In 2017, SafeHaven was awarded a grant from the Texas Council on Family Violence to create a domestic violence high risk team (DVHRT) with the responsibility of reducing and ultimately diminishing intimate partner homicides in Tarrant County. Mary Beth Kopsovich, who was just promoted to SafeHaven’s Vice President of Nonresidential Services, was charged with the startup of the team and leading it to its goals. She took time to explain the evolution of the high risk team and its goals.
Last year SafeHaven received a grant from TCFV to start a domestic violence high risk team in Tarrant County. The purpose of applying for the grant is that in 2016 we had 16 intimate partner homicides in Tarrant County, which was the second highest in the state of Texas, and that’s nothing to brag about. Our community was ripe for the picking.
TCFV originally awarded six organizations within the state of Texas to fund a high risk team and SafeHaven is one of the six. We are leading Texas in championing DVHRT. The goal was to start small and dream big. We started small and have grown so much. We meet monthly and there are 10 or so members who sit on the team. We get a lot of referrals from Arlington PD and we are tweaking our referral form so that we can take referrals from any law enforcement entity in Tarrant County. We also take referrals from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office from repeat victims.
The DVHRT has three goals:
- Increase Survivor Safety
- Increase Survivor’s Participation in the Criminal Justice System (we want them to prosecute offenders)
- Increase Offender’s Accountability
Even historically, we provide services to survivors, and yes we provide PAIP (Partner Abuse Intervention Program), but who in this community is holding the offender accountable? What’s happening to him? That’s why we’ve made offender accountability one of our goals is because otherwise this cycle continues to repeat itself.
We shouldn’t have to encourage a survivor to go into shelter. That shouldn’t be the option. It's not ideal to have to uproot your family, especially if you have children, to go into hiding in a communal living environment with strangers. We understand shelter is necessary in certain situations, but it’s not your home. That’s the purpose of increasing the offender’s accountability. In one of our recent success stories with a survivor, her offender had to wear a GPS tracking device as part of his bond conditions. Good – if he cuts that off or goes where he’s not supposed to, probation gets flagged. She also has a five-year protective order and was able to relocate to a safe area outside of DFW where she’s close to family and friends. That’s what holding an offender accountable looks like.
My favorite victory from the DVHRT is just getting this team up and running and knowing that our community at large is receptive to this type of work, and knowing that SafeHaven is not alone. It’s cliché to say that it takes a village, but it really does. We say our mission is to end domestic violence and we cannot do that alone. We have to rely on our community partners. Yes, we can provide services to the survivors and offenders, but very few offenders voluntarily go into prevention services. I would say 97 percent are court mandated. Knowing that we are now at a place where we are moving the needle in our community is incredible, and thankfully we have a great relationship with our District Attorney’s Office.
In 2016 there were 16 intimate partner homicides in Tarrant County. I think in 2017 there were 14. I don't know how many there have been so far in 2018 – I haven’t heard of any. So something is working, and if we keep lowering that number, obviously we want zero, but if we have one less homicide in our county this year then we have done our job.
Tarrant County DVHRT Members:
SafeHaven’s Director of Crisis & Outreach Services
SafeHaven’s High Risk Team Case Manager
SafeHaven’s Director of Reformative Services
Tarrant County DA’s Felony IPV Unit Prosecutor
Tarrant County DA’s Victim Assistance Director
JPS Health Network’s Violence and Injury Prevention Manager
Probation Department Representative
Parole Department Representative
UTA Research Professor
Representative from the Office of the Tarrant County Medical Examiner