Editorial: Take steps to curb domestic abuse

  • Updated: October 11, 2009 - 8:07 AM

Report offers timely solutions for addressing domestic violence.

Pam Taschuk

Pam Taschuk likely wasn't surprised to find herself at the end of a gun pointed by her husband of 22 years. The well-liked 48-year-old social worker did everything by the book when she decided to leave Allen Taschuk. She sought help from battered women's advocates. She requested an order for protection. She worked with prosecutors to get Allen Taschuk charged with false imprisonment and abuse. But Taschuk still feared she wouldn't make it out of her marriage alive. She was right. Allen Taschuk showed up at the couple's Lino Lakes home around 11 p.m. on Oct. 1 and killed Pam before turning the gun on himself.

After a horrifying, high-profile crime like this, there's an instinctive rush by well-intentioned policymakers to pass tougher laws to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. The outrage is welcome. Society no longer considers domestic abuse a private crime, a problem for families not authorities. Yet partner abuse continues at epidemic levels in Minnesota and across the nation. Too many people still die at the hands of abusers. Pam Taschuk was one of about 200 Minnesota women who have died because of domestic violence over the past decade.

The question for lawmakers and law enforcers is not can we do better, but how can we do better? Thanks to pioneering work led by the St. Paul Police Department, the nonprofit Praxis International and the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, Minnesota is well ahead of the curve in thinking through this.

The project the two agencies collaborated on, funded by a 2007 grant from the state Legislature, is known simply as "The Blueprint.'' The mission: Take a fresh, comprehensive look at how the criminal justice system handles domestic abuse cases, from the first 911 call to sentencings, and figure out how to do better not only in St. Paul but across the state.

This is not a report done by academics in an ivory tower. Its conclusions are based on countless interviews with victims, patrol officers, prosecutors and judges. Each was asked what they need from the others to ensure the system does what it's supposed to do: protect victims from abusers. The report's conclusions are practical and center not on passing tougher laws, but rather on using existing statutes and resources more wisely.

Among the key recommendations: Gather more detailed information from witnesses to help prosecutors build cases later on. Another is to take steps to build more complete case files on offenders, with an emphasis on ensuring the info is easily accessed by various agencies dealing with abusers. The report also recommends using guidelines adopted by national organizations to assess an offender's risk of committing serious violence in the future. That could help judges better determine, as they deal with thousands of domestic abusers, which ones should have higher bail. That step could have kept Allen Taschuk behind bars the night he killed Pam. Although the Minnesota ACLU raised concerns about using the bail system as punishment, the expert it recommended to explore the issue voiced no serious concerns about its constitutionality. "It's a good way to use the developing field of risk assessment in this context,'' said Eric Janus, president and dean of William Mitchell College of Law School in St. Paul.

As St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington and St Paul City Attorney John Choi note in the Blueprint report, these recommendations are "not a collection of good policies but a collective policy.'' The city of St. Paul is beginning the monumental work of implementing the Blueprint. The rest of the state needs to follow its lead when the report is publicly released. Too many similar reports have gathered dust on a bureaucrat's shelf. The Blueprint, and women like Pam Taschuk, deserve better.

  • MAJOR EFFORT

    "Crafting the Blueprint was no small feat; implementing it will require even more commitment on the part of agencies, their leaders, and the countless practitioners that make up this massive entity called the criminal justice system.''

    Statement in the Blueprint report from St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington and St. Paul City Attorney John Choi

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