There is another step that CSOSA is actually working on directly with DC Safe it is part of the lethality assessment project. Let’s say that a victim calls the police or somebody calls the police. The police comes out realizes that it’s a domestic case; they call us immediately we send somebody out to meet with the client and provide immediate services and lethality assessment. We then are providing information with the clients request to CSOSA and saying this is a high lethality case. They can then turn around and say o well that particular person is already under supervision and we have certain that then they can respond to so we are talking care of working with the client and providing those expedited services and they are on the other end dealing with the person that is supervising in terms of not only holding them accountable but also in some cases making them aware that they know and creating kind of an intervention plan for the perpetrator in the hope that that will create a broader safety net for the victim.

LEONARD SIPES: We are more than half way through the program Ladies and Gentleman. We are doing a program today on Domestic Violence here in the nation’s capital in Washington DC. We have three people before our microphones Judge Jose Lopez he is the presiding Judge at the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit. He has been there for seven years. William Agosto he is the Director of the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit which means he makes sure that all things happen at all times and we have Natalia Otero and she is with DC Safe and Advocacy Group that is one of the partners in the domestic violence program. If you are interested in the work of the Superior Court in the District of Columbia probably one of the better court systems in the United States and after 45 years in the criminal justice system I can think I can say that with authority www.dccourts.gov. We want to thank the Superior Court for setting up this program specifically Leah Gurowitz. Okay ladies and gentlemen where do we need to take this discussion now the civil protection order has been issued? We are talking about all the different agencies that are involved. We are talking about my agency Court Services and Offender Supervision Agencies, lots of other agencies. In essence what we are trying to do is provide a comprehensive resource for again I am being stereotypical here; men are victimized by domestic violence but generally speaking, its female victims. What we are trying to do is provide a comprehensive array of programs for the victim and for the perpetrator at the same time correct.

JOSE LOPEZ: Correct because one of the things that we need to do is to get that education to the perpetrator to avoid recidivism from the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, family training, parenting classes and so forth.

LEONARD SIPES: You know we have individuals within our community and in any community throughout the United States so it is not just an issue for Washington DC who feels that they have a perfect right to strike their victim, to strike either their child or their wife or their husband. That this is something, for whatever reason, I’m not going to say with cultural, I’m not going to say anything. I simply know that there are men who feel that they have the right to strike a woman and sometimes this is maybe the first time in their lives where they are facing authority figures who are saying you can’t do that and a lot of times there are drugs involved and a lot of times there is alcohol involved.

JOSE LOPEZ: Oh yes and it’s a generational thing, it is an educational thing. You know one generation after another generation educating each other that violence is correct, the violence upon the children and violence upon the women is correct and so it is extremely difficult to get that out of their head. That is destroying the family, not only the victim but also the perpetrator.

LEONARD SIPES: There is a lot of people suggesting that domestic violence or getting into child abuse and neglect is the heart and soul of many of the problems that we have within the criminal justice system if that nine-year-old is raised and sees him mother being beaten that almost leaves an indelible mark upon his psyche for the rest of his life.

JOSE LOPEZ: That becomes normal for that child.

LEONARD SIPES: Yes William did you want to.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: And it seems to all be rooted in the sense that this is different, that if you hit your partner it is different than you hit somebody on the street and culturally we must make sure that people understand an assault to one of your loved ones is as problematic and is as wrong as an assault to a stranger.

LEONARD SIPES: Absolutely, alright we have crime victim’s compensation program. We have the Court Supervised Visitation Center; these are all components of the Superior Court in terms of Domestic Violence. Tell me what those mean.

JOSE LOPEZ: The supervised Visitation Center is using those cases where parties share children and the victim would not feel safe having the respondent, the abuser come into their presence, either pick up the children at their home or a mutually agreed location. So the court provides a neutral location where the victim can drop off the children. The respondent can come by and see the children in the presence of a social worker for a few hours a week so that relationship between the child and the other parent continues or in cases where maybe it is not necessary to keep that parent from keeping the child with them. They can take the child but they can use that location for pick up and drop off of those children.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright and what is the other program the Crime Victims Compensation Program. There is the possibility that because they are a victim of a violent crime they can be compensated for some of the expenses they had going into that victimization correct?

