City's Domestic Violence Crisis Team Fails to Respond to a Lot of Domestic Violence Crises

The San Antonio Police Department team tasked with quickly responding to cases of domestic abuse has failed to do just that.

SAPD's so-called Crisis Response Team was created in 1996 to help victims of abuse get immediate assistance and protection. However, according to an internal audit presented to a council committee on Tuesday, the team failed to quickly respond to nearly 70 percent of 2015 cases reviewed in which people called 911 to report domestic violence.

Out of a random sampling of domestic violence reports, it took crisis response officers between two and 10 days to respond to 52 percent of calls. Sixteen percent of the calls were addressed more than 10 days after the initial report to police. 

"That pissed me off to hear," said Patricia Castillo, director of the PEACE initiative, an organization that advocates for victims of domestic violence. "By the time a victim calls the police, the abuse has already gotten out of control. They are finally opening the door to accept help. And no one is there."  

City Manager Eric Walsh presented the audit's results to Audit Committee council members Ron Nirenberg and Shirley Gonzales on Tuesday.

“The police department did not do a good job with following up in a timely manner, which eventually could lead to further calls to 911 or a lack of needed assistance,” Walsh said, according to the Express-News, which first reported on the audit. 

The audit illustrated a clear disconnect between SAPD and response team officers, whose job it is to record and report all cases of domestic violence to inform the department's investigations. The team has repeatedly failed to connect victims to urgent care, inform them of their rights, and maintain any kind of tracking system to follow up with victims at risk of repeat abuse, according to the audit.

“Untimely follow-up with a victim decreases the likelihood that the victim will utilize the services offered by CRT,” the report reads. It doesn't mention that delayed responses can also increase the likelihood of more abuse. 

"By the time they reach out, you could be could already have suffered five more beatings," Castillo said. 

Another sample of response team cases found that 84 percent of case files were missing a signed informed consent agreement from the victim. Not only does this leave SAPD defenseless in the face of a lawsuit, this could mean vulnerable victims may have never received that document in the first place.

Auditors also found that half of the 12 response team members had no record of ever completing mandatory training. While this may be a filing error, the audit explained there was no way to know if these team members had ever received crisis training.

Castillo said the audit's findings only confirmed stories she's heard from local victims of abuse. Many have told her their experience with the response team varies officer by officer. Sometimes, victims are paired with an officer who knows nothing about domestic abuse.

The problem, Castillo said, is that these officers are assigned to the response team instead of voluntarily offering to work there. (*Castillo says she's since learned that officers have to specifically apply to be in the crisis response team.)

But, she added: "When these officers do good work, they do good work. They have saved lives."

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told the Express-News that changes set into motion on October 1 should correct the gaping errors found in this audit. He said the audit’s results didn’t surprise him. 

“We learned exactly what we thought was happening: There were inconsistencies in reporting and there were inconsistencies in training,” McManus told the daily.

This audit comes after SAPD reported a 5 percent increase in domestic abuse cases from 2014 to 2015—a bump Chief William McManus contends only shows that more people are calling in to report abuse than before.

The audit outlining the response team’s failures comes after a series of chilling domestic abuse cases—most recently, the stabbing death of a woman who had been documented by SAPD as a chronic victim of violent abuse.

*Correction 10/27/16 @ 7:30am


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