City restarts domestic violence task force after long hiatus

City restarts domestic violence task force after long hiatus

Michele Ellson

A domestic violence task force made up of Alameda city and nonprofit social service leaders started up again this month, after a nearly seven-year hiatus. The aim of the task force is to better coordinate prevention and intervention services for domestic violence victims as funding for such services dwindles, the city staffer managing the task force said.

“We know that organizations working in similar services – if they can meet and collaborate, they can find ways to do what they do more efficiently. And not only have it work better for them, but have the services they provide be a higher quality and more responsive service,” said Jim Franz, the longtime director of Alameda’s Red Cross Chapter who now serves as the city’s community development coordinator.

Building awareness of the problem and the services that are available to victims are additional goals of the leaders who attended the task force’s March 13 meeting, participants said.

“There’s areas where both awareness and coordination could be improved,” said Doug Biggs, executive director of the Alameda Point Collaborative, which provides permanent housing for formerly homeless families – the bulk of whom he said are survivors of domestic violence. “Clearly, there’s a lot more stuff that could be done earlier in the process.”

Alameda Police Sgt. Wayland Gee said his department handled 147 domestic violence cases in 2011, and while its officers made many arrests, the alleged victims often balk at cooperating with the prosecution of the cases.

“A lot of it is a ‘he said, she said’ element at the scene that prevents any kind of arrest being made,” said Kristie Whitehorse, managing attorney for the Family Violence Law Center. Whitehorse said most of the cases the center sees don’t result in prosecution, even if the abuse is real.

“We do know if charges are brought that it is pretty severe, and there will likely be some follow through with that,” she said.

Gee, who supervises the department’s violent crimes unit, and others who work with domestic violence victims said they often lack the financial and emotional independence to leave their abusers, and that they may be unaware that help is available for them. Many have been in the relationships for years – relationships that often also involve children.

“It’s a huge risk that they’re taking when they report it, whether it’s to the police, or the school district, or the hospitals. If they’re taking that risk, we want to make sure there’s options,” Biggs said. “A lot of times you give somebody a number to call, but that doesn’t really result in something. It’s a huge challenge.”

Liz Varela of Building Futures with Women and Children, which operates Alameda’s Midway Shelter, said the recent deaths of three East Bay women – including the February 13 killing of Sara Cunningham, a 30-year-old Alameda woman who police said was shot by her ex-boyfriend – draw attention to the importance of women being able to spot signs they’re in danger and find help.

“Women are most at risk when they are leaving a relationship,” said Varela, who praised Alameda’s leadership on the issue.

The purpose of the group’s first meeting was to start introducing those providing different services, Franz said. He’s hoping that future meetings will include representatives from the school district, which has worked with Franz and others to try to reduce bullying, which he said is a potential precursor to domestic violence.

In addition to building better coordination between agencies, Franz said getting different services to work together could enhance funding opportunities for all of them.

“Many of your grant funders emphasize collaboration,” he said.

Gee said he’s hopeful that together, members of the task force can get the word out to domestic violence victims that help is available and that he’ll see fewer cases and more successful prosecutions of abusers as a result.

“I want them to know that domestic violence is unacceptable, and that there are resources that will help,” Gee said. “Whether they are fearful of retaliation, reluctant because of financial restrictions – there are resources that will help them. Most victims don’t realize that.”


If you or someone you love is experiencing domestic violence, there are several agencies in and around Alameda that can help. They include:

Alameda Family Services: Alameda Family Services offers anger management and domestic violence treatment. Call 629-6300 or click here for more information:

Building Futures with Women and Children: Building Futures with Women and Children operates Midway Shelter in Alameda and other shelters in Alameda County, including a domestic violence shelter that is confidential. The organization also offers a 24-hour crisis line, domestic violence support groups and housing services. For information or assistance, call (866)-A-WAY-OUT or click here:

Family Violence Law Center: Oakland’s Family Violence Law Center offers support to those experiencing domestic violence and can help victims find emergency shelter. The center also offers legal support, helping victims talk to police, make their way through the court process, file restraining and child custody orders, and more. Call (800) 947-8301 or click here for more information:

Family Violence Law Center: “Am I Being Abused?”

Anyone who is in immediate danger should call 911. Additional services may be obtained through the county’s social services telephone hotline, 211.