JOSE LOPEZ: Often you have a victim of domestic violence by leaving a relationship they are going to leave behind their positions and their resources and other times there is also concern that the respondent is going to come back to the location where they know where they can be found. The Crime Victims Compensation program can provide temporary housing at locations that are confidential. The can provide assistance with medical expenses. They can provide assistance with counseling for the victim. They can also help with getting yourself set up in a new place eventually after you have gone through this process and for those that want to remain at their own home they may be able to help you, for example the door was broken down by the respondent. They may be able to replace that door; to make sure that you place is secure.

LEONARD SIPES: I realize that I may have over played my hand in terms of my praise of the Superior Courts Program because there are going to be people listening to this program throughout the United States and beyond the United States. These services in one way shape or form are available throughout the United States generally speaking, so I do the message to domestic violence victims in Utah, in Montana, in California is to still find out what is available to you by contacting your prosecutors office, contacting law enforcement or contacting your local domestic violence center. Natalia saying all that what is the biggest hurdle for getting victims to come forward and seek help.

NATALIA OTERO: Wow, I think obviously every case is different and I think both the Judge Lopez and William can vouch for the fact that they can be radically different because things might be going on. I think the biggest hurdle really is information and I really think coordination of services. We find that when the victim is provided immediate tangible assistance within the first 24 hours they are more likely to move forward with criminal cases. They are more likely to move forward with the protection order hearing because at least within those first 24 hours those tangible needs about shelter and safety are being met.

LEONARD SIPES: By, I’m sorry go ahead please.

NATALIA OTERO: I think the next big hurdle is then kind of thinking about how do I get myself in a stable situation in the aftermath of this. What does that mean for me? Am I now being connected to other agencies in the City like the Department of Housing or am I having, you know there is a lot of things that go into becoming stable and there is so many different government entities that are sometimes involved in this.

LEONARD SIPES: But the bottom line is a lot of people out there take a look at those of us in government and they don’t have the highest opinion of us. I have taken a look at some of the surveys and I think the point is, is that I think especially when it comes to victim services, especially when it comes to victim services, especially when it comes to domestic violence but in all other cases I would say but especially in these two cases we do care. There are people within DCC. There are people at the highest level within the Superior Courts. There are people at the highest level throughout this country who want women and those men who are victims but particularly women especially with children to come forward and they are going to receive a caring response, not a bureaucratic response, not a harsh response but they are going to be embraced by the Criminal Justice System. Judge Lopez.

JOSE LOPEZ: Oh yes and one of the things that we try very hard is training our judges, training our staff to understand it. To understand when an angry person comes to you don’t let it be contagious because they are not angry at you they are angry at their situation and we are prepared to deal with it and work with them and show them that we care.

LEONARD SIPES: Natalia we have got only about a minute left in the program. Again I would imagine the people there at DC Safe are not there to get rich, they are there because they are passionate about serving victims of domestic violence and victims of crime.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes that is correct. We are a non-profit agency and we have over 25 employees that are very committed to the work all from different fields, from law to criminal justice, to women studies and I think the most important thing that we are trying to accomplish really is to be able to create kind of an all encompassing safety net for victims and creating a situation where when a victim does reach out that they get the assistance that they need the first time around and that it is something that is coordinated and responsive to not only the needs of herself and the children but also the friend or accountability on the other piece and it takes an entire system of people and an entire continuum to be able to provide these services.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay Natalia you have got the final word. I think the bottom line between everybody in this room and you via Skype Natalia is that there is hope for that person who is being abused and the criminal justice system is really geared up to help that individual. So I want to thank everybody who has been on our microphones today, Judge Jose Lopez, William Agosto and Natalia Otero. Thank you all for being here ladies and gentlemen thank you for listening to us. This is DC Public Safety we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Victim’s Rights from a Victim’s Perspective-Lisa Spicknall-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/10/victims-rights-victims-prespective-lisa-spicknall-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety; I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, I think a very moving program we have for you today “Victim’s Rights from a Victim’s Perspective.” We have Lisa Spicknall. She is a program manager for the “Mothers Against Drunk Driving”, www.madd.org. She’s been a victim’s advocate for 14 years. She tells an incredible story of perseverance under unbelievable circumstances. What I want to do is read a piece from ABC News, because she has been covered by People magazine, ABC News, lots of national publications. These publications at the same time call Lisa a hero. But I want to give you a sense as to what it is that Lisa’s been through, so I’ll read very quickly from a piece from ABC News.  “When Lisa Spicknall was thrown down the stairs by her husband Richard with her toddler in her arms, she decided to pick herself up and walk out on her marriage. After eight years in a troubled relationship, she left the marriage for the sake of her two children, three year old Destiny and two year old Richie. ‘That night he could have killed my son.’ Said Lisa. ‘That’s when I made the decision that enough was enough.’ Nine months later, in September 1999, her estranged husband murdered both of her children. ‘He wanted the ultimate hurt and he found it.’ she said. The murder of her two children was not only a crime committed by a man who was trying to get back into a soon ex-wife in a wife’s life in a horrific and unimaginable way, it was a crime that could have been prevented by laws that stop accused abusers under protective orders from buying handguns and it was a gun crime that shed light on a state-wide problem that could have had, and can have fatal consequences.” Lisa, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lisa Spicknall: Thank you very much, Len.

