Special Reports

City, county want 1-stop domestic violence centers

Tacoma and Pierce County leaders want to work together to create a domestic violence center in downtown Tacoma where victims could go to see law enforcement officers, lawyers, victim advocates and court staff.

The center would provide a streamlined, one-stop spot for victims who may be too upset to navigate the sometimes-confusing legal system, said Tacoma City Councilman Rick Talbert. The plan also includes four smaller centers throughout the county.

Creators of the plan hope voters will approve a sales tax increase in November, which would raise money to pay for the center and other parts of the plan. Additional money for the plan also might come from the Pierce County and Tacoma budgets.

Talbert, fellow council member Connie Ladenburg and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg announced their joint plan on Thursday. The three have worked together, along with staff members and local domestic violence experts, since shortly after Tacoma Police Chief David Brame killed his wife and himself in April. Crystal Brame's allegations that her husband abused and controlled her prompted a new focus on domestic violence programs.

It's somewhat of a coincidence that the Ladenburgs, who are married, worked together on the plan. Members of the City Council picked Talbert and Connie Ladenburg to focus on domestic violence issues.

Talbert said the county and the city want to work together to share the costs of a beefed-up domestic violence system.

The group has not come up with an estimated cost for the plan, but John Ladenburg has said that the county and its cities need another $2 million per year to create an effective domestic violence system.

Voters in November will decide whether to increase the sales tax in Pierce County to pay for law enforcement, courts and jails. The Pierce County Council next month will decide how much of an increase to ask the voters for.

A County Council committee has set the increase at 0.2 percentage point, which would raise about $16.7 million per year throughout the county. But John Ladenburg and other leaders, including Sheriff Paul Pastor, had hoped the council would set the increase at 0.3 percentage point. The cash is needed for hiring police officers, deputies, court staff and corrections officers, they said.

The council will make a final decision next month.

Ladenburg said he might be able to put some parts of the plan in next year's county budget, which would be subject to approval by the Pierce County Council. He said he's not sure yet which parts those would be.

Many of the specifics of the plan also remain to be decided. The "Domestic Violence Center" could be located in vacant space in the County-City Building, or it could be in an independent location. It could be staffed by current city and county employees, or new ones could be hired.

However, the group has five key goals for improving services for domestic violence victims:

•The one-stop Domestic Violence Center.

•Four "Victim Service and Protection Centers" in Lakewood, Gig Harbor, the Puyallup area and one other location. At the centers, victims could apply for protection orders and learn about assistance programs and safe housing.

•Coordination of the city and county court systems. Now, city and county courts operate independently; John Ladenburg, a former county prosecutor, believes they should be linked so judges can treat perpetrators consistently and track them no matter where they commit crimes.

•A coordinated system for tracking domestic violence perpetrators after they get out of jail. Currently, the county has probation officers while the city has judges monitor perpetrators after release.

•A training program for all county and city employees who might encounter victims of domestic violence in their work.

The group created the five-point plan after working with domestic violence experts and talking to victims.

For example, Talbert said, he was impressed by the need for the four remote centers for victims when he realized that victims are afraid they'll run into neighbors or friends when they file for a protection order.

"Unfortunately there's still a stigma with domestic violence where the victims feel like they're to blame sometimes," he said. One woman he talked to, he said, was afraid to get a protection order because she didn't want her abusive husband to get in trouble with his employer, and because she "didn't want to admit that she was in some way a failure," he said.

"It just breaks your heart, because if you had your car stolen, or some other property crime, it wouldn't be a failure. You would just want justice."

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658