Domestic violence is a crime that affects far too many families in North Texas and Denton County. The physical and emotional tolls of domestic violence can last for years, or even a lifetime. Most tragic of all are the cases where lives are lost due to abuse; the Texas Council on Family Violence found that 136 women were killed by a male partner in 2017.
With a new chief at the helm since October, the Denton Police Department has been making sweeping changes that will give officers more power to prosecute abusers, even if the victim is unwilling to cooperate.
Back in February, police responded to a witness’s report of a man punching a woman in the face at a house on Rose Street in Denton. When officers arrived, they found the man and woman in question, but the woman denied that she had been assaulted. This is a common response from victims of domestic violence who either don’t want to send a loved one to jail or who fear violent repercussions if they speak out.
In the past, the woman’s refusal to name the man as her abuser would have left officers with their hands tied. But under the changes brought about by new Police Chief Frank Dixon, the police force is taking a harder look at cases like the one on Rose Street. Officers discovered old injuries to the woman’s face which suggested ongoing physical abuse. Along with the witness’s statement, they pulled up records of the man assaulting the woman twice in the past year. All of the evidence gave the police enough cause to arrest the man, even without the victim’s cooperation.
A New Approach to Domestic Violence Cases
Most domestic violence cases have patterns if investigators look hard enough. What may start with noise disturbances or arguments can quickly escalate into assault. In order to keep track of these patterns, Denton officers must now file a report every time they go to a domestic disturbance call. Even if the victim will not name their abuser, the officers’ reports will create a paper trail for police to follow on future calls.
This will help domestic abuse victims receive the help they need. Without the paper trail, police could believe they are responding to an isolated incident, especially if the victim does not mention the cycle of abuse. But with a record of previous incidents, officers will know when an assault is part of a pattern of violence and can connect victims to helpful resources.
“I think we owe it to our victims and our potential victims,” Chief Dixon said.
Domestic Violence Penalties
Domestic violence, or “family violence” as it is known in the Texas Family Code, can be any one of a number of crimes. Assault, sexual assault, threats, and false restraint can all be prosecuted under the umbrella of family violence. The penalties for these crimes depend on how the crimes are classified according to severity.
These are the punishments for misdemeanors and felonies in Texas:
- First Degree Felonies. 5-99 years in prison, up to a $10,000 fine.
- Second Degree Felonies. 2 – 20 years in prison, up to a $10,000 fine.
- Third Degree Felonies. 2 – 10 years in prison, up to a $10,000 fine.
- State Jail Felonies. 3 months – 2 years in a state jail, up to a $10,000 fine.
- Class A Misdemeanors. Up to 1 year in the county jail, fine not to exceed $4,000.
- Class B Misdemeanors. Up to 3 months in the county jail, fine not to exceed $2,000.
- Class C Misdemeanors. Fine not to exceed $500.
If there is a protective order in place, violating it counts as a Class A misdemeanor.
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