Len Sipes: Lisa, you know, it is just unimaginable, the fact that your former husband killed your two children, strapped in the back of a vehicle. He had custody rights and he took the children, supposedly, on a vacation, murdered your two children. That’s something you have had to live with your entire life. I’m not quite sure I really want to dwell on that particular issue, so much as everything that you’ve done past that, but I wanted to acknowledge for the audience the tragedy that you went through.

Lisa Spicknall: Thank you very much.

Len Sipes: And I think that it’s been an unbelievable journey for you and an unbelievable journey for the rest of us involved in the criminal justice system, because ladies and gentlemen, I do get the sense that we within the criminal justice system still, at this point, do not treat victims of crime with the compassion that we need to employ and we, I think many times, we, within the criminal justice system, do not acknowledge the legitimate rights of victims. Correct Lisa?

Lisa Spicknall: That’s correct. Although it has gotten better over the past 35 years, I think there’s still a long way to go and I still think that victims are treated a lot differently than we should be, when it comes to the criminal justice system.

Len Sipes: We do several shows a year with the National Organization for Victim Assistance. Will Marling comes on to this air and talks about things from a national perspective and talks about the possibility of a federal Constitutional Amendment protecting victims, but I wanted to do a show from a victim’s perspective, because again, every day, every year, there are millions of violent crimes in this country, millions of property crimes in this country, and there’s millions of people who are stuck with dealing with those of us in the criminal justice system. They’re thrust in it. They didn’t ask to be here, they don’t want to be here, and they’re going through this unbelievably traumatic moment and then they’ve got this huge, and sometimes uncaring, bureaucracy, confusing bureaucracy – they have to deal with us. So that’s one of the hardest things in the world that I can possibly imagine a person has to go through, during an unbelievably difficult time in their lives.

Lisa Spicknall: It really is, especially when you’re thrust into this criminal justice system that you, most of the time, know nothing about. Most victims of crime have never dealt with or been touched by the criminal justice system at all except maybe, you know, a minor traffic ticket or something along those lines. But when you’re dealing with innocent victims of crime, they’ve never dealt with any of this. They’ve never worked with a prosecutor, they’ve never had to sit before a defense attorney or talk to a victim advocate about what their rights are, or what their rights aren’t. You know, a lot of times we start out in this process as victims and we think, “Well, it’s us against them.” And it’s really not. You learn very quickly that it’s the State against the offender in your crime. It’s them who are going to make all the decisions and all the choices. You know, you have the right to be notified and the right to be present and the right to be informed, but you learn very quickly that you don’t have the right of say so. You generally don’t have the choice of, “Yes, I want this prosecutor to do this, this way.” Or, you know, “I want them to file for the death penalty as opposed to not filing for the death penalty.” “My loved one was killed, why wouldn’t they file for the death penalty?” So you learn very quickly that you don’t have a lot of say in what happens and it’s very confusing, it’s very – it’s not at all like what we see on television and I think that’s hard for a lot of people to accept and to come to terms with.

Len Sipes: Those of us in the system, we have to deal, whether you’re in the law enforcement side or the corrections side, we have to deal with thousands upon thousands of events. Which means thousands upon thousands of victims. Which means that you’ve got to be almost machine like in terms of your ability to process either as a police officer, to process a crime scene as a prosecutor, to bring the case to the court. There’s only so much emotion, there’s only so much sympathy, if that’s the right word, there’s only so much empathy that you can bring to the table, because beyond the Lisa Spicknall’s of the world, there are 100 others right behind her. Do we, can we do a better job of humanizing the system to victims of crime?

