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Committee hears value of domestic violence court

UW-River Falls students and professors pose for a picture with Pierce County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Boles after the students gave a presentation Nov. 27 on the need for a domestic violence court in Pierce County. From left to right are: Professor Steve DeWald, Professor Juliet Tomkins, Rebecca Bauer, Emilee Lauwagie, Judge Boles, Taylor Rohrscheib and Joshua Henning. (Submitted photo)

The Pierce County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council heard reasons favoring a domestic violence court in Pierce County Nov. 27.

The presentation was put on by UW-River Falls students Emilee Lauwagie, Joshua Henning, Rebecca Bauer and Taylor Rohrscheib. The project was part of a class taught by professor Juliet Tomkins dealing with business, marketing and feasibility plans for agricultural students pursuing a degree.

“They had no knowledge of domestic violence prior to this,” said Kim Wojcik, executive director of Turning Point, one of the advisors to the group.

“The principle consensus across the board from the research and resources indicate that the problem is dealing with repeat offenders,” the students wrote in their summary. “These repeat offenders are what escalate the cost of domestic violence because of reoccurring incidents.”

The students added, based upon their research, several counties across the United States have set up domestic violence court to address the issue; for example, Stearns County, Minn., targets repeat offenders, while Ada County, Ida., zeroes in on stopping domestic violence immediately.

During their presentation, a focus was on dollars and cents with some surprising numbers.

An estimated cost to victims in Pierce County per domestic incident in 2013 ranged from a minimum of $13,845 to a maximum of $15,495. Furthermore, if the victim was unable to pay an emergency room visit ($4,000 per Allina Health River Falls) or an overnight stay at hospital ($6,000 per Allina Health River Falls), the bill then falls to Pierce County.

The students then discussed the cost law enforcement incurs for domestic violence calls. Based on contact with the Spring Valley, River Falls police and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, the three police units spent around $50,000 on domestic violence incidents in 2012. Their next chart showed those three units spending between $30,000-$35,000 on repeated calls.

In their summary, Sheriff Nancy Hove told the students, there’s a certain amount of anger law enforcement has pertaining to this issue.

“We get frustrated when responding to the same household for the same problem multiple times because officers feel all the time and effort to investigate the crime and officer safety to the victim is for nothing when our district attorney makes a plea deal at court or the victim later recants what happened,” she said.

The students concluded starting a domestic violence court system would be beneficial for both the victim and the courts. In addition, they believe the following guidelines would make the court system even stronger: Enforcing a no contact rule between the victim and offender; having the district attorney file the case as is done in Idaho; a probation officer assigned to each offender to enforce the court orders and harsher punishments for repeat offenders.

“There are other added costs to the county that are not mentioned,” the students wrote, “but the costs that the victim and county experience outweigh any additional cost increase.”

Coordinating Council Chairperson and Circuit Court Judge Joseph Boles commended the students for their report and told them the committee would discuss the matter further in its next meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 18.

It is the second semester students from Tomkins’ class pursued a criminal subject. Spring semester, it was the need for a juvenile outpatient treatment program, which is still in the developmental stage.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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