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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Family Justice Center combines range of domestic violence services

Surrounded by Spokane city and county officials, YWCA CEO Regina Malveaux speaks Thursday to the media at the grand opening of the Family Justice Center in the downtown YWCA. (Colin Mulvany)

Most members of Spokane’s Regional Domestic Violence Team weren’t present to see the ribbon-cutting for their new offices.

Instead, they were in court, working to provide support to victims and hold abusive partners accountable.

The team, made up of about 30 prosecutors, detectives and legal advocates from Spokane County and the city, will be together under one roof for the first time since 2006, thanks to the opening of Spokane’s new Family Justice Center at the YWCA.

The Center’s goal is to provide victim-centered services in a comfortable space.

“This location is a safe place that is familiar to folks,” said YWCA CEO Regina Malveaux. She escaped from an abusive relationship about 20 years ago, and said she was made to feel undignified for seeking services and getting help. That’s inspired her focus on making the legal system more friendly to victims.

”We really have created an environment where a victim does not have to feel ashamed,” she said.

Rather than forcing victims to visit a prosecutor’s office, then trek across town to receive help finding a job or speak to a counselor, the Justice Center combines these services in one place. Victims can give witness statements to police, meet with the prosecutor handling their case and receive information about shelter options – all while taking advantage of free drop-in child care.

“A person who’s been assaulted and their world’s been turned upside down, they’re looking for a lot of things in a hurry,” Spokane police Lt. Mark Griffiths said.

The Center also is indicative of a more proactive approach to domestic violence prevention by city and county law enforcement and prosecutors. Having prosecutors in the same building as officers investigating cases makes it easier for the two sides to coordinate.

In Spokane, 7 percent of 2014 calls to police were for domestic violence. Nearly one-third of murders and more than one-third of assaults also are domestic violence related.

“We talk about these numbers in October,” said County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn, referring to Domestic Violence Awareness Month. “But we often forget about them for the rest of the year.”

In the past year, Spokane police have doubled the number of dedicated domestic violence detectives from two to four, and added two officers to help contact suspects. Police follow up on protection orders instead of waiting for victims to report violations.

Two sheriff’s detectives also work full time on the team, and a third detective is being added to focus on domestic violence and sex crimes, including child abuse.

Griffiths said he recently worked on a case in which a woman’s boyfriend had assaulted her, sent threatening messages and destroyed her possessions. Because he had an extensive criminal history, the team dedicated two officers to tracking him down.

“She pretty much had a personalized police force until he was contacted,” he said. “It’s more of a seamless pass between us, the prosecutor, the advocates.”

Spokane County signed a three-year lease with the YWCA for the Center’s offices, with an option to renew for two years. The $26,004 annual rent will be split between the city and county.

Though many people spent years advocating for more coordination on domestic violence, the fatal shooting of Sheena Henderson by her husband at Deaconess Hospital last summer accelerated the effort.

“We all made a decision that this was something that needed to change,” City Prosecutor Justin Bingham said.

Spokane’s domestic violence team dates to 1998, when a group of city and county prosecutors, law enforcement and YWCA legal advocates shared space at the Monroe Center. Largely funded by federal money, the team had to relocate to the Spokane Regional Health District in 2006 when that funding dried up.

But the city prosecutor’s office didn’t move with the rest of the team, and many services victims needed remained at the YWCA. Malveaux said the team saw fewer clients during that period, and some victims had safety concerns about entering the health district building, which also had a methadone clinic.

The opening of the Family Justice Center reflects a re-prioritization of domestic violence prevention. “You have a victim who has been empowered, who has been taken care of by the system,” Bingham said.