Lisa Spicknall: I think the most important thing that I talk to – I do a lot of prosecutor training, a lot of police officer training, and I think one of the most important things that I tell them is, treat these families how you would expect and want your family to be treated. You know, there’s always going to be that separation, there’s always going to be that case that touches you and rips your heart out and sets it on the table and makes you more humanized to what’s going on and but there’s always going to be those cases where you push aside and you know, breaking and entering of an 80 year old woman, who, “It’s no big deal. Nobody got hurt, everything’s okay.” But for that person, their life is completely changed. And I think if people start to realize that as much as the, you know, violent homicides and the, you know, different types of crimes that really effect and touch people, you’re going to start to see a lot more compassion coming from prosecutors, coming from police officers, coming from the different justice professionals to say, “Wait a minute, if I treat these people how I would want my 80 year old grandmothers to be treated, it’s going to give not only the victim, but it’s also going to give the officer or the prosecutor a different outlook on the way things should be.

Len Sipes: Well, I’ve been told that if we did that, we’d become much more effective in terms of gaining the trust of the victim and we would become much more effective in gaining the trust of the family. We would get more information, better information in terms of prosecuting the individual. But again, it is, it goes back to a variety of things. Number one, there’s a lot of people who make very basic, fundamental, life decisions – not on the violent crime, it is a property crime. If their house has been burglarized two or three times, the move. A lot of individuals will simply say, “That’s it, I don’t want to live here.” Cities, counties, urban areas are tremendously hurt by property crimes. The car is stolen – I know of an individual that came to the city of Baltimore and he came there as a television executive. Wanted to live in the city of Baltimore, had his garage – not his house – his garage broken into three times and the bikes of he and his wife and his children were stolen three times. He moved. Now he had an entirely different view of the city, he had an entirely different commitment to the city of Baltimore based upon a non-violent crime that didn’t even involve his house. So if people feel that strongly about these sort of crimes, could you imagine what it would be somebody who has to deal with the fact that their loved one has been murdered or their loved one has been raped or their loved one has been robbed. Doesn’t that change their lives dramatically?

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely it does. You know, any time you’re touched by crime, it changes your life, no matter what the extent of. You know, and a lot of times people don’t realize that crime touches not only just the individual affected but it touches the entire community. So you’re looking at a community problem where eventually communities are going to, for [INDISCERNIBLE 00:09:44] and things like that, they’re going to pick up and start moving. They’re going to change what they do on a daily basis and they have to. But I think a lot of that comes from treatment, it comes from the way that they’re looked at, the way that they’re judged. You know, you have victims out there who are looked at, “Well, if you didn’t do X, Y and Z then this wouldn’t have happened.” Well, that’s not necessarily true. We can’t look at victimization as the victim’s fault, we have to look at it as, “What can we as a society do to help prevent this type of victimization from happening?”

Len Sipes: But a lot of people do that, do they not? A lot of people say, “If she had not done this, if they had better secured their garage, if they had done this, if they had done that, they wouldn’t have been victimized.” I think people have this sense of they cannot allow the understanding that it wasn’t somehow, some way, the victim’s doing something, not doing something, because if they go to this sense that regardless of what the victim did or did not do, that crime probably was going to happen, that makes them feel that much more vulnerable, does it not?

Lisa Spicknall: It does. And it also takes away from that “it can’t happen to me” syndrome. You know, you have people who immediately, “Oh, that could never happen to me. Just can’t happen to me, because I do X, Y, and Z.” Well, you know, it can happen to you and it can happen to anybody. I currently work for Mother’s Against Drunk Driving and one of my biggest fears is innocently driving down the road and being hit by a drunk driver. You know, we hear about it all the time. And we see it and it can happen very well. I’m one of the biggest, “It can’t happen to me. I know what to look for, I know to see if somebody’s swerving.” But you know, I have to step back from that and say, “It could very well happen to me.” You know? It happens every day. It happens – there will be, in the State of Maryland this year, about 25,000 arrests just for drunk driving. And that’s the arrests that were caught. That doesn’t include the drunk drivers that get away. So all of those people on the road, driving, you know – we all need to step back and say, “This can happen to me.” And what – we need to stand up as a society and say, “You know what, we’re tired of this happening. So what can we do?”

