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A new $900,000 federal grant aimed at combating domestic violence will give police and prosecutors more time to go after offenders and strengthen the safety net for victims in the Salt lake City area, officials said at a news conference Monday.
"We're just very excited. We want to make sure victims know this is a safe place to come," said Asha Parekh, the director of the YWCA's Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center. "They don't have to go through all of it on their own."
The Justice Center, located at 310 E. 300 South, brings many of the services victims might need under one roof, including police, prosecutors and a shelter. For the approximately 3,700 victims who have visited the center since it opened five years ago, having everything in one place makes it easier to navigate an "unwieldy" system, Parekh said.
"Oftentimes, victims are very afraid of what's going to happen if they testify," she said. "They don't know the system or their role in it."
The grant will pay for a county prosecutor to be at the center part time. Although city prosecutors are there already 40 hours a week, a county attorney can tackle more serious charges. The grant will also pay for overtime for police to arrest people for violating protective orders.
"The detectives are so busy with follow-up investigations, with all the people out there, it will be nice to have overtime money to go out and arrest people," said Salt Lake Police Sgt. Dan Brewster, head of the department's six-detective domestic-violence unit.
Officers can then intervene before an offender becomes more dangerous, said Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank. The numbers show why that's so important: While the overall homicide rate has dropped in recent years, the rate of domestic-violence-related deaths has increased. Of the 53 murders in Utah last year, nearly half were the result of domestic violence, according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis.
But enforcement is only part of the effort.
"It's not just about the police department," Burbank said. "It's really about a bunch of agencies that are coming together … to make delivery of services better."
The grant, which will be dispersed over two years, is from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women and doubles the area's federal domestic-violence funding. Monday's announcement also marks the beginning of the YWCA's annual Week Without Violence, a series of events designed to raise awareness about domestic violence.
One of those events was the presentation of the Family Violence Prevention Award to Parekh. Parekh, who joined the YWCA staff in 2001 as director of the domestic-violence shelter and became director of the Family Justice Center in 2007, was chosen for the award by the Utah Domestic Violence Council.