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Prosecuting Child Physical Abuse Cases: Lessons Learned From the San Diego Experience

NCJ Number
184386
Date Published
Agencies
NIJ
Publication Series
Annotation
This paper describes San Diego's (California) multiagency approach in dealing with child abuse cases.
Abstract
San Diego's approach involves coordination of case processing among child protective services (CPS), the police, the medical community, and the prosecutor's office. A CPS worker is usually the first official to respond to a report of suspected child abuse. Initial referrals to CPS come through a 24-hour hotline. Every hotline report and every case that results in an investigation are forwarded to the police. Police officers have full access to all the information contained in any CPS report. The police department is also required by law to report any alleged cases of child abuse to CPS. Under the interagency agreement, CPS's prime responsibility is to protect the child; law enforcement's is to investigate the alleged perpetrator. Prosecutors in the San Diego District Attorney's Family Protection Division work closely with law enforcement officers to answer any questions regarding the sufficiency of evidence or the type of evidence the prosecutors will need to convict. Because of the importance of collecting and interpreting medical evidence, the medical community also plays a crucial role in prosecuting physical abuse cases. The San Diego police department's specialized unit of 14 investigators handles all physical abuse, severe neglect, and sexual abuse cases. They are specially trained for their work. Interviews with CPS, the police, and the prosecutors in San Diego, revealed dissatisfaction with the leniency of sentences imposed in child abuse cases. Sentences were usually described as "mere slaps on the wrists." Implications for action are discussed.
Date Created: August 30, 2000