Cecilia Lam, 35, was shot in the head by her boyfriend in SoMa in 2014. The following year, 60-year-old Olga Diaz Clark fell into a coma and died after her ex-boyfriend broke into her Mission District apartment, strangled her, and repeatedly punched her in the head. In 2017, Susana Robles Desgarennes, 20, was fatally shot in a murder-suicide in Dolores Heights by a man who’d fathered her 4-year-old child. All told, 11 domestic violence-related homicides took place in San Francisco between the beginning of 2014 and the end of 2017. The spike in fatalities was particularly noticeable, as it came after a quiet 44 months during which no one in city limits died at the hands of a family member or significant other.
On Monday, District Attorney George Gáscon joined Bayview Police Station Captain Steven Ford and leaders from domestic violence prevention groups La Casa de las Madres and APA Family Support Services to announce that San Francisco had received a $750,000 federal grant to continue its work linking police with support services to better serve victims and their families.
At the moment, the program only exists in the Bayview. As police officers are called to scenes where a domestic dispute is taking place, they employ a series of 11 questions to pose to the victim, with the goal of better identifying those at risk for serious injury or death.
“Do you think your partner might try to kill you?” is one. “Is your partner violently or consistently jealous, or do they control most of your daily activities?” is another. If five of the questions are answered in the affirmative, police connect the victim immediately to representatives from a local support service, who are available 24 hours a day.
The quick transfer of the case to a trained expert is a vital step in ensuring their safety. According to the 2016 Family Violence Council report, 3,240 calls about domestic violence were made to the police department. That same year, 21,240 cases were reported to community organizations, showing a sharp disparity between who people turn to when things at home turn violent.
The data “continues to illustrate the gap between people willing to come to the police,” Gáscon said Monday. “This is one of the most underreported crimes that we have, and it’s a crime that we know not only impacts the survivor of the incident, but the entire family. We know that both offenders and survivors of domestic violence generally come from households where family violence was prevalent, so the impact of these crimes not only affects the person here and now, but the entire family as it goes from one generation to the other.”
The location of the program — the Bayview — is one that’s been carefully considered. The station receives 13 percent of the domestic violence-related calls citywide, and has a large number of monolingual speakers living in its boundaries. Connecting this diverse community with culturally competent service providers is no small feat, particularly if there’s a stigma around airing one’s personal affairs with strangers. But since the launch of the program, 50 percent of the people surveyed by police have been identified as being at risk of death or serious injury, and were connected to services.
The grant enables the program to continue in the Bayview for another three years, during which time data will be connected to help retain future funding for other neighborhoods citywide.