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Forum editorial: Tighter controls for abusers

We now know that police were called to at least one previous domestic violence call at the Fargo home of Marcus Schumacher before the domestic disturbance Feb. 10 that resulted in the fatal shooting of Jason Moszer, one of the police officers who...

We now know that police were called to at least one previous domestic violence call at the Fargo home of Marcus Schumacher before the domestic disturbance Feb. 10 that resulted in the fatal shooting of Jason Moszer, one of the police officers who responded. We also know that many men who commit domestic violence are repeat offenders, and that their aggressive behavior can often escalate, with dire consequences, as happened in the deaths of Officer Moszer and Schumacher, by his own hand or from a shot fired by police.
Domestic violence usually happens out of public view. It is routine enough that society over time becomes somewhat numb to the plight of women and children who are caught in its abusive grip. But the tragic death of a police officer – and the intense public attention it has drawn – might help to focus deserved attention on the devastation caused by domestic violence. Particular attention should be given to intervening in domestic violence cases in a way that restrains offenders from abusing again through ongoing monitoring and judicial oversight.
North Dakota’s search for answers need look no farther than Clay County. As Robin Huebner reported in The Forum on Sunday, Clay County is one of several Minnesota counties that have implemented a domestic violence court. Enabled by a U.S. Department of Justice grant, Clay County launched its domestic violence court almost five years ago. The court handles the full gamut of domestic violence cases, misdemeanors and felonies. Its caseload has grown, and now stands at about 250.
Defendants must appear regularly before a domestic violence court judge and must take a batterers’ intervention course. Michelle Lawson, the Clay County District Court judge who hears domestic violence court cases, credits the program with reducing recidivism. Her belief appears supported by numbers. So far, 173 offenders have completed the 26-week batterers’ intervention program. Just 14, or 8 percent, reoffended.
That impressive result is accomplished through regular contact with the criminal justice system. About six weeks after a domestic violence offender is sentenced, he is assigned to a probation officer and steered to chemical dependency and mental health evaluations, among other court-ordered steps. The offenders appear regularly before judges to hold them accountable.
North Dakota should strive to adopt a program similar to Clay County’s domestic violence court. Perhaps Cass County could serve as a pilot program. Several hurdles would have to be overcome, including law changes to enable enhanced sentences for repeat offenders. Also, a funding source would have to be found, not easy in today’s budget environment. But the human cost of failing to intervene effectively in domestic violence is incalculable.

Editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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