Len Sipes: So the lessons just aren’t for the criminal justice system. The sense that I’m getting is the lessons are for the larger society. Stop blaming victims, do acknowledge that it can happen to you, take the steps to make sure, to the best of your ability, that it can happen to you and if you’re in the criminal justice system, for the love of heavens, as you’ve just said, treat me, treat that victim as if you’re, as if you would want your mother treated, as if you want your wife or husband to be treated, as you want to be treated. Treat the person with all the respect you possibly can.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. And I think sometimes the best people who are in the criminal justice system have been those who have been victimized somehow. You know, I have prosecutors who have come to me and said, you know, “My sister was killed x amount of years ago and this just really focused me to be the person that I am today.” And you can see a difference in treatment of victims by those people. You know, I have police officers who have lost friends, who – different circumstances and different situations have happened that have given them that drive that they absolutely treat people differently. I’ve also heard prosecutors say to victims, in a drunk driving case in particular, “It doesn’t matter if they hit a mailbox or if they hit a person, you’re no different.”

Len Sipes: Well, and the bottom line is that again, this is the real, I think, heart of the problem, as far as the criminal justice system is concerned. We, as individuals, we as human beings, can only process so much. How many people can we assist in terms of victims of crime, to the point where… The sympathy I think that those of us in the criminal justice system – the sympathy for victims is there. But there’s only so many horror stories you can process as a human being and when you have case upon case upon case, you‘ve got to proceed as quickly as you possibly can and quite frankly, I get the sense, from those of us in the system, that sometimes victims just get in the way. Victims can be demanding in terms of time, in terms of explanation, and sometimes you feel, rightly or wrongly, and in this case I’ll say wrongly, that you lack the time. Not the empathy, but you lack the time and you lack the emotional ability – victim after victim after victim – to give that sort of treatment to that victim as if you would your grandmother, as if you would your husband, as if you would your own son. Sometimes we lack the ability to do that.

Lisa Spicknall: And that’s when I would suggest leaning on your victim advocates. Most agencies, most departments, most prosecutors have victim advocates and if they don’t, there’s organizations out there that do have victim advocates that will work with victims. That’s what our jobs are. You know?

Len Sipes: And that becomes very important, because you did, for many years, work as a victim’s advocate for a law enforcement agency.

Lisa Spicknall: Correct, and I still work as a victim advocate, for a non-profit agency now. So I still do the victimization work and I still work with the victims. You know, like I said, in some of my training it’s one of the biggest things I tell. “We’re here for you. We’re here as victim advocates to help you. If you have a case that you need that extra, you know, needs that extra push or needs that extra hand holding or shoulder to cry on, give us a call, because that’s what we do. That’s what our focus is and we have that time to dedicate to those victims that you may not have.”

Len Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce Lisa Spicknall. She is a program manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, www.maddd.org. The show today is “Victim’s Rights from a Victim’s Perspective.” Lisa, let me ask you this, is that considering everything that you’ve been through, both personally and professionally, does it ever exhaust you?

Lisa Spicknall: It does. And there comes times where you need to step back for a little bit and take a break and take a breath and find something to reenergize yourself. I have heard some fantastic speakers, I have come away with reaching points where it’s like, “Okay, I can’t do this anymore.” And then I’ll think about my children. I’ll think about Destiny and Richie and say, “You know what? This is why I do what I do.” It reenergizes me. It really – my goal and what my goal has been for the past 14 years, is to make sure that there’s never another Destiny and Richie. And although I can’t prevent what happened to me from happening again, I can at least speak out and I can say, “This is what happens, this is how you don’t treat somebody, this is how they should be treated. And let’s see how we can work together to fix the issue that’s going on.”

Len Sipes: But the system is sloppy, is it not? The criminal justice system, I mean, I don’t watch any crime shows on television because I can’t. You know, you have young people who are in the prime of their lives with equipment that Apple would be jealous of – Google would be jealous of. They’re surrounded by state of the art equipment, they’ve got all the time in the world, they’re running all of these tests, and that’s not the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system is this huge entity that plods along under its own steam and sometimes we, you know, we just don’t have the precision that people expect from us. I constantly laugh at crime scene investigations because there are very few crime scene investigations, if any, that go down the way that it’s portrayed on television. So do we have, does society have an unrealistic expectation of those of us in the criminal justice system in terms of what it is we can do, could do, should do?

