The Spokane City Council is preparing to pass new laws protecting victims of domestic violence against discrimination, while creating a fund to help prevent such violence and prosecute offenders.
The action comes as a direct result of last month’s attack at Deaconess Hospital, where a man shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself.
“I wanted to adopt some things that we could quickly make into law,” said Council President Ben Stuckart, who is putting forth the ordinances with Councilwoman Amber Waldref. “This is a huge problem in our community. We need to be doing everything possible to take care of these people.”
The first ordinance amends the city code to protect victims of domestic violence against discrimination, primarily in housing and employment. The second one creates a fund administered through the Spokane Municipal Court. Fines assessed against domestic violence offenders will go toward “establishing and funding domestic violence advocacy and domestic violence prevention and prosecution programs,” according to the draft law.
Adam McDaniel, Stuckart’s assistant who did much of the research leading to the legislation, said victims of violence at home suffer from discrimination in ways others do not.
“If a victim of domestic violence is living in an apartment and knows their abuser has a key, they should be able to ask their landlord to change the locks,” he said. “If they miss Monday at work because they were beat up over the weekend, they should not be punished for seeking assistance.”
Though it’s still undecided how much the fine will be, both Stuckart and Waldref said they knew the fund wouldn’t bring in much for local programs.
“Judge Logan said it would be like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip,” Stuckart said, referring to the court’s presiding judge, Mary Logan. “I said, ‘What if we create the fund anyway?’ ”
Logan responded by finding other money to contribute, Stuckart said.
“Just by creating the fund, we started a conversation about getting more in there,” he said. “It’s not going to be a large amount of money, but it’s something there that we don’t have now.”
Waldref agreed, adding that the new fines would send a message.
“We’re taking a stand saying we are sick and tired of people who are continually reoffending and hurting people,” Waldref said.
But this isn’t just some exercise in making people feel better, Waldref said. The problem is real and needs to be dealt with. The Spokane YWCA Alternatives to Domestic Violence crisis line receives an average of 4,500 calls every year, and the program helps more than 3,700 women and children annually. One in three women in Spokane will experience domestic violence in their life, according to the YWCA.
Earlier this month, Spokane police Chief Frank Straub gave a budget presentation to City Council members. At that meeting, he said domestic violence was one of the two biggest challenges facing the department, along with mental health issues. According to Straub, the department gets an average of 8,000 domestic violence calls a year, and this year is on track to receive more calls than any previous year on record.
In response to this trend, Straub said he created a Special Victims Unit led by Lt. Mark Griffiths that would deal with domestic violence as a major crime. The unit would also focus on sex crimes, Internet crimes against children and human trafficking.
Waldref said the council was helping these efforts already underway.
“Look, we knew as policymakers we couldn’t do much. We’re not mental health experts. We’re not the courts,” she said. “But this is something we can do.”