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Oklahoma City begins planning Family Justice Center

Oklahoma City police received nearly 30,000 domestic violence calls in the past year, but on Tuesday city officials took the first step toward reducing that number.

The study tour for a Family Justice Center, a comprehensive facility where victims of domestic violence can access much-needed resources, takes place this week.

The site of the proposed center is but one topic of discussion among the agencies that will provide employees to be housed in the building. The team that created the San Diego pilot program in 2002 will be in Oklahoma through Thursday to aid in the process.

Resources to be included under one roof include domestic violence police detectives and prosecutors, civil attorneys, therapists and volunteers.

A public forum held Tuesday in the Civic Center's Meinders Hall of Mirrors included remarks from the mayor, police chief and project director.

“We in Oklahoma City have been through a lot, but we've always risen to the challenge,” Mayor Mick Cornett said.

“We're exchanging best practices, and at the end, we're going to be exchanging high-fives,” Cornett said.

“Being able to come together under one roof, we know that we will be able to reduce domestic violence,” Police Chief Bill Citty said. “It doesn't matter how long it takes. What matters is that it's happening.”

There were 31 domestic violence homicides in Oklahoma County in 2013, said Kim Garrett, Oklahoma City police project director.

“I want you to think of the sold-out Chesapeake Arena. Now double that. That's the number of calls for service in our community,” Garrett said.

From Sept. 1, 2014 to Aug. 31, 2015, Oklahoma City police received 32,932 calls pertaining to domestic violence, she said.

“It overlaps the rich neighborhoods and the poor neighborhoods. Domestic violence does not discriminate,” Garrett said.

It was the acquittal of a sitting judge in a domestic violence trial that changed the career of a rookie prosecutor in San Diego who is now president of Alliance for Hope.

After a jury found the judge not guilty of beating his pregnant wife, Casey Gwinn was visited by two community activists who schooled him on the realities of domestic violence. 

Proposed in 1989, the first facility in San Diego opened in 2002. Since then, 90 more have opened in the United States and centers are now operating in 10 other countries. There are plans on the horizon for about 100 more of the centers. 

Domestic violence homicides have dropped 90 percent in San Diego since its creation.

“We started out as a crisis intervention model. It doesn't solve the long-term needs,” Gwinn said.

The team will return in December for another half-week of planning and will be in touch with city officials during its stages of creation. It takes about 18 months to plan and open a center, said Natalia Aguirre, technical director for Alliance of Hope.

The center also will be available to assist with the needs of children, who are often themselves victims, or who may need looking after while the parents tend to family matters at the center. 

“It turns out talking is the first step towards healing,” Gwinn said. “We believe this whole notion of collaboration is the future.”

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