Lisa Spicknall: I think we do. I think, you know, and I’m with you – I don’t watch the crime scene shows. I try to steer far away from that. It’s just something that I’ve chosen a long time ago not to do. But I think we do. I think seeing the CSIs and the different shows like that, it really gives people, “Well, this can be solved in a one hour program.” Well, it doesn’t work that way in real life, and you know, I tell victims all the time – they want to make sure all there i’s are dotted, all their t’s are crossed before they can give you any answers. Sometimes that arrest doesn’t happen in the first five minutes or the first, you know, 24 hours. Sometimes it’s days, it’s weeks, it’s months at a time – if not…I’ve seen cases go on for years without arrest.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Lisa Spicknall: And trying to explain to the victims, take everything that you know, everything that you think you know, and throw it out. And let’s start fresh. Let’s start with reality and what reality is. I think TV does us a very large disservice in how the criminal justice system actually is and it gives people a very unrealistic expectation of what goes on and what can happen.

Len Sipes: Agreed, agreed, agreed. Now, what do you do with victims – and I’ve been dealing with victims throughout my career. And when I was a law enforcement officer I had a direct contact with the victims of crime. And from time to time I would go back and check on them. And again, these are not necessarily violent crimes. It could be an elderly couple with a burglary. It could be an individual whose child has left and we don’t know if the child left – an older child – we don’t know if the child left voluntarily or if the child was kidnapped. I mean, there are so many uncertainties. I would check back with them and in many cases, I would find them mired in one place, that they could not get beyond what happened to them. Again, making the decision to move or making the decision to leave an area or with a violent crime, not being able to get beyond it. What do you say to people under those set of circumstances?

Lisa Spicknall: Something that I’ve learned over the past many years that I’ve done this is, a victim’s going to be as healed as they can possibly be by five years. Once they’ve reached that five year point, there’s no further, no back –that’s how they’re going to be. And I see that a lot. You know, I think you going back six months, a year later, two years later, just to check on them, they’re always going to remember that, and they’re never going to forget that, and I think that’s absolutely fantastic that you were able and did that, because they’re going to remember that, and that’s going to help them make some decisions and make some hard decisions in life. You know, you’re still out there looking for that runaway child or that kidnapped child – somebody’s still thinking about them and somebody’s still keeping that case there. But I think for people to realize that it usually takes anywhere between five and seven years for people to get to a state of normalcy or what their new normalcy is going to be. You know, I’ll be completely honest, there’s some days still that I – knowing that it will never happen, but still have that thought in the back of the head, you know, “Are Destiny and Richie going to walk through that door today? Am I going to see them again?” Knowing that it’s never going to happen, but you still have those songs, those senses, those different little reminders that pop up.

Len Sipes: This is something that’s a life-long event.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And I think those of us in the criminal justice system need to understand that. For us it is the time that we involve ourselves with the victims on a professional level. For the victims, it is a life-long event and that life-long event applies to lesser crimes as well. So I did not want to demean that person who went through those burglaries and who decided, you know, to spend $1,000 on a security system, or to leave that community. That’s an event that will be with them for the rest of their lives and shape who they are.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. And that’s going to change things that they do. I think about now, when I walk out into a parking lot, you know, I have two young boys and I make sure that they are with me, especially – more so at the holidays. I mean, they’re always with me, but more so when times are a little tougher, when you know things are happening and there’s been a rash of burglaries in the area or you know, pocketbook snatching, things like that, I always make sure I have my keys in my hand when I walk to my car. I just did it when I left the courthouse this morning. Had my keys in my hand, I have an auto start on my car, I make sure my car is running. When I get in, I lock the doors. Nothing’s happened to me, but I think that the job that I do and the crimes that I’ve seen have kind of shaped me more into that person.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Lisa Spicknall: Just because you know what can happen, you know? One of the questions that we ask a lot of our police officers, “Does your job make you do things differently than before you were a police officer?” Absolutely it does.

Len Sipes: My daughters would complain bitterly that they have an ex-cop/criminologist/spokesperson for the criminal justice system as a father, because I had something that I called the parking lot drill. We do not dilly dally in parking lots, we get in the car, we do not examine what it is we bought, we do not discuss the day, we get in the car, we lock the doors, we keep our eyes open and we leave nice and peacefully.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: So they would say to me, you know, “Boy, you’ve done made us paranoid.” And I said, “Well, that’s, sorry, you were brought up by somebody who’s been in the criminal justice system for 40 years and I don’t want to see you guys victimized in the same way that I’ve seen so many other people victimized.” So this is something that is part of everybody, every victim’s day to day process. It could have happened 15 years ago and yet it’s still going to be part of who they are.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. It changes who you are, it changes who you become, and it changes what you do and what your decisions are each and every day.

