Longform

A Lawman on Domestic Violence

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But change doesn't come easy. Domestic violence remains a hidden crime. "In our culture, it's wrong to tattle," Thomas says. "Especially when it's family business.

"In court you often hear the victim say they didn't want the police to get involved. My response is, 'You picked up the phone and called 911. Or your family business got outside the walls of your house--and that made it our business.'"

Still, Thomas concedes, there are legitimate concerns about some of the state's new laws and policies. He says he understands why some observers believe that certain aspects of "no bond--a night in jail" policies for misdemeanor offenses may be unconstitutional. "District attorneys and prosecutors didn't write those laws," he says. "And that might be something the legislature wants to look at. But for now, we're obligated to enforce them."

And Thomas allows that sometimes the new, proactive system overreaches. "When the police get called out on a disturbance where the husband and wife are just screaming at each other--personally, I don't think it's a crime," he says. "It may be distasteful, but part of what's going on right now is a sort of feeling-out process to see what the community wants done."

It may be years, Thomas says, before the community will know if all of today's domestic-violence measures have accomplished anything. He remembers the disappointment he felt when he heard that after two years in operation, the Fast Track program had posted a record number of cases--23--in a single week this past April. "That's bad news, because we want it to be zero," says Thomas. "But you have to wonder how many there might be if we weren't doing all this.

"We're getting kids into treatment and perpetrators into treatment. We're doing all we can, but so many things are out of our control."

Thomas says he has concerns about the growth of the domestic-violence cottage industry of advocates and counselors, as well as the growing number of salaried positions within police departments and prosecutorial offices. "It's potentially a huge danger. People with a vested interest may be exaggerating the problem," he says. "But that's the reason these grants have a limited life.

"If you want to keep the programs, you have to eventually find a place for them in your budget. If they aren't worth it, they're not going to stay. I personally would like all the different things we do to put me out of a job."

Thomas only has to go home to be reminded why. Once a week, he and his wife take Margaret, now six, in for counseling.

"Her mom is dead, her dad is in jail, and she's terrified to connect the two things," Thomas says. "Frankly, there's been a lot of damage. Like many children, she doesn't necessarily show it.

"She seems to be a strong, independent, self-willed child. But inside, she's a terribly hurt and frightened little girl who has a lot to work through.

"My hope is my niece can grow up to be normal, which is a scary thing even to say. If she gets the proper perspective about life and relationships, I'll be happy."

--Jackson

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Steve Jackson