Lexington's domestic violence approach is saving lives

    LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCIV) -- The latest alleged case of domestic violence highlights the attention that many police agencies are looking at as they tackle the ongoing problem. A sheriff's office near Columbia is facing it head on -- and the results are impressive.

    At the entrance to the Lexington County Sheriff's Department, phone numbers for domestic violence hotlines are posted for every visitor to see.

    "These are reports that I plan on reviewing. This is actually some legislation I'm supposed to look at," explained Nicole Howland as she looks at numerous files and folders on her desk. She works only select cases.

    "Anything that is related to intimate partner violence that's summary court level comes through here," said Howland.

    She's a prosecutor for the sheriff's department. She and five investigators work in a special unit dedicated to domestic violence.

    "The goal of the unit is to have effective law enforcement response that enhances victim safety and provides offender accountability," said Howland.

    Part of that accountability includes detailed incident reports prepared by deputies after they respond to a call.

    "If it is labeled as a domestic related offense, they must write a report. That way we can track what's going on in a relationship," explained Howland.

    "Anything we do in this job is dangerous. Particularly with domestics," admitted Steve Gamble.

    The veteran detective also works in the unit. Along with tracking cases, he spends time at the courthouse. From a window, he watches victims arrive and protects them possible intimidation when their accused batterer is in court.

    "We're able to hold defendants accountable with their no contact bond restrictions. We're able to move cases better," said Detective Gamble.

    "I think any group of highly motivated people with a common goal can get to where they want to be," said Howland.

    She credits a strong commitment from law enforcement, the courts, victim advocates, and a strong batterer treatment program for reversing the death toll from those who are killed by their partners.

    "Within the unincorporated areas of Lexington County, we've gone several years at a time with not a single domestic violence homicide when we had nine in 2001 when I started," explained Howland.

    Still, her department handled nearly six hundred cases last year alone. Howland and her team know their work is far from over.

    "We know when we fail, because someone ends up dead or someone gets hurt," said Howland.

    She says a unit like hers isn't one-size-fits-all. Howland believes every agency has a different dynamic. What works in Lexington may not work everywhere.

    Local police agencies tell ABC News 4 they're familiar with her role. They say they're studying what she does and will try to make changes if they're budget allows.

    The Charleston Police Department created a family violence unit last year. But it doesn't include a prosecutor.

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