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Erie County's domestic violence high-risk team receives $900,000 in federal funding to continue, expand its mission to protect survivors


Wed, Oct 10th 2018 03:05 pm
Grant funding will be used to enhance Erie County's efforts to investigate incidents of domestic violence, protect victims and prosecute offenders
In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, Congressman Brian Higgins and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced Erie County received $900,000 in federal funding to expand its domestic violence high-risk team.
Flynn was also joined by Dennis Richards, chief of detectives for the Buffalo Police Department, Erie County Chiefs of Police President and East Aurora Police Department Chief Shane Krieger, Erie County Probation Commissioner Brian McLaughlin, Haven House Director Kim Kadziolka, Community Outreach for Haven House Lauren Gorlick, International Institute of Buffalo Executive Director Eva Hassett, and International Institute of Buffalo Director of Survivor Support Services Amy Fleischauser.
The federal funds, allocated through the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women's Improving Criminal Justice Responses (ICJR) program, will be provided to Erie County and the district attorney's BE SAFE (Buffalo and Erie County Stopping Abuse in the Family Environment) program to improve their coordinated community response to domestic violence in Erie County.
BE SAFE is a collaborative effort by the Erie County district attorney's office, Erie County Department of Probation, Buffalo Police Department, Child and Family Services' Haven House and the International Institution of Buffalo to reduce and respond to incidents of domestic violence in Erie County.
The funding will aid in the expansion of the Erie County domestic violence high-risk team (HRT), which focuses on reducing domestic violence homicides and near-fatal assaults in Erie County. Secondly, the grant aims to hold offenders accountable for their actions while increasing victim safety through investigation, arrest, prosecution and probation.
The Erie County DA's office is responsible for the prosecution of all domestic violence-related arrests in local and superior courts throughout the county. The grant will continue to fund the BE SAFE program, located within the DA's office, which aims to protect survivors while creating strong cases against offenders through investigation and prosecution.
Through the BE SAFE program, victim advocates are assigned to the criminal courts to provide support, resources and safety planning for survivors of domestic violence. The BE SAFE prosecutor is assigned to felony cases and other cases sent to Integrated Domestic Violence Court. The BE SAFE investigator will work to assist prosecutors and victim advocate by taking statements, aiding in the collection of evidence, providing transportation for the victim to court, and other important prosecution-related tasks. This team concept is said to ensure survivors of domestic violence receive all needed services, including legal advocacy, safety planning, and counseling while the offender is prosecuted.
In addition, the grant aims to strengthen victim services to the immigrant and refugee community in Erie County. The funding will allow for the creation of a high-risk team advocate who will assist in the ongoing efforts of the team, including the training of law enforcement and advocacy partners, fielding referrals, and connecting survivors to victim advocates. The high-risk team advocate will be located at the International Institute of Buffalo, the only provider in Erie County that specializes in assisting foreign-born survivors of domestic violence.
Flynn said, "I am committed to aggressively prosecuting these offenders, but I also want to ensure that the victims of domestic violence feel safe. Many victims, especially those in the immigrant community, are afraid to come forward about the abuses they have endured at the hands of a spouse or loved one.
"I want to thank the U.S. Department of Justice for providing us with this funding that will allow us to enhance our domestic violence high risk team, a collaboration of government agencies and victim service providers tasked with assisting the most vulnerable DV victims in Erie County. In addition, this grant will allow us to train prosecutors and our partners in law enforcement to ensure that offenders are held accountable for their actions."
Higgins said, "Everyone should know the comfort of feeling safe in their home; domestic violence takes that protection away from victims of abuse. Once again, Erie County is demonstrating leadership in addressing society's most life-threatening challenges through coordination with community partners. This federal award provides additional resources to support Erie County's team approach to domestic violence prevention."
Poloncarz said, "This grant will help to keep county residents safer from incidents of domestic violence and ensure that offenders are prosecuted. The high-risk team is an effective tool in the struggle against domestic violence, and expanding their efforts will be good for the entire community."
Specifically, the funding will be used to:
•Enlist the Buffalo Police Department to participate in the high-risk team, which currently comprises five smaller police agencies in Erie County.
•Continue funding the high-risk team coordinator position located at Child and Family Services' Haven House.
•Continue funding for a prosecutor and an investigator at the DA's office to investigate and prosecute those charged with domestic-related crimes.
•Continue funding for a probation officer who will maintain a specific caseload of domestic-violence offenders
•Create a high-risk team advocate position located at the International Institute of Buffalo to manage all high-risk cases sent to the HRT and to enhance victim services for the immigrant and refugee community.
•Continue to train police, prosecutors, probation officers and the judiciary on best practices to ensure offender accountability and victim safety in cases involving domestic violence, with an emphasis on immigrant victims.
The DA's office is part of a collaborative effort to streamline domestic services in Erie County. Anyone in need of immediate assistance can confidentially call the 24-hour domestic violence hotline response for Erie County at 716-862-HELP (4357). Also, BE SAFE victim advocates are available by phone between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays at 716-858-4630.

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