Advocates, elected officials, and staff from both the City and County filled the southern steps of Bexar County Courthouse on Friday morning to announce the formation of the Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence.
Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger, who is co-chairing the commission with 150th District Court Judge Monique Diaz, said the commission is being built around the belief that domestic violence is preventable. The collaborative commission consists of members of law enforcement, the judiciary, City and County staff, nonprofits, and health care organizations.
“If we work hard on those early things that lead to violence, we can start to move the needle on this issue,” Bridger said. “Preventing domestic violence requires us to prevent trauma in our families and intervening early will allow us to stop the cycle. We all have a role to play in our homes, families, and communities to stop violence before it starts, as well as supporting people who need services.”
Bexar County holds the dubious distinction of having the most domestic violence in the state of Texas. The San Antonio Police Department handled 25 domestic violence-related murders in 2018, Chief William McManus said.
This increase in deaths led City Council to request a comprehensive report on domestic violence and how to address it through the 2020 budget. The plan, so far, has three parts, Bridger explained: compiling data and metrics on domestic violence, discovering gaps in addressing domestic violence, and building on the Center for Disease Control’s framework on preventing domestic violence.
The commission will work on the fourth and final part – a work plan for the next year. City staff will present the finalized version of the comprehensive report at the end of October.
The commission met for the first time last Friday. Its next priorities are to find subcommittee members and roll out an educational campaign around domestic violence awareness, Bridger said. Entities such as law enforcement, the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter, United Way, and the Human Services Department provide services for people who need help, but the number of choices can be overwhelming.
“That’s the challenge we’re going to be working on in the next five years: how do we make it a one-stop-shop for people who are afraid and don’t know what to do?” Bridger said. “For now, we want to highlight there are resources available for people and that we want to help.”
The commission has five committees focused on the judiciary, law enforcement, prosecution, health care, and nonprofit sides of addressing domestic violence.
During Friday’s press conference, McManus shared a diary entry from Tammy Ramirez, a 25-year-old who was allegedly murdered by her boyfriend in December.
“The day I met him I didn’t think he’d put his hands on me,” McManus read. “I felt so safe in his arms. Now he’s hit me, injured my body, over assumptions. It hurts me to be with someone who doesn’t trust me.”
That entry stopped short in the middle of a sentence, McManus said. Three days after she wrote those words, Ramirez was killed.
“Domestic violence is very problematic and very difficult for victims,” he said. “Hopefully this commission that is being run so well by Dr. Bridger and Judge Diaz will make a difference.”
Diaz said she holds domestic violence as a personal issue after previously representing victims of domestic violence in her law practice, as well as having friends and family members who have been affected by it.
“Our system has failed the victims of domestic violence in our community, but we are all standing here in unison refusing to accept that,” she said.