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.