Grant boosts Domestic Violence Unit

Alabama Civil Justice Foundation founder Bob Roden is hugged by Safeplace director Rachel Cabaniss at the Lauderdale County Courthouse, where a meeting was held with local law enforcement officials. Funds were presented by the foundation Monday to the Safeplace director for a new domestic violence unit.

FLORENCE - Lauderdale County’s new Domestic Violence Unit received a boost Monday when Safeplace received a $10,000 Justice Grant.

The grant from the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation was presented during a ceremony at the Lauderdale County Courthouse.

This is the first full month of the Domestic Violence Unit, which is a cooperative between the county’s district attorney and sheriff’s offices, Florence Police Department, Safeplace and the Lauderdale and Florence Municipal court systems.

Rachel C. Cabaniss, executive director of Safeplace, which provides shelter for victims of abuse and their children, said the unit and funding come at a good time.

“Domestic violence in Lauderdale County has certainly gotten out of hand,” Cabaniss said. “Domestic violence homicides and misdemeanors have increased in the last few years.”

District Attorney Chris Connolly said 60 percent of domestic violence homicides in the county start as misdemeanor domestic violence cases and escalate from there.

“This program started in September and we already are seeing effects,” Connolly said.

The Alabama Association of Justice was founded in 1993 and awards grants through the Interest on Lawyers Trust Account program, said Sue McInnish, executive director of the association. She commended authorities in Lauderdale County for working together on the unit and said that is essential for it to succeed.

“The first thing I said when I read this grant is it’s nice, but it’s going to take exceptional coordination,” McInnish said. “We know this money will be used well. Domestic violence issues are a focus and priority for us. The Domestic Violence Unit is a systems-change effort. This significantly increases our capacity to keep victims safe and hold abusers accountable.”

The grant is particularly meaningful to Bob Roden, chairman emeritus of the foundation and a native of Florence. Roden’s mother was killed in a domestic violence homicide when he was 11 years old. The offender was convicted of manslaughter.

“If something like Safeplace had existed then, I believe she’d still be alive,” Roden said.

The formation of the unit is timely. Cabaniss said the number of domestic violence misdemeanor cases reported in Lauderdale County has doubled since 2009.

A study released this month ranked Alabama second nationally in the rate of women killed by men.

The study by the Violence Policy Center stated Alabama had 2.64 such cases per 100,000 people, second to Nevada’s 2.7 per 100,000.

Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.

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