Domestic Violence Emergency Response Team (DVERT) observes 20th anniversary

November 2015

On the night of November 1, 1995, the first DVS DVERT team answered a domestic violence 911 call with the Santa Barbara Police Department. The coordinated response was the culmination of many months of work to develop protocols, obtain funding, and train law enforcement and DVS client advocates in procedures for ensuring safety and then offering assistance to victims of domestic violence.

The goal was to reduce domestic violence by reaching a new population of women: those who - themselves or their neighbors - called the police, rather than calling the shelter.

Research showed that the majority of battered women had no contact with domestic violence organizations, either because they were not aware of the services available, or because they were not ready to leave the relationship. The DVERT program was designed to reduce calls to the same address by providing crisis intervention, information, support, and referrals to stop the escalating cycle of violence.

"It used to be almost a route we followed on Friday and Saturday nights," says Sgt. Clyde George, of the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department. "We'd return to the same houses every weekend."

"But when we started bringing advocates to the domestic violence scene, the women started learning about their options. They started thinking about the children's welfare. They realized that maybe their situation wasn't so normal and that there was something they could do about it."

For the last 20 years, the program has worked to provide on-site assistance to couples and children who have experienced domestic violence.

The program was originally funded by a grant from the California Department of Health Services, which was supplemented by grants from the Santa Barbara Foundation, the United Way, and two Community-Oriented Policing (COPs) grants from the federal government. The Junior League also helped with a media campaign to generate public awareness and support.

Although the program initially operated within Santa Barbara City limits with the Santa Barbara Police Department, on October 1, 1996, it was expanded to include the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department and the Santa Maria Police Department.

In 1998, DVS' Lompoc staff also began responding to 911 calls with the Lompoc Police Department. Finally, in 2002, all law enforcement agencies in the County published written protocols to their officers with a "shall call" policy. This mandate from top law enforcement officials showed a deep commitment to working in partnership with DVS.

According to Sgt. George, it wasn't an easy sell.

"The advocates didn't trust the cops, and the cops didn't trust the advocates," Sgt. George says.

"Cops are trained to be independent actors. We come into dangerous situations prepared to take life or liberty and, prior to DVERT, we aren't trained to be sensitive to victims.

"In a DV situation, you've typically got a woman who's just been beaten by a domineering male, and here comes another one, this time wearing a badge and a gun. She might not be inclined to talk to you."

Although victims are not required to talk to peace officers, and the district attorney's office doesn't need a victim's cooperation to prosecute a DV perpetrator, a cooperative victim/witness can obviously help the prosecution's case.

So George, who is a Peace Officer Standards Training consultant in domestic violence to the State of California, started telling his officers, "Look, you don't have to use the advocates, but you might learn something if you do."

Similarly, he told the client advocates, "You don't have to share the information you receive from victims (indeed, confidentiality law forbids them to), but if you learn something, you can encourage the victim to share it with law enforcement."

Over the years, both peace officers and client advocates have learned to value each other.

"Advocates are part of the team on domestic violence incidents now," says George, "just like the paramedics are part of the team when there are physical injuries. It's a relief to turn the victim over to the care of the advocates and know they will receive services."

He says that law enforcement also has been trained to understand the escalating cycle of violence and, therefore, to prosecute stalking and criminal threats, to document any family disturbance, and to follow up by interviewing neighbors, children, and other witnesses.

DVS, too, greatly appreciates being "part of the team."

"We get calls we wouldn't get, if it weren't for the DVERT program," says DVS executive director. "Most importantly, we often have the opportunity to intervene early, before there's serious physical injury or even an arrest, and educate people regarding the nature of the problem. We can inform people about the resources available to them. Our goal is to prevent women and children from ever needing the shelter."

By all accounts, the program is working to reach couples who may never have heard of Domestic Violence Solutions, and to get them the help they need before they need shelter. In the first year, DVS responded to 717 calls; last year, to 1,376 calls.

"DVERT has vastly helped law enforcement," George confirms. "It's a team effort, and it's working."

Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez agrees. "Victims have been impelled to seek and utilize social services more promptly. Once victims begin utilizing social services, the cycle of violence is usually broken."

Partners against crime

The DVERT includes the following agencies, working in partnership: