Published: December, 2010| Julie Christianson, Edited by Stephanie Avalon

Since 2001, Grand Forks, North Dakota, a small city of about 51,000 in a county whose total population is about 66,000, has linked several community agencies via technology to track the criminal and civil justice response to domestic violence. Since 2009, sexual assault cases have been tracked as well.

Law enforcement reports and corresponding court data have been collected and entered into the Domestic Abuse Information Network (DAIN) database. Coordinated Community Response (CCR) Project staff at the Community Violence Intervention Center ( CVIC ), the local independent advocacy agency, identify trends through reading law enforcement reports, observing court hearings and generating semi-annual statistical reports. These trends and reports are then used to identify gaps, training topics and areas to improve policies and protocols, as well as to measure the success of CCR efforts to close gaps, enhance victim safety and increase offender accountability.

About 1,000 reports are collected every year from the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department, the Grand Forks Police Department, the University of North Dakota (UND) Police Department and the Northwood Police Department. View the Domestic Violence Investigation Form . In addition, the Grand Forks County States Attorney’s Office supplies CCR staff with printouts of caseloads to ensure that domestic and sexual assault cases are identified. Court case information is collected from the public access website, and CCR staff observes criminal hearings to collect qualitative data. Click here to view DAIN Face Sheet . Civil data are protection orders and disorderly conduct restraining orders with basic information provided by advocates. While police reports and prosecution files contain some victim data, confidential information about victims obtained through contact with advocates is, of course, not entered into DAIN.

Safety Assessment Informs CCR

Building and maintaining relationships and collaboration are at the heart of collecting the data that informs and enhances the coordinated community response to domestic and sexual violence in the city and county of Grand Forks. Between 1998 and 2001, 11 agencies participated in a safety assessment ( Safety and Accountability Audit ), taking a comprehensive look at how the system (and each individual agency) addressed safety and accountability needs while responding to domestic violence cases. During the assessment, agency partners gained an understanding and appreciation of each other’s roles, parameters, limitations and capacities. Since partners felt understood and built individual relationships with assessment team members, agencies developed the trust needed to share law enforcement and prosecutorial information with CCR staff. Through the safety assessment, CCR partners also learned that they shared the common goals of enhancing victim safety and increasing offender accountability. A memorandum of understanding was formed with agreements on how the agencies would work together.

Trust continues to build through several ongoing committees, in which CCR partners discuss trends, problems and successes, and brainstorm ways to improve how their system responds to domestic violence and sexual assault – with data being a keystone in understanding and measuring the system’s response. Law enforcement officers, prosecutor, advocates, SANE nurses and others not only attend these meetings, but look forward to the opportunity to address issues to improve the system’s response to domestic violence and sexual assault, and in the process, to make their jobs easier.

“Sharing of data has paid dividends,” according to Major Robert Rost of the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department. “We now know what is going on in a multi-agency level in our community in regard to domestic violence and sexual assault. The data reports highlight problem areas so that we can take a harder look at what is going on, problem solve and come up with a better response.”

This sentiment is echoed by Chief John Packett, GFPD, who says that an important aspect to data collection in North Dakota, which does not have a specific crime of domestic violence is the “ability to specifically identify actual domestic violence incidents.” In the early years of the CCR Project, he says the data “highlighted bald spots that were not observed without the data. The forms used to collect data are also used as triggers in documenting domestic cases. This process has shown an improved response to strangulation cases.”

Tracking Trends

Collecting data enables the CCR to quantify the system’s response to domestic violence and sexual assault. Data is also used to check perceptions – for example, is there an actual trend of more females being arrested, or is it just a momentary increase that evens out to the same arrest rate over time? It also provides data to debunk myths – for example, alcohol is involved in about 50% of domestic cases, not the majority of cases, as is sometimes the perception. View the Rate of Alcohol Involvement by Offense Chart .

Tracking trends is useful not only for checking perceptions, identifying topics for training or looking at areas to consider for policy/protocol changes, but most importantly, for measuring successes. According to CVIC's newsletter , the Grand Forks community has seen the arrest rate for protection order violations rise, and the number of defendants sentenced and ordered to batterer intervention nearly double.

While turf issues can be difficult to overcome, according to UND PD Chief Duane Czapiewski, “a community needs leaders that can talk with various groups, become a moderator and help agencies think through the process and resolve issues.” Grand Forks Police Chief John Packett says, “Don’t be afraid of the data, it doesn’t do anyone any good if it is not shared and utilized.” And Peter Welte, Grand Forks County States Attorney, urges people to “get on board. Don’t shut yourself out—learn about it and be part of the solution. If the data serves to educate one person on domestic violence, it is money well spent.”

What CCR Members Really Think About Collaboration: In Their Own Words

Law Enforcement

“For years, law enforcement has carried the burden of feeling like the only ones responsible for fixing the community. We are now much more effective in working together with outside agencies. It’s human nature to either find fault with or make fun of those things we don’t understand. So get to know the other agencies – it will make each other’s work more effective in helping victims and holding offenders accountable.“ (Chris Smith, Investigator, Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department)

Advocacy

“It is important for advocates to develop relationships with partners in their community’s coordinated community response in order to keep in mind that we all have the same goals of keeping victims safe and holding offenders accountable, even though the way in which we achieve those goals may differ. Advocates can do this by educating partners about their role, sharing their expertise of victim dynamics and experiences with the criminal justice system, and also doing what they can to understand their community partners’ roles and perspectives. One way to do this is going on a ride-a-long with law enforcement, which can help to build a working relationship as well as to provide the advocate an opportunity to experience firsthand the difficult decisions officers sometimes have to make. Another way is simply to get involved: join committees, attend meetings and trainings, and be supportive of the process. It takes time, but it is so amazing to be a part of the collaboration and to see the change that can happen by working together.” (Christy Bushy, Pathways Toward Justice Program Coordinator, Community Violence Intervention Center)

Prosecution

“Being able to collaborate with a multi-disciplinary team is an invaluable component to successful prosecution of domestic violence offenders. Not only does it allow prosecutors to better hold offenders accountable, but it also provides them with a support team to reach out to when dealing with these very difficult and complex cases.” (Meredith Larson, Assistant States Attorney, Grand Forks County States Attorney’s Office)