Berkley, Royal Oak partner to create High Risk Response Team

By: Mike Koury, Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published January 27, 2021

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BERKLEY/ROYAL OAK — Advocates are working to ensure domestic violence victims have more help and protection as the frequency and lethality of domestic abuse increases amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group of more than two dozen people from agencies across Berkley, Royal Oak and Oakland County have partnered together to create a High Risk Response Team within the local court system.

A High Risk Response Team, as defined by Lindsay Garascia, the co-chair for Berkley and Royal Oak’s HRRT, is a “multidisciplinary approach to enhance victim safety and offender accountability, and to spread education and awareness about domestic violence.”

Garascia also is the first response court advocate and supervisor on the social action team for HAVEN of Oakland County. She stated that there was a huge increase in the lethality of domestic violence situations last year, specifically during the pandemic.

“Things are becoming more prevalent and violence is becoming more dangerous and more lethal,” she said. “Now more than ever, it’s really important to reach out and assist those survivors and get them the help that they need immediately and as soon as possible, because not every domestic violence situation turns lethal, but it does have the opportunity.”

Berkley Councilwoman Bridget Dean became aware of the High Risk Response Team while attending a Michigan Municipal League convention in Detroit in the fall of 2019. She was so moved by the session — which featured 47th District Court Judge Marla Parker and the Farmington Hills Police Department — that she brought it to Berkley Public Safety Director Matt Koehn to start their own team at the 44th District Court.

“What tends to happen is when you put one of these teams in place, your numbers will go up before they level out because people feel safe,” she said. “Once they know that this program’s in place, they feel safe to report, they’re assigned an advocate from HAVEN right out of the gate and … studies have shown that people who have an advocate are more likely to continue through the court system, because that advocate will tell them exactly what’s coming up next, they’re a source of support, they can lay out the entire process. And so a victim feels supported and feels like he or she has somebody in their corner.”

While the High Risk Response Team’s start was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the team was able to organize several meetings throughout 2020 and bring together 26 people, including members of Berkley’s and Royal Oak’s governments and public safety departments, the 44th District Court, HAVEN, the Berkley School District and Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.

Garascia said they’re still working on specific goals for what they want the team to achieve, but their biggest goal now is to establish a better communication process between all invested parties and to figure out who else needs to be at the table.

Right now, the HRRT meets monthly or bimonthly, and team members discuss policies and procedures that need to be improved upon, as well as undertake training protocols so they can use best practices in domestic violence cases.

“We really try to keep focus on survivors’ needs,” stated Garascia. “It’s really accommodating what’s best for the survivor and how we can keep that survivor safe. … It’s really addressing each case on an individual basis and a case-by-case basis and deciding what’s best and what’s going to keep that survivor the safest and hopefully reducing any chance of violence again.”

Garascia added that they want to make sure domestic violence survivors are getting the support and resources they need and to let them know that these options and services exist.

“We all know that it’s really difficult getting that help, and it’s really important — as a state overall but specifically Royal Oak and Berkley jurisdictions — to let abusers know that this behavior is not going to be tolerated, and if it does happen, there are going to be consequences for their actions,” Garascia said.

Detective Sgt. Richard Millard, of the Royal Oak Police Department, said the purpose of the team is to connect survivors to a two-way channel for help rather than police simply handing them a “blue card” when responding to a domestic abuse call.

“(The blue card) has a lot of information on it for resources so they can reach out for support as a victim of domestic violence, and generally that’s the end of it as far as police are involved,” Millard said.

He said that now, when reviewing case reports, Berkley and Royal Oak police share those best suited for intervention with advocates from HAVEN to reach out to victims, especially when an arrest is involved.

“They’re certainly better to give advice to victims,” Millard said. “Victims have different levels (of trauma) and there’s a spectrum for domestic situations, from verbal altercations, to a family struggle or trouble, all the way up to murder.”

While detectives follow up with more serious domestic violence cases, Millard said victims are often entrenched with their abusers — emotionally, financially or otherwise — and are unwilling to press criminal charges.

“A lot of times, domestics happen under the influence of alcohol,” he said. “It’s very common for victims to not want to pursue (legal action) and regret getting police involved.”

He said he is excited for advocates from HAVEN and other organizations to continue meeting and developing improved communication and methodology to assist those in the community impacted by domestic violence.

Judge Derek Meinecke, of the 44th District Court, could not be reached for comment by press time.