FLORENCE — Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly said the county’s domestic violence unit is making a difference in the county’s ever-growing domestic cases.
Connolly said full-time investigator John Woodrum, although somewhat overwhelmed with the number of cases, has made a positive impact in the problem.
“It is a very labor-intensive job, but John is getting results,” Connolly said.
Since the unit began in August 2011, Lauderdale County Assistant District Attorney Angie Hamilton said 361 domestic violence cases have been sent to court.
“Of those, 41 percent were found guilty, plead guilty or placed on probation after completing court-order conditions, and all have gone through a batterer’s prevention program,” Hamilton said. “Prior to that we were only getting 10 percent positive outcomes. So, having a full-time investigator makes a difference.”
Last year, the Lauderdale County Commission agreed to hire a deputy for the domestic violence unit.
The second officer, deputy James Distefano, is now working with Woodrum.
“We believe the positive outcomes on these cases will continue to increase now that we have two officers in the unit,” Hamilton said. “We believe we can double the number of people we are ... helping.”
Rachel Cabaniss, executive director of Safeplace, said the unit is making a difference and has been effective.
Safeplace is a nonprofit organization that provides shelter for adults and children in a six-county region in northwest Alabama.
“We knew starting this unit, there was a lot of domestic problems and there was way more work than one investigator could handle,” Cabaniss said. “John has done a terrific job, and having the second officer is a move in a positive direction.”
In 2012, according to Lauderdale’s district attorney’s office, there were 1,600 domestic violence reports made and 215 domestic violence arrests made. Of those arrests, 54 were felonies and there two domestic violence homicides.
Cabaniss said working full time on domestic cases, allows the officer to have a connection wit the victim.
“This allows law enforcement to reach out to the victim, instead of the victim having to reach out for help,” she said.
She said most of the cases the officers are working are misdemeanor domestic violence cases.
“That way we can hold abusers accountable because the victims are never in a position to do so,” Cabaniss said. “We’re trying to get in on the ground floor of domestic violence cases, to keep them from becoming a felony.”
Hamilton said the officers will also be doing welfare checks on the victims.
“We were going to do 250 last year — we did 321,” she said. “And during some of those welfare checks several arrests were made when the abuser was caught in the home of a victim where they were court-ordered to stay out of.”
She said Woodrum and Distefano receive reports every day from Florence police and the Sheriff’s Department.
“Our goal is to eventually have a unit that will handle all the domestic calls in the county,” Hamilton said. “The first step was getting the unit started and getting an investigator, The second step was getting a second investigator; the next step will be covering the entire county.
“In the process, we are providing a service to the victims of domestic violence and hopefully helping to prevent more from happening,” she said.
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.