Tarrant County Working to Reduce High Rate of Domestic Violence - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
When Home Hurts

When Home Hurts

Tarrant County Working to Reduce High Rate of Domestic Violence



    Tarrant County Forms Domestic Violence Unit

    In Tarrant County, an estimated one in three women will become a victim of domestic violence. The national average is one in four. The problem is so large, police and prosecutors have teamed up to create a special unit that takes them to the doorstep of abuse. (Published Friday, Nov. 17, 2017)

    All this week, NBC5 has been bringing you stories about the damaging effects of domestic violence.

    In Tarrant County, it's estimated one in three women will become a victim. The national average is one in four. Last year, the county had 16 domestic violence murders, 14 already this year.

    The problem is so large that police and prosecutors teamed up to create a special unit. NBC 5 went with them to the doorstep of abuse.

    It’s a rainy afternoon and Bedford Police are making a house call.

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    "To try to make contact with both the victim and the suspect involved in this case," said Bedford Police Officer Hall.

    It's an unannounced visit to the home of a known domestic violence offender. On this day, they're hand-delivering a letter to put the abuser on notice.

    "It tells them to stop their actions now, their violent actions now," said Bedford Police Sergeant Tyler Stillman. "If they do not, we will submit their case for swift prosecution and put them in prison."

    Swift prosecution is the next step in a combined effort to shine a light on violence in the home.

    "These are not crimes just against the victim,” said Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson. “They are crimes against the state of Texas."

    And in Tarrant County, they are far too common. Wilson noticed a pattern when she took office in 2015 and started reviewing all capital murder cases.

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    "Over half of our capital instances last year were family violence-related and you know, that is not acceptable," Wilson said.

    So the DA's office started a new unit that only handles cases of "intimate partner violence."

    "And we see that if we don't take these seriously, this person, remember they're prone to violence, could be a threat against our greater community at another time," Wilson said.

    Now prosecutors are working with police before the case reaches the courthouse. NBC 5 watched as they met with officers from the Hurst, Euless and Bedford police departments to streamline how these cases are handled, from the first contact.

    "Everybody's job as a police officer is make them safe that night, get them off the street, diffuse the situation. But what we're thinking about at the DA's Office is the end game," said Art Clayton, Chief Prosecutor for the Intimate Partner Violence unit.

    Prosecutors are urging police to collect good hard evidence the night of the crime because in family violence, the victim doesn't always want to testify, though the case will move forward.

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    "We've gotta keep in mind, their situation is complicated,” Clayton said. “We gotta let them know we're here to help and keep them safe."

    Which takes us back to the streets with Bedford police.

    "We're gonna do a follow-up with this victim. Just to see if she's safe and see if there's any resources or anything that she needs at this point," said Courtney Janes, victim services coordinator for the Bedford, Hurst and Euless police departments.

    She's a trained counselor, there to reassure victims and help navigate volatile relationships.

    "With these types of offenses, emotions are very, very high," Janes said.

    Take the case of Julie Renfro. When officers step in her door today, it's like a family reunion. But back in 2014, the same officers arrived moments after Renfro's ex-husband had severely beaten her. Crime scene photos captured the first signs of injury.

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    "My hair was a mess, I had blood on my face and I'm trying to downplay this whole situation," Renfro said.

    Police didn't give up and Renfro's ex was locked up. Now he'll be getting out soon and her support team is still there for her.

    "We can help figure out what we can do to keep you safe," Janes said.

    "They never gave up on me and like I said, I didn't have anybody to reach out to," said Renfro.

    It's a mission to see the process through, keep a family safe and deliver justice for the crimes behind closed doors.

    “We’re here to try to keep them safe and to make the violence stop and honestly that may mean that that person needs to be locked up for a long time,” said Wilson.

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    (Published Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018)

    Prosecutors say these cases are also the most dangerous for police. This year, across the country, 32 out of 38 cases where police were killed on the job were connected to a domestic violence call.

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