It takes strength to break the cycle of domestic violence — the circle of threats and violence, apologies and broken promises — but that effort doesn’t have to be something victims shoulder alone. More and more, authorities in Camden County and elsewhere are providing strength in numbers through a changing criminal justice system.
In the last couple of years, Lake-area prosecutors have received grants that fund victim advocates within their offices who help crime victims, including those of domestic violence, through the judicial process.
But now, the Camden County Sheriff’s Department has added another key support element for these special victims — creating a new position for a domestic violence and sexual assault investigator.
Funded through a two-year Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grant that pays 75 percent of costs, this position works with any domestic violence and sex assault victim over the age of 13 to help them through the investigative process.
These investigations, and generally the time before charges are filed, can take some time, says CCSD Captain Chris Twitchel, often much longer than what people think. During this time, many victims back out of the process, worried about the host of issues that can come with a charge against a person the victim is living with.
It is a crucial time for intervention, an opportunity to break the cycle of violence that is among the most dangerous types of situations for the potential victims and the police. This window of time can also be an extremely dangerous period due to potential fallout from the original incident and call to police.
Detective Shawn Kobel, an eight-year veteran of the department, was selected for this new position for his attention to detail and ability to juggle cases after joining the investigative unit last fall.
Spending most of his career in law enforcement so far in patrol, he was frustrated by not being able to spend as much time on cases as he would have liked, simply due to the call load. After a patrol deputy responds to a call it is not uncommon for them not to see the people involved again until court.
Reviewing cases every morning, Kobel selects cases to work on, focusing mainly on the victim but also working with all parties as needed. He works with victims to help them become survivors, making sure they understand the resources available and help them get the support they need whether it is from the CADV shelter or Pathways — services many people may not even know are here.
Building collaborations with the people at these local resources is key to connecting victims to resources. Circumstances are often exacerbated by other issues the victim may have.
Just weeks into the grant, Kobel says he feels like there are six or seven true clients served — victims he feels like he has been able to build a rapport with and help change their circumstances.
“They may talk to a deputy on scene, but they may not know the deputy and don’t feel like they can call them. It’s a scary process, not knowing what’s next,” says Kobel. “Dialogue is the biggest thing. That’s half the battle.”
Half of what Kobel does, he says, is selling victims on what he can do for them, convincing them to trust him and the system after their trust has often been broken by their own loved ones.
The need to do something more is strong in Camden County. Every day now someone is reporting violence within their relationships.
During the campaign for office in 2016 and after taking over as sheriff in 2017, Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms and his staff sought out opinions from the community about what they saw as the biggest issues in law enforcement locally. Not surprisingly, drugs and thefts or burglaries were among the most mentioned, according to Twitchel, but there were also many who were concerned about domestic violence and sexual assault. Looking for ways to address these concerns, they found the VAWA grant, administered through the Office on Violence Against Women operating under the umbrella of the Department of Justice.
What the community perceived is reflected in actual numbers. Camden County received the grant because of real need, evidenced by incidents reported to police. The area has seen a large spike in reports of domestic violence in the last few years, seeing as much or more than most of the areas of Missouri, according to Twitchel.
Annual reports of domestic violence from Camden County law enforcement to the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Missouri Uniform Crime Reporting Program increased by nearly 33 percent from 2015 to 2017. There were 503 domestic violence incidences reported in 2017 in Camden County. Through the first two months of 2018, the county saw 41 reports.
In this day and age, domestic violence covers a variety of relationships — incidents between spouses, former spouses, people who have a child in common, any persons related by blood, any persons related by marriage excluding spouses, persons not married but living together, persons not married who live together in the past and persons with a continuing social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.
Twitchel attributes the rising problem to a larger societal issues — drugs and the breakdown of the family unit. Just as illicit drugs have a spidering effect that often sets the stage for other crimes, domestic violence also branches out, impacting others and spreading violence and crime. Indeed, the webs of drugs and alcohol and domestic violence often tangle together.
According to Twitchel, the majority of domestic violence cases have a background in alcohol or drugs.
This special investigator not only helps the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, but also helps alleviate the caseload for the rest of the investigative unit, freeing them up to focus on other crimes such as burglaries and drugs.
While the grant is only for two years, Twitchel believes given Camden County’s numbers that they have a good chance of having the grant reissued in the future and at possibly getting another grant for a second such investigator. The sheriff’s office would have applied for grant funding for two domestic violence investigators, but the program only allows departments to apply for one in the first application.
Story by Amy Wilson | Lake Sun