Mayor Mitch Landrieu announces Blueprint for Safety new domestic violence program


A seemingly minor domestic fight can be indicative of a violent relationship that could end a victim’s life, advocates said Tuesday, as they joined New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in unveiling a new initiative aimed at identifying and prioritizing those most at-risk.

The mayor’s 220-page “Blueprint for Safety,” two years in the making and funded by a federal grant, includes new guidelines for 911 operators, police, prosecutors, jailers, judges, and probation and parole officers. For example, police must now ask domestic-violence victims four specific questions and include their responses in reports, to help give prosecutors and judges a better idea of the assailant’s risk level.

“Since most victims experience a pattern of abuse, our response must look beyond one incident,” Landrieu said, to address “what I consider to be a very, very serious problem.”

Addressing the issue is especially urgent here, Landrieu said, in a state with the fourth-highest rate of women being killed by men and in a city with one of the nation’s highest murder rates, where roughly one in 10 killings are committed by a current or former lover. The NOPD receives about 1,000 domestic-violence emergency calls per year, Landrieu said.

Tania Tetlow, director of Tulane University’s Domestic Violence Law Clinic, said that tackling family violence would help reduce other serious crimes, as research has shown that children who are abused or see a parent abused are more likely to resort to violence as they grow up.

“Not only is domestic violence a huge part of our violent crime problem — it is also the root cause of our violent crime problem,” she said.

Flanked by judges, politicians and criminal-justice leaders, Landrieu addressed reporters at Gallier Hall and thanked the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence against Women for its $396,000 grant to fund the new program, which was based on one Landrieu said was successful in St. Paul, Minn.

Bea Hanson, the federal office’s director who flew in from Washington, D.C., said it was rare for all the components of a city’s criminal-justice system to work together as well as she had seen in New Orleans.

“We know that when we don’t do things together, when we’re not coordinated, that’s when bad things happen,” she said, adding that the system needs to be able to respond over time to these types of victims, who often return to abusers because they love them. “This is a long process that we all need to be involved in.”

Among the changes that Landrieu said will be rolled out in training sessions in upcoming weeks and months:

911 operators will now try to keep callers on the line for safety reasons, check for previous calls involving the same parties or address and communicate risk levels to police through assigning either the new Priority 1A or Priority 2 response levels.

Police will now ask victims four questions to help determine their risk level and include responses in their report:

  • 1. Do you think you or your children are in serious danger, and why?
  • 2. How frequently and seriously are you threatened or assaulted? Is it changing, and if so, for the better or for the worse?
  • 3. Describe the time you were most frightened or injured.
  • 4. Have you been threatened for seeking help?

Police will avoid arresting victims by looking for signs they were acting in self-defense of the predominant aggressor.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office will take into account the context of risk in decisions on charging, bond recommendations and plea agreements, and will request a pre-sentence investigation in all felony domestic-violence cases.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office will now receive records of standing protective orders and will prohibit visits between inmates who are subject to the orders and their victims.

The jail will also make efforts to prevent inmates from contacting or harassing victims while in jail.

Probation and parole will now refer domestic abusers to a specified batterers’ intervention program instead of general anger management.

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