116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is doing more for the victims of domestic violence.
Sheriff Brad Kunkel said his office has previously treated domestic violence arrests like it would many other cases — deputies take a report and make an arrest and let courts do the rest.
“And what I found was victims aren’t afforded that same opportunity to just move on after the initial incident like law enforcement does,” he said. “Offenders often reoffended shortly after being arrested and sometimes cases would get dismissed because there was more work to be done on the front end.”
“There were just a lot of gaps in the services,” Kunkel said.
With that end in mind, when Kunkel began his tenure as sheriff at the beginning of the year, he set out to make good on his campaign promise of providing more service to victims of intimate partner violence. Now, any case involving an arrest for domestic violence, stalking, harassment or no contact order violations involving an intimate partner are automatically referred to a detective for follow up.
Det. Sgt. Alissa Schuerer and Det. Sgt. Aaron Hammes are the two detectives dedicated to doing that follow up.
The detectives said domestic violence incidents are often chaotic and complex and the deputy at the scene has to prioritize the victim’s safety. It’s Schuerer and Hammes’ duty to follow up the next day and see how they can further assist the victim.
“So our role is the next day, as things are a little bit less chaotic, to follow up with the victim to ask questions like ‘Is there anything you’ve forgotten that would be helpful for us?’” Schuerer said. “Once things settle down, to be there ear to listen to them … Having those victim-centered, trauma-informed interview skills with them, to hear them, to listen to them.”
Kunkel said the sheriff’s office has partnered with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program to ensure domestic violence victims have the option of being connected with an advocate. Hammes said he or Schuerer will talk with the victim about how meeting with an advocate could be beneficial.
“And while we’re meeting with them, actually make that connection, make that phone call and see if we can get an advocate already talking with them,” he said.
The goal is to connect victims with resources in the area as well as be a point of contact at the sheriff’s office they can count on and trust, the detectives said. As the case progresses or the offender reoffends, Hammes or Schuerer will be there if the victim needs to reach out, they said.
Kunkel said in addition to assigning detectives for follow-up on cases, jail staff are also taking steps to ensure offenders aren’t violating the no contact order from jail.
The sheriff’s office itself has also become a more welcoming space for victims and survivors, Kunkel said. Previously, crime victims were often interviewed in the same sort of room reserved for suspects which consists of a desk and chairs. Earlier this year, the sheriff’s office converted an office into a space for victim and survivor interviews consisting of a more comfortable couch and chairs, blankets and plush children’s toys.
“It’s just a much different environment because we want people to feel comfortable when they’re explaining, in detail, some of the worst things that ever happened in their lives,” Kunkel said. “The environment can play a big role in how comfortable a person feels disclosing very painful things to us.”
The end result of these efforts is a sheriff’s office committed to better serving victims, Kunkel said.
“We understand the complexity and lethality involved with domestic violence and are here to listen to survivors when they’re ready to tell their story,” he said.
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