Thanks to the leadership of the Advocates of Lake County, local partners are kick-starting a domestic-violence response team (DVRT) this month. The group will evaluate domestic-violence cases, victim needs, prevention efforts and more.

“We see a need for a highly coordinated response to domestic violence in this county,” Advocates of Lake County Executive Director Jenny Abbott said of the team. “We are backing away from Band-Aids and working towards long-lasting solutions.”

According to Lake County Sheriff Amy Reyes and Leadville Chief of Police Saige Bertolas, local rates of domestic violence are higher than in surrounding counties.

“Domestic violence seems like it’s been a norm here for too long,” Bertolas told the Herald.

The DVRT will be modeled upon the county’s sexual-assault response team (SART), a group that was initiated by the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office last spring.

Lake County’s SART performs case review for sexual assaults. The team evaluates emergency response and long-term investigations, as well as the accessibility of tools like forensic interviews and trauma-informed counseling. Employees from the Advocates of Lake County attend SART meetings but only comment on cases when they have a release from a client.

Abbott, Reyes and Bertolas, who all take part in the SART, will also collaborate for the DVRT. Advocates and deputies from Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Leadville Police Department officers, Advocates’ case managers, mental health professionals from Solvista Health and TreeTop Child Advocacy Center and Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office employees are also set to attend when possible.

The DVRT will review domestic-violence cases in a manner similar to how the SART reviews sexual-assault cases; the Advocates will once again maintain confidentiality. The idea is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of Lake County’s domestic-violence response system.

“We have a mature group of leaders willing to be self-critical of their agencies in order to improve,” Abbott told the Herald.

The team also plans to coordinate law-enforcement training and prevention efforts.

Reyes hopes offer training for new deputies and officers that outlines the local resources available for domestic-violence victims. Bertolas wants to focus on providing officers with the skills needed to thoroughly investigate, and later prosecute, domestic-violence crimes.

Cori MacFarland, who is organizing the DVRT on behalf of the Advocates, wants to increase prevention efforts like county-wide education campaigns on domestic violence.

“This is just another step in continuing to be productive,” Abbott said. “Even when we are understaffed we want to maintain a proactive stance.”

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