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Letters to Authorities

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Three Legislative Recommendations, Violence Against Women, November, 2000

The Problem and Premise: There is an urgent need for legislation to put controls on District Attorney and Police response to rape, domestic violence, and child abuse, since all too often law enforcement officials abuse their immense discretionary powers in responding to these crimes by choosing to deny enforcement, deny protection, deny prosecution, and to deny victims' access to justice, even when all circumstances and evidence merit full law enforcement response.

Complete and aggressive District Attorney and Police response is pivotal to ending violence against women. A handful of communities around the country (San Diego, CA, Nashville, TN, Quincy, MA, etc.) have proven the dramatic and unequaled effectiveness of strong law enforcement response to violence against women by, in just a matter of a few years of applying such measures, reducing their domestic violence homicide rates by 60% and more. Tragically, this premise is still most frequently proven in the reverse. Investigation of the path leading up to domestic violence homicides that have already occurred, finds that path is almost always paved with multiple failures of law enforcement to respond adequately to the victim's earlier calls for help. Deepening the dilemma is the fact that, contrary to general public belief, law enforcement has no legal obligation to act even in the most urgent situations, and the public has no legal remedy by which to hold police and prosecutors accountable when these officials refuse to respond adequately, or refuse to respond at all.


Legislation is Needed to Restrict District Attorneys' Absolute Discretionary Powers to Refuse to Prosecute. District Attorneys sit at the apex of all of a county's law enforcement agencies. If the District Attorney systematically refuses to prosecute on prosecutable cases of rape and domestic violence, every police officer in every jurisdiction of the county will inevitably understand that these crimes are not worth the trouble of proper response. Since too many District Attorneys abuse their discretionary powers by regularly "dumping" perfectly solid cases of violence against women, the legislature must begin to provide the public with some effective protection against, and control over, District Attorney abuses of what are currently completely unchecked District Attorney discretionary powers to arbitrarily refuse to prosecute whenever they wish, no matter how much evidence exists. Similarly, legislative restrictions are also needed on police discretionary powers to deny protection and enforcement at whim.


Legislation, or Legislative Action, is Needed to Remedy the Profound Conflict of Interest that is Strangling Victim Advocates' Ability to Criticize Law Enforcement in California. Given the pivotal role of law enforcement in ending violence against women, and given law enforcement's frequent failures to act, victim advocates must be empowered to stand up to law enforcement when a victim's needs are not being met. Currently, nearly all rape and domestic violence victim centers in California are trapped in a profound conflict of interest because their core funding annually requires the signatures of all local law enforcement chiefs in order to be eligible for funds. There are many examples of law enforcement using this stronghold to suffocate effective victim advocacy in the criminal justice system. At the very least, the legislature should act to completely eradicate this conflict of interest; first, by striking the requirement of law enforcement signatures on victim center grant requests, second, by moving the control of federal Violence Against Women Act moneys out of the California Office of Criminal Justice Planning, and third, by legislatively enhancing the power of victim advocates in the criminal justice process.


Legislation is Needed to Encourage, Guideline, and Support the Creation of Effective and Independent Civilian Review of Police and District Attorneys. America hasn't yet answered the ubiquitous question of `who polices the police'? In addition to the dangerous absence of public control mechanisms over law enforcement response to violence against women, communities throughout the country are wrestling urgently with questions of how to control law enforcement excessive use of force, law enforcement racism and sexism, and disregard of citizen complaints. The legislature should provide leadership in researching, outlining, and supporting legislation for the formation of civilian review of law enforcement that is independent of law enforcement ties, that has subpoena and disciplinary powers, and that addresses the above key community concerns.

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Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,

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