The Dane County District Attorney’s Office is using a $100,000 federal grant under the Victims of Crime Act to provide victims of domestic abuse protection that will alert law enforcement when someone tries to enter their home.
The alarms will be connected to the county’s 911 Center and are operated with a pendant worn on the neck or placed in the home. Victims also get a radio that is set to frequencies used by local law enforcement.
The grant will be used to purchase five more of the alarms.
Dane County is contributing $26,000 to match the federal grant officials say adds another layer of protection for those who are vulnerable to attack.
"The response to these alarms once sounded will be swift and strong. We want to put potential perpetrators on notice that violence of any type will not be tolerated in our community," said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi at a Tuesday press event.
Officials say they applied for federal funding for alarms and emergency hotel stays because of a lack of housing options for those at risk of violence.
"The DAIS Shelter is always full and with long waiting lists," said Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.
"This problem is exacerbated by Dane County’s booming economy and population growth, resulting in low housing vacancy rates and insufficient affordable housing. The community needs to know and recognize that victims are not being adequately protected and we need to come together to solve this problem," Ozanne continued.
From left to right, Executive Director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Service Dane County Shannon Barry, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. Shamane Mills/WPR
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The housing crunch comes at a time when domestic violence is increasing and many victims have few places to go.
"We have more people seeking our services than ever before," said Shannon Barry, executive director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, or DAIS. "In 2017, we fielded over 18,000 calls on our 24-hour helpline. That’s a 215-percent increase in the number prior to (moving into our new location)."
In 2014, DAIS opened an expanded shelter on Madison’s north side. It more than doubled capacity.
"In 2013, DAIS was only able to provide 8,700 nights of shelter for domestic violence victims and their children in our old space," Barry said. "In 2017, we provided more than 21,000 nights of shelter to victims and their children."
But it wasn’t enough. Barry said 25,000 shelter nights were on a waiting list last year.
Parisi praised DAIS for handling the aftermath of crisis situations but wants fewer of them.
"What has to happen is a focus on prevention. We have to get to a place where committing an act of violence against another is not an option in people’s minds," Parisi said.
Seventy-three people died from domestic violence in Wisconsin in 2016.