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Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard blamed the collapse of a $400,000 program with the Domestic Violence Action Center on the nonprofit group’s lack of communication with the department, not on inaction by the department.
“When we called them they didn’t say there were any problems,” Ballard told the Honolulu Police Commission at its Wednesday meeting about the 2016 program. Called Safe On Scene, the program offered advocates to meet HPD officers at domestic violence scenes to provide information about housing, legal help and counseling to victims.
The commission had asked Ballard to provide more information on why the program did not work after being notified that the nonprofit group was returning more than $400,000 in government grant money because of HPD’s lackluster participation.
But Ballard insisted that the department was not at fault and said that it was her understanding the program was canceled by the center because the group had a quota to meet with donors and that was not an HPD issue.
“DVAC kept saying they had to reach a certain number,” Ballard said.
DVAC advocate Mary Canta, who attended the commission meeting, told Civil Beat the center never had any quotas or numbers to meet to make the program work.
The decision to cancel was because the organization could not justify spending so much on salaries for people to go out at night if there was such an infrequent response from officers.
“There were no quotas,” she said.
The Safe On Scene program was designed to place the center’s advocates in front of victims as soon as officers responded to a domestic violence incident. Officers were to contact the advocates as they were responding to driving to a crime scene or after they arrived.
Two months ago, the DVAC’s chief executive Nanci Kreidman notified Ballard they would have to cancel the program because the nearly 30-year-old nonprofit was getting too few calls from HPD officers when they were on the scene.
In her letter to the chief, Kriedman said she would be returning more than $400,0000 in grant money earmarked for the program because of the lackluster participation. An advocate would continue to help victims involved in criminal cases but the group will no longer send people out in the field after the end of this year.
Ballard provided data to the commission that showed that 7,480 domestic violence calls came into the department between January and October of this year, at least 750 a month. Of those initial calls, 5,653 involved family arguments and only 1,827 resulted in criminal charges.
The chief told the commission that HPD officers have so much to do when they answer a call that they do not have time to wait around for an advocate.
She also said the reason officers would wait to call the center is because they were busy securing sometimes dangerous scenes and interviewing witnesses. And she said that by the time an officer leaves a scene, victims usually don’t want to talk to anyone else.
That was the reason DVAC didn’t get a lot of calls from officers. Ballard did not provide the commission with any numbers on how many times HPD contacted the group.
“They refuse services,” she said. “You don’t want officers hanging at your house.”
Commissioner Richard Grimm defended the chief and the department. “The thing that upsets me is an NGO is trying to run your department,” he said. “DVAC is not going to save lives.”
That prompted Commission Chair Loretta Sheehan to zero in on the chief’s explanation and provide some figures of her own based on information provided by DVAC. Despite more than 700 calls coming into HPD each month regarding domestic violence incidents, no more than 25 or 30 calls were made each month by HPD to the center, requesting an advocate.
“It would have been very easy to call and keep somebody on the perimeter,” Sheehan said. “I think there was generally an unwillingness to make the call.”
Sheehan also said that the program was a collaboration the department had agreed to through a contract. If there were problems implementing the agreement, they could have been worked out. She also said she was frustrated by what she described as a lack of investment by the police department.
“Nobody at HPD was tracking this program,” Sheehan said.
While no more DVAC advocates will be sent to the scene when the program ends in December, an advocate will continue to work for victims involved in felony HPD criminal cases that go to court.
“Maybe with this initial program they bit off more than they could chew,” Sheehan said after the meeting. “So let’s scale down the program to felonies.”
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