Aldermen approve city domestic violence office

By Jim Hagerty

CITY HALL — Domestic violence calls have cost the city more than $850,000 so far this year.

And that is just the cost of man hours. What court proceedings, victim impact, related crime and the drain on existing domestic violence services is doing to the city’s bottom line isn’t exactly known. What Mayor Tom McNamara is sure of is that more than 30 percent of 911 calls are domestic violence related and that Rockford is the second-leading city in Illinois for sex trafficking. It is why he has asked Rockford aldermen to approve a city office aimed at curbing both problems.

The Rockford City Council made that move Monday, approving what officials say will be called the Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking. It will come with the initial cost of $150,000, which will cover a salary, IT and other setup.

“The office [will] do number of things, from securing grant funds for our community [to] working with our school systems to provide education, prevention and awareness,” Mayor Tom McNamara said. “It will be a centralized facilitator of services that we have.”

In addition, McNamara said the office would help the city and community partners analyze current services and determine the needs of future programs.

Fifth Ward Alderman Venita Hervey remained the lone dissenter in chambers Monday, echoing the same concern she voiced at the Oct. 23 meeting of the Rockford Finance and Personnel Committee. The civil rights attorney says she recognizes that domestic violence plagues the city, and the need for a targeted effort at City Hall to stop it. But the looming $10 million budget gap prevented her from supporting Monday’s measure.

“Right now, given the extreme and severe cost crunches that we are facing as a city that we have no way to mitigate and have not begun to talk about yet, now is not the time to add a payroll and legacy cost position,” Hervey said.

Hervey said she may have been swayed if the person hired to run the office was an independent contractor—at least until spring,  or until leaders iron out the city’s economic woes and decide whether Rockford can support another administrative salary.

McNamara said planners considered a non-employee for the job. And there were some savings there, but not enough to outweigh other factors he said were at play. The first-term mayor said outsourcing the position would come with a misconception that it was a temporary job.

“We [didn’t] propose this office to spend money,” McNamara said, noting that in 2016, the city spent $1.2 million in police man hours on domestic violence calls, assets the office would reallocate to curb one of Rockford’s most systemic problems, one he says is at the root of other crimes being committed throughout the city.

Despite accusations of taking away from the police budget, the mayor has injected $1 million into their spending plan. The domestic violence office, he said, will edify his stand to protect the public safety during what could be prickly economic decisions about which city departments could see cuts.

“We’re putting more money into public safety,” he said. “It is work that needs to be done and the right thing to do. It helps victims, survivors and our partner agents—nonprofit(s) as well as governmental. It also has the potential to make a tremendous impact on our budget.”

While the new office may not come with immediate savings, domestic violence and human trafficking remain growing problems across the country. That means the Rockford Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking could have the potential to be fully grant-funded in the future.

“Lives are being shattered,” Alderman Frank Beach said. “If we can figure out how to be more helpful, then that’s part of what we should do.”

Aldermen approved the new office with a 12-1 vote. R.

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