Yakima speeds up arrest warrants for domestic violence suspects

Focused deterrence program seeks to reduce recidivism for people accused of abusing an intimate partner

This is the third story in an investigative series looking at the domestic violence problem in the City of Yakima. Previous stories include Yakima has a domestic violence epidemic and a new coalition hopes to fix it and Yakima County jail inmates are texting, threatening victims from behind bars.

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima police officers and prosecutors are using new methods to prevent domestic violence suspects from reoffending, including expediting gone on arrival arrest warrants and reading suspects letters warning them police will be watching them.

“Our focus is on focused deterrence for these intimate partner violence offenders,” Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Brusic said. “We know that they’re most likely going to be recidivists, that they’re going to repeat this domestic violence cycle of abuse and we want to stop it.”

The changes were made as part of a focused deterrence program created earlier this year by the newly-formed Yakima Domestic Violence Coalition, which includes:

The coalition is using the program to identify suspects who are most likely to reoffend and then have police, prosecutors, probation officials and others combine resources to try to make sure that they won’t continue to abuse their victims.

Prosecutors speed up arrest warrant process to help police get domestic violence suspects behind bars

State law requires police officers to arrest domestic violence suspects if they arrive within four hours of a 911 call and find probable cause that a crime has been committed. However, suspects are not always there when officers arrive.

“Oftentimes what happens is a crime of domestic violence occurs and the offender leaves and we don’t find them,” Yakima Police Det. Michael Durbin said.

According to YPD’s Intimate Partner Violence Dashboard, officers have responded to 932 incidents of intimate partner violence since the beginning of July — that works out to about six to seven incidents every day.

The latest data available Monday  — which excludes domestic violence incidents between friends, family members or roommates — shows that in 384 of those incidents, the suspect was gone by the time police showed up.

RELATED: YWCA Yakima hotline calls increased 30% during the pandemic

If a suspect is on scene, police can arrest them, file an affidavit of probable cause and then wait for prosecutors to review that probable cause to determining whether to pursue criminal charges. Prior to the coalition’s new changes, Durbin said the process to get an arrest warrant for a suspect who was gone on arrival took weeks or even months.

Durbin said that delay cost investigators valuable time and often made it possible for suspects to come back to threaten, intimidate or further abuse their victims. He said that makes it even more difficult to keep the victim cooperating with the investigation.

“We see that survivors — their participation— fall off a lot of those cases, which end up getting dismissed,” Durbin said. “And then a few months later, we’re back where we started and the cycle just starts over.”

Brusic said that’s why city and county prosecutors have been expediting arrest warrants for domestic violence suspects. He said sometimes, they can get a warrant out in less than a day.

“One of the best ways we’ve identified to stop it is to attack it immediately and not wait,” Brusic said. “Most referrals we get for both misdemeanors and felonies, we are making every attempt to charge out; we’re very aggressive.”

Police warn domestic violence suspects to expect surprise visits, aggressive prosecution

However, in many cases, officers aren’t able to find enough probable cause at a domestic violence incident to make an arrest. Out of the nearly 1,000 incidents YPD has responded to in four months, less than a third resulted in an arrest.

Yakima Police Lt. Chad Janis said in those cases where the behavior does not rise to the criminal level, they want to try to reach those suspects before their behavior escalates to violence.

Janis said that’s why the coalition decided to create a warning letter officers can read to suspects at non-criminal domestic violence incidents telling them to stop what they’re doing or face the consequences.

When police read the warning to domestic violence offenders, they say:

  1. We will not tolerate domestic violence. It’s a crime against the family and community.
  2. The Yakima Police Department, City/County Prosecutor’s Office, and Probation Department are all working together to prevent domestic violence.
  3. Unless you stop abusing your partner, you’ll receive a great deal of attention from the Yakima Police Department.
  4. You’re now a subject to future unannounced police visits.
  5. Any future incident involving you will be a priority for us. If you commit a crime, we will actively search for you.
  6. We’ll see what else you can be prosecuted for, including old cases that were dismissed.
  7. This new approach is being driven by us, the POLICE — not the victim.
  8. You have been admonished and warned.

The letter is included as part of a pamphlet that advises offenders to take a time out if they become angry during arguments and to avoid arguing if they are under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The pamphlet also directs suspects to information about how domestic violence can affect their children. YPD has responded to 195 incidents in four months where children have witnessed domestic violence.

“If services or advocacy is the way out of domestic violence, that’s what this coalition is out to do,” Janis said.

Janis said the letter is based off of one used in a similar focused deterrence program in Chula Vista, Calif. that was able to reduce domestic violence in the city by 20% to 25% within the first year. He said other programs in Spokane and High Point, North Carolina have also seen success with the focused deterrence approach.

“We know that it’s not just a police problem or an advocacy problem or probation problem; it’s all of us coming together to decide this is what we are capable of doing and this is how we can make the most meaningful impact on intimate partner violence,” Janis said.

WATCH THE FIRST STORY IN KAPP-KVEW’S INVESTIGATIVE SERIES LOOKING AT THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROBLEM IN THE CITY OF YAKIMA: YAKIMA HAS A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE EPIDEMIC AND A NEW COALITION HOPES TO FIX IT.

WATCH THE SECOND STORY IN KAPP-KVEW’S INVESTIGATIVE SERIES LOOKING AT THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROBLEM IN THE CITY OF YAKIMA: YAKIMA COUNTY JAIL INMATES ARE TEXTING, THREATENING VICTIMS FROM BEHIND BARS.