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N.O.’s ‘Blueprint for Safety’ celebrates first year

26th October 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Tatyana Aubert
Contributing Writer

The fight to end domestic violence in New Orleans continues. Just last year, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced the launch of the Blueprint for Safety project, a framework of policies that different city agencies within the criminal justice system must implement to improve the city’s response to domestic violence. New Orleans ranks fourth in the nation for the highest rate of women killed by men in domestic disputes. On Oct. 21, 2015, the city marked the one-year anniversary of the launch of this project at the University Medical Center downtown. The project is funded by a $400,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.

“We leave pieces of our heart in New Orleans. A lot of that is because of the tremendous kind of coming together that you as a community have done,” said Bea Hanson of the importance of the collaborative project. Hanson is the principal deputy director for the U.S. Justice Department’s office on Violence Against Women and came from Washington, D.C. for the event.

“The Blueprint for Safety is a coordinated approach that allows us to truly assess all the risks and determine the best way to protect the victims,” said Charlotte Parent, director of the New Orleans Health Department. “Over the past year, we have brought together a diverse coalition of criminal justice agencies and advocates to take a unified stand against domestic violence,” Parent said.

New Orleans law enforcement officials and advocates outlined a plan to end domestic violence by addressing the backlog and dismissal of cases in the system. A panel that included Michael Harrison, the superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Orleans Parish Family Court Judge Bernadette D’Souza, and domestic violence victim’s advocates presented a united front on the city’s commitment to addressing the issue. Harrison explained the procedures on responding to domestic violence cases needed to be streamlined. Victims should be given due process from the moment the victim placed a 911 call to an operator, to the response from the officers, the documentation by officers at the scene and the follow up with law enforcement and the justice system. Harrison said the criminal and justice system needed to continue to implement the new measures that ensured victims were protected under the law.

The fact that both law enforcement and the courts are playing a role to improve the city’s handling of domestic violence and assault cases in the past is a sign of transparency along the criminal justice system, said Mayor Landrieu. The goal of the project was to ensure that along the system, there was enhanced communication and interpretation of procedures that would prevent the mishandling of cases, or even the death of victims from unpro-cessed cases or applications for restraint orders, Harrison added.

Victims have often fallen through the cracks in the city because the issue wasn’t treated with importance in the criminal justice system, Dr. Tania Tetlow, the director for Tulane University’s Law School’s domestic violence clinic said at the event. The clinic’s law school students assist victims in trying to get their cases processed. Victims’ advocates say that domestic violence cases usually received little to no follow-through in the past and that officials did not bring charges against perpetrators in a timely fashion. Advocates say they hope that the Blueprint project would begin to change the culture in the city about the consequences of overlooking such cases. Already, advocates say the project is improving the implementation of law enforcement protocols, communication throughout the system, and cooperation between the police and the courts.

“I believe the Blueprint for Safety is extremely effective and brings focus to the policies and procedures that must be implemented for the safety of domestic violence victims,” said Mary Claire Landry, the director of New Orleans Family Justice Center.

This article originally published in the October 26, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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