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|Jones sets sights on domestic violence|
The newly formed Ouachita Parish domestic violence response unit currently is tackling numerous cases, and officials are encouraged the unit's efforts will help lower incidents of domestic violence crimes.
The unit was formed in November after the U.S. Department of Justice awarded the Family Justice Center almost $400,000 to deal with domestic violence in Ouachita. Work is underway to deter domestic violence, too.
The Family Justice Center, located at 620 Riverside Dr. in Monroe, is a one-stop service center for free, confidential services for individuals dealing with domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.
Partners involved in the new domestic violence response unit include the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office, Monroe and West Monroe police departments, Fourth Judicial District Attorney's office and the Family Justice Center of Ouachita Parish.
District Attorney Jerry Jones said the unit, which is the first of its kind in the country, has the potential to reduce domestic violence cases in Ouachita Parish.
"The purpose of this unit is to punish those who violate the law and abuse their spouses, but the reduction of domestic violence is the ultimate goal," Jones said. "Unchecked domestic violence leads to the hospital or the graveyard; there's no in-between."
He said "swift, sure punishment" for individuals convicted of domestic violence crimes will serve as a driving force in reducing domestic violence in the parish.
"The No. 1 state in the nation for domestic violence is Louisiana; the No. 1 parish in the state is Ouachita," Jones said. "Don't let those numbers deceive you because in Ouachita, that simply means domestic violence is reported as domestic violence. It's not reported as disturbing the peace … When police arrive at the scene in Ouachita Parish and there is evidence of domestic violence, an arrest is made or a request for warrants is submitted."
Last year, the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office alone handled 400 cases of domestic violence.
Currently, there are five full-time staff members involved in the new domestic violence unit. They are unit supervisor Renee Smith, West Monroe Police detective Jennifer Smith, Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Cpl. Darrell Johns and Monroe Police detectives Jeff Dowdy and Mark Huggins.
One attorney from the Fourth Judicial District Attorney's office is assigned full-time to help handle domestic violence cases; Jones has plans to hire another attorney to handle nothing but domestic violence cases, too.
"We hit the ground running, and we've been running ever since," said Smith, the unit supervisor. "There was an enormous backlog of cases and has been for some time now. We've been understaffed now for some time to do follow-up investigations concerning domestic violence complaints. So we've had plenty of work from the moment we started."
Jones said the domestic violence unit is modeled after the Metro Narcotics Unit in that it's a multi-agency task force, serving all jurisdictions in the parish.
"Renee (Smith) has assigned very qualified people from each agency to do domestic violence follow-ups," Jones said. "What I plan to do with these attorneys is make sure Renee has appropriate representation to handle the follow-ups that she will be doing. Follow-ups include trials and hearings where we will seek greater and more restrictive probation and bond releases. We will seek monitoring devices to be used by anyone granted bond."
Ankle bracelets worn by domestic violence defendants will allow the response unit to track the whereabouts of defendants at any point in time, Jones said.
"This is for the victim's safety, which is the most important thing that this unit can address," he said.
Defendants in domestic violence cases will be closely monitored by being required to wear ankle bracelets that will notify the domestic violence unit of a defendant's whereabouts at all times. Defendants will be allowed to go about their daily business, but they will have areas that are off limits. Anytime they venture into those areas, the ankle bracelet will notify the response unit, Smith said.
Defendants will be required to wear the ankle bracelets until their case is terminated, Jones said. Judges will determine if defendants should wear the monitoring device during their probationary period. This only applies to defendants convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence charges, Jones said. Defendants convicted of felony charges will be handed over to the state to be incarcerated.
Jones explained that penalties for domestic violence were patterned after penalties for Driving While Intoxicated, meaning the punishment for committing domestic violence crimes becomes more severe for each conviction.
In 2003, Jones played a significant role in convincing the Legislature to pass a law aimed at leveling stiff penalties for defendants convicted of domestic violence crimes.