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Amherst police increase domestic violence enforcement efforts

Janet Lopez, a detective who has served as a court liaison officer, is being reassigned to a position in which she will investigate domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and harassment and stalking.

At the same time, the 14-year veteran will work with those who survive these crimes.

Lopez said she has the energy and interest that will make a difference in the community.

“As the court liaison I had several additional duties in the department that surrounded domestic violence and sexual assault,” Lopez said. “This new position allows me to give 100 percent to that one effort.”

The change comes as a part of a $300,000, two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, which is a partnership between Amherst, Northampton and University of Massachusetts police departments and the Center for Women and Community at UMass.

Amherst Police Capt. Jennifer Gundersen said only 5 to 7 percent of domestic violence cases end up being prosecuted.

“Our goal with this position is to improve prosecution, increase safety of the victims and hold offenders accountable,” Gundersen said.

Lopez said she will take investigations beyond just summoning individuals to court or arresting suspects to providing resources and support for survivors.

“This position is very victim focused, which will hopefully ease the anxiety of the criminal justice process and encourage more people to come forward,” Lopez said.

“We hope with the improved investigations we will help make the victim feel more confident about the criminal justice system,” Gundersen said.

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said domestic violence investigations have traditionally been handled by all detectives. Now, Lopez will be responsible for the bulk of them.

“This adds consistency both in the investigation with the civilian advocate and other police agencies,” Livingstone said.

Amherst police handled 157 domestic violence incidents and 36 sex offenses in fiscal 2012, according to department records.

Lopez will work closely with law enforcement agencies, advocacy groups and community organizations, including the Northwestern District Attorney’s Domestic Violence Task Force and High Risk Domestic Violence Assessment Group and the Hampshire County Sexual Assault Response Team.

She will also partner with Ilana Gerjuoy, the full-time civilian advocate for the Amherst and UMass police departments.

The grant focuses, in part, on serving members of immigrant communities and the disabled.

Lopez, who speaks English and Spanish, expects to do outreach and community partnerships with organizations like the Center for New Americans.

Lopez has already created a Facebook social media page for the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Division and also anticipates doing public service announcements through Amherst Media.

As part of the reassignment, Detective Christina Knightly will move to the court liaison position, Livingstone said, while a new officer has been hired as part of the grant to work a patrol detail.

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