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Southfield officials start new domestic violence task force and initiatives

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

The City of Southfield on Sunday welcomed Domestic Violence Awareness Month by launching three new initiatives to help survivors, train allies and create advocates. 

"Domestic violence is not a U.S. problem, it's a worldwide problem. This occurs everywhere and in Southfield, it's a daily problem," said Southfield mayor, Kenson J. Siver. "Every single day in Southfield we have one or two or more domestic violence runs... this is a very sad statistic and it's something that we need to do something about."

Southfield Police Chief Elvin Barren leads  a walk against domestic violence.

Southfield Police Chief Elvin Barren and 46th District Court Chief Judge Shelia Johnson started the city's domestic violence task force in January. The taskforce's first three initiatives include the creation of a domestic violence prevention response team, a high risk response team and domestic violence seminars. 

The initiatives, which are being launched in partnership with Haven of Oakland County, the district court and several other partners, were announced on Sunday during an awareness walk through the city. 

The court is involved because 232 domestic violence misdemeanors were filed at the 46th District Court last year, said Johnson, although that number doesn't include felony cases. 

"We've taken steps to aid in the swift resolution of these cases which aids in protecting victims," Johnson said. "We not only penalize abuser when appropriately, but we've also focused on a point program to educate and rehabilitate."

People march at a walk against domestic violence.

Johnson said about a quarter of the misdemeanor charges were dismissed. 

The domestic violence prevention response team is partnering with the Southfield Domestic Violence Group and the city's fire department and will go into homes where police have made a high number of visits for abuse calls. Police and fire officials will inform the residents of those homes of their options and resources for help. 

"No longer do we need to be ashamed, no longer do we need to hide, said Margaret Hall, founder of the Southfield Domestic Violence Group. "We need to stop this, eradicate it, get rid of it, pull the root out of the ground and let it die."

The prevention response team will start making visits next week. Barren said that police have responded to abuse calls at these homes between five to 10 times in a short period of time. 

The high risk response team will do case reviews of high impact domestic violence cases to study the behaviors of abusers and figure out how a change can be made. The team will consist of member from the 46th District Court and the police and fire department and will begin in the next two weeks. 

People stand in the rain at a walk against domestic violence hosted by City of Southfield, Southfield Police & Fire Departments, 46th District Court, Haven Oakland, Southfield Domestic Violence Group and the Dr. Martin Luther King Task Force in Southfield, MI on October 4, 2020.

The seminars will focus on both abusers and survivors and be held in separate locations. Abusers found guilty of domestic violence will attend mandatory seminars, and survivors will have the option to go to separate seminars. 

In this way, the taskforce hopes to provide allies and advocates for survivors as their cases progress through court, said Melissa Sinclair, an advocate with Haven. 

"Advocates are essential for the court process because we are a safe place for that survivor to process a safety plan with, to talk about their needs, to discuss that relationship in a way that they might not have an opportunity to do," Sinclair said.

The announcement of the task force and initiatives came during the first Walk to Raise Awareness of Domestic Violence held in the city since 2007. Around 130 people walked about two and a half miles in the rain and 50 degree weather, beginning and ending at the Southfield Municipal Campus. 

A food truck provided free, pre-packaged meals, a local liquor store donated snacks and the Southfield Youth Assistance group signed people up for turkey basket giveaways. 

People march at a walk against domestic violence.

Sponsors of the walk include the City of Southfield, Southfield Police & Fire Departments, 46th District Court, Haven Oakland, Southfield Domestic Violence Group and the Dr. Martin Luther King Task Force. 

First observed in October 1981 as a national “Day of Unity,” Domestic Violence Awareness Month is held each October as a way to unite advocates across the nation in their efforts to end domestic violence.