By Bill Parry
A steep rise in domestic violence across the five boroughs, and its effect on the city’s homeless crisis, prompted an oversight hearing Monday by the City Council’s Committee on Courts & Legal Services chaired by Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest).
The hearing examined the effectiveness of New York’s Criminal Domestic Violence Courts and Integrated Domestic Violence Courts, courts which operate in each of the five boroughs.
According to the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, in 2016 the NYPD responded to 91,600 intimate partner-related domestic violence calls, an increase of 22.6 percent from the previous year. Domestic violence has become the leading cause of homelessness in the city, now responsible for 30 percent of homeless families with children.
“Every act of domestic violence ripples out to affect our city — it leads to homelessness, health problems and hospital visits, police interventions, lost jobs or missed time, not to mention its effect on children’s wellbeing and education,” Lancman said. “How our city manages the legal proceedings associated with domestic violence cases plays a major role in determining the services victims receive and how we are able to hold perpetrators accountable. For the better part of two decades now, New York’s court system has been on the forefront of the movement to provide specialty courts to handle domestic violence cases. It is our responsibility to ensure the operations on DV and IDV courts, and the services they provide, are excellent no matter what the charge or court families end up in.”
DV Courts handle cases involving domestic violence incidents between intimate partners and family members and are staffed with personnel — a dedicated judge, victims advocates and resource coordinators — who are specifically trained to handle domestic violence cases.
IDV Courts were implemented to better coordinate and manage the many different aspects that often arise in domestic violence cases. IDV Courts utilize a “one family, one judge” model, where a single judge presides over multiple cases involving the same family, including criminal, civil, custody, visitation, and matrimonial matters.
“IDV Courts could be a perfect incubator for the types of policy changes that would actually make families stronger,” said Jaime Burke, supervising attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services. “There needs to be a more holistic approach when dealing with family members involved with domestic violence cases.”
The committee heard testimony from the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, legal services providers and victims advocates, all of whom offered their insight into the operations and effectiveness of New York’s Domestic Violence Courts. Their testimony made clear that additional services are needed in both DV and IDV courts, especially in the most serious felony cases, and that the focus on domestic violence courts should be on problem solving — which is similar to other specialty courts across the city.
“I am hopeful to see the Council Member committed to trauma informed reform,” domestic violence survivor and advocate Kathleen Daniel said. “The committee highlighted the need for additional services for families in the IDV system, and I would like to see services expand the reach of IDV, specifically mandated mediation for families at the end of the legal process, to ensure co-parenting and the best interests of children are the priority.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr