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County begins domestic violence program

\With October being recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, various domestic programs around the nation, including the Opportunity House, a domestic violence-related program in Opp, are trying to increase awareness regarding the tragedy which is domestic violence.

A key to solving, or at least controlling the problem in any particular community is undoubtedly acknowledging the problem and using any means necessary to solve it.

This was the mission of a meeting Wednesday between Covington County Chief Assistant District Attorney Greg Gambril and representatives of the Opportunity House.

According to Gambril, the meeting resulted in a decision by the District Attorney's Office and the Opportunity House to organize a domestic violence Community Coordinated Response Team (CCR).

"What (the team will entail) is getting citizens in the community, who in their everyday capacity, or with their employment, work with or help or have some sort of contact with victims of domestic violence," said Gambril. "The ultimate goal of this organization is to ultimately provide for victim safety and offender accountability."

Gambril said what the group will do is bring in people from the medical profession, business community, clergymen, people from law enforcement and the legal community, among other groups in Covington County in an attempt to find out what they are already doing for victims of domestic violence, or what types of contacts they have with these victims.

"We are going to find out (what these groups) are doing, and as a community, we are going to find out how we can help an individual in a certain organization improve upon what they're doing," said Gambril. "They can find out what other resources are out there for victims of domestic violence. For instance, take a business.

An employer may have an employee is a victim of domestic violence. If this employee has come to (the employer) and said her husband is beating her and that she has pressed charges against him and she has to go to court this week-some employers don't understand domestic violence and they do not work with that victim and understand they're going to have doctors' appointments and will have to go see counselors and make court appearances. They may even have to leave their houses and their jobs may be sacred to them as it will be their only income."

He said employers will hopefully be educated through the organization what other resources are out there for domestic violence victims, such as the Opportunity House, clothes possibly through the Christian Service Center and perhaps programs that various churches may also provide.

"There is an absolute wealth of help out there," said Gambril. "The purpose of this group is to make sure that everybody is working together."

Gambril said while there is "an absolute wealth" of help, he added there is also an absolute need for a program such as this in Covington County.

"One thing that anybody who lives in our county knows is when they turn on the news at night,

and they see what is going on in all the counties around us, they know we don't have the types of random violence we see in Montgomery, and we don't have drive-by shootings, and we don't have school shootings," said Gambril. "We are very blessed in that respect, but when we do have violence, it is highly common that the violence that we see in our community is domestic violence. The majority of the murders that we have in our community are either somehow drug related, but the other type of homicides that we commonly see are domestic violence situations. In fact, I would say that over 50 percent of our assaults and over 50 percent of our homicides are related to domestic violence. This year alone, I think that half of our homicides are domestic violence."

Gambril acknowledges that much attention is placed on the drug problem in Covington County, but said domestic violence is a major problem as well, even if it is perhaps pushed into the background somewhat.

"One reason that people focus on our drug problem is because we have a law enforcement agency, the Drug Task Force, that is actively going out and arresting these people, and if they weren't making these cases, people would not be reading about them in the paper

and knowing that it is going on in our community," said Gambril. "The thing about domestic violence is, half the time

people don't hear about it until it's too late, and until (the victim) is fatally or seriously wounded, and that is when it comes out (for public knowledge). The purpose of this organization is to hopefully reverse that trend and get some of these cases out of the headlines."

Gambril said it is important to note that domestic violence does not concern just a husband beating a wife, or by a boyfriend.

"Domestic violence includes any type of violence perpetrated by one member of a relationship or friend relationship, which can include a mother beating a child or a son beating an elderly father," said Gambril. "The first murder ever was domestic abuse with Cain and Abel or brother against brother. The trend is not getting worse, as it has always been there. We are finally now getting the focus on and people are looking at it and defining it as domestic violence. Domestic violence is about control and about power. Wives can verbally abuse a spouse and the long-range mental anguish that results from that can be just as bad as a slap across the face. We have had murders where wives have killed their husbands. Domestic violence generally is males on females, but people have to broaden their understanding on this and understand that it goes both ways."

Gambril said he is confident that the CCR program will be a positive initial step in helping to control the problem of domestic abuse.

"(The CCR program) will be the first step," said Gambril. "This is a program that several communities have already adopted and have been very successful. My catch phrase is always, save one (victim) and make it contagious. There is a lot of grant money that is out there for organizations such as this, and once we get up and running we are going to look into (those grants)

and just see what we can do with (the program) from there. In the long range, what we are also anticipating is potentially, down the road, installing a domestic violence task force. It would not be of the same fashion of our drug task force, where we are asking every agency to pony up, and we would have people who would investigate every domestic violence case in the community. That is a little far-fetched because there are really too many instances. Instead there would be some investigators and a prosecutor who would do nothing but handle these types of cases, and which would educate officers on how to properly respond to (domestic incidents)."

He said overall the CCR will be a community-driven effort which will include law enforcement to address the domestic violence problem, and will expand what all of its members are already doing to combat the problem.

Gambril said the initial priority is taking care of the victims and provide for victim safety, and as of now the CCR involves the District Attorney's Office, the Opportunity House and the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The process of building the CCR will continue the rest of this year, and Gambril said hopefully funds can be secured for the program by early spring.

He said he hopes that a domestic violence task force for the county might be possible maybe a couple of years down the road.