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Officials Want To Put Domestic Violence Services Under 1 Roof

Mecklenburg District Attorney Spencer Merriweather spoke at Wednesday's press conference.
CMPD
Mecklenburg District Attorney Spencer Merriweather spoke at Wednesday's press conference.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say they get more than 40,000 domestic violence calls a year - or 25 a day. The area has plenty of legal and social services for victims, but they can be hard to navigate - especially after the trauma of abuse. On Wednesday, local officials called for bringing all those services under one roof.

The first "family justice center" in the U.S. was established by public safety officials in San Diego in 2002. There are now about 120 nationwide, including several in North Carolina.

CMPD Sgt Craig Varnum
Credit CMPD
CMPD Sgt. Craig Varnum

CMPD Sgt. Craig Varnum said a Charlotte center would give victims one place to turn.

“And in that one place are co-located police officers, advocates, medical professionals, counselors for both child and adult victims, elder abuse specialists,” Varnum said at a press conference at CMPD headquarters.

Varnum said the current system makes it hard for victims, who have to navigate a maze of public buildings and private offices for court orders, counseling and other help.

Mecklenburg District Attorney Spencer Merriweather said the problem requires more attention.

“Domestic violence is indeed an epidemic. And what that means is that our community's sick. We are suffering from something. In terms of domestic violence, we are a community that needs treatment,” Merriweather said.

Merriweather said he has appointed a special team of prosecutors trained in handling cases of violence against domestic partners and children. His goal is more prosecutions and more convictions, and ultimately to reduce family violence overall.

CMPD's Varnum said about one-quarter of local homicides this year have been related to domestic violence. He said some of those could be prevented if the system responded better to victims' needs.

Karen Parker, CEO of Safe Alliance
Credit Safe Alliance
Karen Parker, CEO of Safe Alliance

Organizers are putting together a steering committee to help plan the center. A half-dozen agencies are involved, including Safe Alliance, which provides services to victims of sexual assault and domestic and child violence. CEO Karen Parker said a single center could keep more victims in the system.

“A lot of victims do, maybe, reach out for help one time and then they get in the system and they get frustrated because they're not able to get what they need. So they may return to the perpetrator, and the violence continues,” Parker said.

CMPD, the D.A. and victims' advocates including Safe Alliance are trying to determine what it would take to open a family justice center here.

“We're going to have to have a building, probably a renovated building, where we can put everyone together. And it's going to need to be in the area of the courts, near the police department,” Parker said.

They won’t have to create any new services, she said.  “If we can get everyone in the building, these agencies already exist, and we're already providing the services.”

Organizers aren't sure how much the effort will cost, but hope it can be up and running within three years.