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County council launches grant program to combat domestic violence

County CouncilUPPER MARLBORO – The county council is adding another tool in the fight against domestic violence.

At its April 25 meeting, the county council announced a $500,000 grant program for non-profit community groups that work to curb domestic violence. The funds are part of the $1.5 million the council added to the fiscal year 2017 budget for domestic violence prevention efforts. Council Chair Derrick Davis said the funds represent the continuation of the collaboration among county stakeholders to address the problem.

“It’s not just an initiative, it’s a community initiative. Domestic violence is more than a crime against just the victim. It is crime against all of us in society and our collective response must treat it as such,” Davis said. “By working together through a coordinated and collaborative community response to domestic violence in Prince George’s County, we will improve the lives of many Prince Georgians and perhaps even save some.”

According to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, Prince George’s County leads the state in domestic violence-related deaths. Across Maryland, 42 victims and 13 abusers died as a result of domestic violence in fiscal year (FY) 2016 (July 2015 - June 2016). Of the total number of deaths, 18 were in Prince George’s County. The second-place counties (Anne Arundel and Baltimore) only recording nine deaths each that fiscal year. The organization also determined that in FY15, the rate of domestic violence murders in the county was nearly 16 per 1 million population, the third highest level in the state.

The grant application period runs through May 10 at 5 p.m., and interested organizations can visit pgccouncil.us/dvgp for an application. Awards will be given to groups working in the community to aid domestic violence victims with housing, shelter, advocacy or counseling needs, as well as those doing domestic violence prevention work, Davis said. The grant awardees will be announced by May 31.

Davis said the grant program idea is the result of the council’s “Speak Up. Speak Out. It’s everybody’s business.” initiative, which included a town hall on domestic violence where councilmembers heard firsthand from domestic violence victims about their experiences.

“We, the county council, took several years to find a way, as the legislative branch, that we could participate with the folks who provide the safety net services,” he said. “One of the important things that I learned as we investigated domestic violence is how many hands really had to touch the situation- the sheriff, the police, the courts. I mean, it’s all hands on deck.”

The executive branch is also behind the program, said Betty Hager-Francis, deputy chief administrative officer for health and human services. She said the impacts of domestic violence on children are especially important to the county executive.

“We are finding here in the county that too many of our babies are actually being involved in situations in their homes that result in their deaths. We need to stop it. It ruins children’s lives. It ruins the lives of everybody involved,” she said. “The county executive has got all of the health and human services agencies working together with the county council, with all the public safety agencies, and we’re all really working together to help prevent this, and where it has not been prevented, to have effective programs to help survivors, and most importantly, help those children who are involved in this so that they are not scarred for life and so that they do not become abusers themselves.”

Public safety leaders in Prince George’s County also lauded the council’s move. Sheriff Melvin High said, “Our collective vision is to get to a violence-free society. The funding that you provided today to our community, to many of our nonprofits, will help to develop a program to help get us to that vision.”

Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski said the level of collaboration among stakeholders in this county has impressed other jurisdictions.

“People from around the country were astonished by the degree to which we were working in concert to solve these kinds of problems,” he said. “I just want to say how proud I am of my home.”

County Councilman Mel Franklin said the grants would be especially beneficial in South County. According to Franklin, a CountyStat report determined that a higher percentage of calls for assistance related to domestic violence originate in the southern areas of the county, but there is a shortage of service providers there.

“While we have seen record reductions in crime in nearly every other category, domestic violence continues to occur in our communities at very high levels, especially in South County,” Franklin said. “We must not rest until we provide all of the necessary resources for domestic violence survivors and their families to get the help they need and to stop the cycle of domestic violence in our county.”

Davis said while the government is stepping up its efforts to combat domestic violence- including through this grant program and the new family justice center in Upper Marlboro, a one-stop shop with 23 service providers providing comprehensive help to victims – residents must also step up and do their part.

“This is not anything that we can do alone. It won’t be a government response by itself that creates this, and strengthens this, safety net. It is only through the ears, eyes, hands, and spirits of all of those in our community to help this domestic violence solution find a way to eradication,” he said. “Everyone has a part.”

Hager-Francis agreed.

“We all have to work together. Families, coworkers, people know when these things are going on. Please speak up,” she said. “Please offer your assistance to those who are involved in these situations.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, help is available. Prince George’s County’s Health Department has a domestic violence coordinator, reachable by phone at 301-883-7873. The police department’s domestic violence unit phone number is 301-772-4433. The House of Ruth, which provides comprehensive support services to victims, offers a 24-7 hotline at 410-889-7884. Always call 911 in an emergency.

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