DA: Domestic violence services in a ‘state of crisis’


San Diego County’s top law enforcement officials came together Wednesday to call attention to what they called a domestic violence crisis and to appeal for donations to make up for shrinking government funding for victims.

“We are in a state of crisis for victims of domestic violence and, with the domestic violence we are seeing right now, services for victims have been cut across the board,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said at a midday briefing outside police headquarters.

Police Chief William Lansdowne and county Sheriff Bill Gore joined Dumanis in underscoring the effects of state budget cuts on domestic violence groups. He also asked for private contributions to help fund the groups.

“There’s been a 20 percent reduction in services to domestic violence victims, and particularly to the shelters that serve them,” the district attorney said.

Reduced state funding has hampered Becky’s House, a YWCA-affiliated nonprofit that takes in victims of domestic violence and provides them with support services.

“We work hard to give these families who have experienced such incredible hardship the foundations that they need in order to gain confidence, discover new strengths and to achieve lifetime goals,” said Heather Finlay, chief executive officer for YWCA of San Diego County.

Becky’s House, with a staff of 67 people, lost its entire $207,000 annual state subsidy, according to Finlay.

The three law enforcement leaders said the strain on victim services was untimely, because instances of domestic violence have increased recently, due in part to the economic downturn.

“Domestic violence is on the increase in San Diego County,” Gore said. “We have to have the community-based organizations, the social services, that make these victims feel safe, so they can come forward, so they can receive the healing and the treatment that they need to bring their families back together.”

Despite an 18 percent decrease in crime in San Diego so far this year, the number of family and relationship assaults - including murder-suicides - has gone up 5 percent, Lansdowne said.

“The most frequent call we get is domestic violence,” the chief said. “The most dangerous call that our officers go to is domestic violence ... With the governor reducing the amount of funding to all the different public and private organizations that deal with domestic violence, there’s certainly a difficulty and a crisis taking place across the county and certainly within the city (of San Diego).”

Dumanis said her office has been receiving an average of 475 domestic violence cases for prosecution each month recently.

Law enforcement “can only do so much” to address the social problem, the district attorney said.

“Without (public) help, we can’t get it done,” she said. “Funding has gone away, but the number of victims (who) need help has not. We need places like Becky’s House, because they support victims of domestic violence.”

The 31-year-old shelter and victim-services agency “works hard to help mothers and their children,” Dumanis said.

“This is very important, because the children of domestic violence are scarred for life, and those that see it in the home often are those that later carry that through in their life,” she continued. “And we’ve got to stop the cycle of domestic violence.”

Those who work for Becky’s House “not only save lives, we improve lives,” Finlay said.

“These victims not only survive, but they thrive,” she said. “And we cannot let resources like this, resources of hope, disappear.”

Lansdowne called such social-services organizations “important and critical.”

“Violence is learned in the home,” Lansdowne said. “And the sooner you can intervene with professional help and guidance and help (victims) through the process, the more effective we are.”

The officials urged people to make tax-deductible donations of any size to local domestic-violence services agencies or to volunteer if giving money isn’t an option. Information on contributing is at