"Suddenly, instead of being faced with one overworked officer answering dozens of other calls, abusers were faced with specially trained detectives linked via phone and e-mail to counselors and the prosecutor's office."
"The vast majority of the homeless women and children in this country are homeless because they are fleeing an abusive relationship."
"The greatest risk for these victims is after they do leave the relationship...That's why it is so important for the community to step up."
Mike McCarty '90
Related Articles in this Issue
Law & Order in America:
Breaking the Cycle
Growing up the son of a state police officer in tiny Waveland, Indiana, Mike McCarty '90 was accustomed to knocks at the door from people in need. But the desperate situation faced by a teenage girl who fled to the McCartys' from her own home to escape sexual assault is burned into his memory.
"She came to stay at our house for temporary shelter," he remembers. "So I grew up aware of the problems caused by domestic violence, and my parents were doing all they could to stop it in a system where their hands were tied."
Fast-forward to 1993 and McCarty is a rookie detective in Nashville, Tennessee under the command of Sergeant Mark Wynn. A dedicated proponent of domestic violence prevention who had grown up in an abusive home, Wynn believed Nashville's startling number of domestic-violence homicides (30% of the murders in the city) was totally preventable. It didn't take many months on the job for McCarty to realize that his supervisor was right.
"Domestic violence is a cyclical crime that snowballs," McCarty explains. "It starts with verbal degrading that allows the abuser to gain power and control; then it escalates into violence to maintain that power and control." McCarty cites a review of domestic-violence homicides in Kansas City, Missouri which found that police had been called to the victim's house an average of at least five times before a homicide. In San Diego, police had been called at least eight times before a murder.
"In Nashville we said: 'we can prevent these homicidesjust give us the people to do it.'"
McCarty became a detective in the Nashville Metro Police Domestic Violence Unitone component of a federally funded collaboration against domestic violence that has been labeled a national model by President Clinton and the U.S. Department of Justice. The Nashville domestic violence team includes 33 police investigators, three specially trained counselors, three specially trained prosecutors, two specially trained judges, probation/parole officers, shelter professionals, legal advocates, battering program administrators, and health-care professionals.
Suddenly, instead of being faced with one overworked officer answering dozens of other calls, abusers were faced with specially trained detectives linked via phone and e-mail to counselors and the prosecutor's office. And these detectives were willing to build the case against the abuser with or without the victim's statement. It was a sea change in domestic-violence prosecution, which had traditionally put a terrible burden on the victim. "We used to step into that situation and say, 'Why don't you leave, why don't you prosecute?" McCarty says. "That put the pressure on the victim and scared her to death." But Nashville police now put the pressure on the abuser by building the case against him with other evidence regardless of what the victim says. By staying in touch with the shelter, counselor, prosecutor, and probation officer at weekly meetings and daily via phone and e-mail, they ensure that pressure stays on the abuser while the family is counseled and kept safe.
"The greatest risk for these victims is after they do leave the relationship," McCarty says. "That's why it's so important for the community to step up."
In Nashville, the community did just that. In 1994, the year after the city's domestic violence collaboration began, domestic violence murder rates dropped by 50%. Local and national press called effort "a perfect example of a coordinated effort by government and concerned citizens to tackle an issue."
But this collaborative model is not in place in Indiana. So when a position opened up at the Indiana Police Training Academy for an instructor, McCarty returned to his home state to share the approach and techniques he had learned on the job in Nashville. This year, McCarty has stepped out on his own, conducting workshops throughout the state while continuing to teach domestic-violence and sexual-abuse investigation courses at the academy.
He's also hoping to dig to the deeper roots of the problem. He cites statistics showing that persons growing up in homes shattered by domestic violences are times as likely to commit are 74 times as likely to commit other crimes against persons. So arresting domestic violence breaks the tragic cycle of violence that too often turns today's abused children into tomorrow's criminals.
Through his firmBreak the CycleMcCarty is dedicated to freeing that link in the chain wherever he can. Earlier this year he began talks with Indianapolis-based Partners in Housing's Frank Hagaman '72 (see Wabash Magazine, Summer 1998). They'll be working together to fund and establish transitional housing for homeless women and their children who are victims of domestic violence and have already stayed the 45-day limit in traditional shelters.
"The vast majority of the homeless women and children in this country are homeless because they are fleeing an abusive relationship," McCarty says. "We're trying to fund a place where they could stay for a couple of years, receive child care, safety planning, job skills, and social services so that by the time they leave they're paying full rent, they're back on their feet, and they can move back into society.
"That's what it's all about," McCarty adds. "If you break the cycle with these children, you're going to reduce the number of criminals in your community. "Instead of placing a Band-Aid on the problem, you're actually solving it."