Len Sipes: Last five minutes of the program. So for those of us in the criminal justice system, and we talk to lots of aides to mayors, county executives, state executives. We talk to aides up at Congress. We simply need to be, to humanize the process and to be as service oriented as we possibly can.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely, absolutely.

Len Sipes: What else?

Lisa Spicknall: I think we need –

Len Sipes: What else do we need to know?

Lisa Spicknall: I think we need to put victims first. You know, a lot of – I attended a hearing today, it was a post conviction hearing and everything that happened in the courtroom today was the offender’s needs, the offender’s wants, the offender’s – the offender, the offender. And I sat with a family of about 20 victims and had to explain to them that unfortunately, at this time, this is the way the criminal justice system is. I think we need to start looking at victims and start realizing what their needs are and how a postponement affects them physically, emotionally, every ounce of their being. They’ve built themselves up so much to do and take the next steps, that when the next steps fall through, they just – it really takes them back to day one. So I think putting victims first, I think humanizing the crime and I think treating people, essentially, as you would want to be treated in this situation is very helpful.

Len Sipes: For virtually all major criminal justice organizations including ours here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency we have victims’ advocates that work with individuals from the larger community. So part of it is relying upon the victims’ advocates that you have within your own organization and everybody listening to this needs to understand that there are victims’ advocates in every major criminal justice organization. But the victims’ advocates are going to be dealing with that individual, oh, I don’t know, afterwards. The key interaction that they’re going to have, that victims are going to have, are going to be with the cops, are going to be with the prosecutors, are going to be with the parole and probation agents and we just need to up our game when it comes to victims.

Lisa Spicknall: Right. I agree.

Len Sipes: Laws, legislation – I know that Will Marling of the National Organization of Victim assistance is trying to get a constitutional, national constitutional amendment to protect victims of crimes. Is there something else the system can do formally?

Lisa Spicknall: I think getting the national constitutional amendment would be a step in the right direction. I think it would give us and afford us protections federally, as opposed to just state by state. So I think that’s the best start and that’s where a lot of energy needs to be focused.

Len Sipes: So much of my early training in both law and constitutional law and law enforcement was that victims were to be treated with respect, but kept at arm’s length.

Lisa Spicknall: Right.

Len Sipes: That was the original, that was my original training, it really was. That victims are there to be kept in a bucket, off to the side and don’t be nasty to them and try to list all the information you possibly can, but you know, son of a gun, sometimes they get in the way. And so my sense is, and my guess would be that your sense is is that it still permeates the criminal justice system today.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. And I think until we can really get in there and get to the root of that and have everyone realize that that doesn’t work anymore, then it’s not going to change.

Len Sipes: Do people look at your, do you tell people about your background when you’re dealing with victims?

Lisa Spicknall: Not a lot of times. Quite often people put the name together. It might take them a little while, but they’ll put the name together and realize that they’ve heard it somewhere. When I work with victims, I am specific to their needs, their case and what’s going on in their life. I think my situation and where I’ve come from makes me a better advocate, it makes me more understandable for what happens and gives them a whole new insight into the criminal justice system and what can happen, just because I’ve walked the path.

Len Sipes: But when you talk to people like me and when people like me bring it back up again, then, you know, when I turn the record button off and hang up the Skype connection, then you’ve got to sit back and do what? You’ve got to process the fact that you had to, for the one millionth time, deal with what happened to you.

Lisa Spicknall: I do, but you know, what, everybody who hears this program, and everybody who hears our conversation is going to walk away knowing Destiny and Richie, and that’s why I do what I do.

Len Sipes: And that’s the important thing, because their tragic deaths have brought a lot of relief to literally thousands of victims through the effort on the national, state level, through all the publicity. When I was doing the Google searches for your name and your circumstances, it’s really amazing to me as to how, you know, ABC News, Parade magazine, lots of other publications, people have gone so far as to call you a hero. Do you believe that you’re a hero?

Lisa Spicknall: Um, I think I’m a mom that wants to do, still do good by her kids.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the best possible answer. Lisa Spicknall, ladies and gentlemen, we’re discussing today victim’s rights from a victim’s perspective. Lisa is program manager, a program manager for Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, www.madd.org. www.madd.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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