v    What is “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence?”

v    How & why did the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative start?

v    How does the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative work?

v    How is the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative funded?

v    Is the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative helping?

v    Why is “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” important?

v    Where can I call for help?

v  View "Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence" poster



What is “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence?”

The “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative is a multi-jurisdictional partnership, created to help eliminate domestic and family violence and elder abuse in Contra Costa County.  County staff, local law enforcement, the Courts and community service providers have banded together under the leadership of the Board of Supervisors to offer a comprehensive, coordinated, community-wide response to break the progressive cycle of domestic and family violence. 


Established in 2000, the “Zero Tolerance” initiative is a long-term investment in the health, safety and well-being of the County’s most vulnerable victims, children and elders.  The initiative emphasizes misdemeanor-level interventions, innovative uses of technology, development of effective interagency protocols and measurable performance indicators to track the County’s “return on investment” over time.  “Zero Tolerance” activities are showing early indications of improved safety for victims and children, increased accountability for offenders and streamlined, coordinated service structures that better serve the public.


How & why did the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative start?      [TOP]

In February, 2000, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors declared a policy of “zero tolerance for domestic violence.  This policy was established because the Board found that, although the law enforcement and service provider communities had identified reducing domestic/family violence and elder abuse as priorities, and had devoted significant resources and effort to reducing these crimes, domestic violence and elder abuse were on the rise. 


Moreover, these crimes were primarily committed against women, vulnerable children and elders.  For example, the number of domestic violence arrests in Contra Costa County in 1998 was 154% higher than the number of arrests in 1988.  Children were present in one out of every three domestic violence incidents reported in the County between 1997-99.  Three out of five domestic violence incidents reported to law enforcement agencies involved parties with a prior history of domestic violence.  


Both the human toll (injury, death and trauma) and the fiscal toll (high-cost crisis services and impact on the justice sectors) to the County were substantive and systemic.  A coordinated, comprehensive approach to eliminating domestic and family violence and elder abuse was determined to be potentially cost-effective, beneficial for the public and most likely to break the generational, traumatic and progressive cycle of violence.


How does the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative work?     [TOP]    

Recognizing the need for a comprehensive approach, the Board of Supervisors approved a multi-agency system improvement effort, the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative.  “Zero Tolerance” initiative partners included the Superior Court, the Sheriff’s, District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s Offices, the Employment and Human Services, Probation and Health Departments and community service providers (STAND! Against Domestic Violence, Elder Abuse Prevention and Bay Area Legal Services Foundation). 


The “Zero Tolerance” initiative was formulated and coordinated by a team in the County Administrator’s Office, which had researched best practices statewide and interviewed local staff in all the participating agencies.  Each partner agency was required to submit a funding request, a description of proposed services and to identify measurable performance indicators. 


Start-up “Zero Tolerance” initiative activities were launched in October, 2000 (hiring and training of staff, development of contracts and service planning) and system-wide interventions began in January, 2001.  The Board requires regular progress reports on performance measures, challenges and accomplishments, and future planning for the initiative.  System-wide improvements included:


Ø      Establishment of a multi-agency, misdemeanor post-conviction calendar (or “Domestic Violence Court”) to hold batterers accountable earlier in the cycle of violence, ensure offenders’ attendance at mandatory programs, improve access to services such as substance abuse treatment, and align Court activities across family, criminal, civil and probate sectors;


Ø      Increased numbers of Sheriff’s detectives to screen and investigate misdemeanor cases;


Ø      Creation of an Elder Abuse prosecution unit, hiring of Case Preparation Assistants for domestic violence cases and coordination of misdemeanor domestic violence case prosecutions in the District Attorney’s Office;


Ø      Extension of a West County Restraining Order Clinic pilot project, a joint effort between the Superior Court and the Legal Services Foundation;


Ø      Additional Victim/Witness program outreach to misdemeanor victims and children, helping them access additional state funds earmarked for local victim services;


Ø      Training and new referral resources for physicians, and comprehensive training for mental health and other service providers, developed and delivered in the Health Services Department to improve victim and family access to services;


Ø      Establishment of CalWORKs (TANF) and Child Protective Service Domestic Violence Liaisons in local human services offices to better identify and serve high-risk victims and children;


Ø      Additional Probation staff to intensively supervise a greater number of violent felons in domestic violence cases, and to initiate active supervision of misdemeanor offenders through the Domestic Violence Court;


Ø      Training and community networking/education programs for elder abuse prevention, developed and delivered regionally in the County; 


Ø      Tracking the development of a County-wide Family Violence Prevention Action Plan by the Health Services Department  (through an extensive community input process). 


Ø      Through the joint efforts of the Superior Court and the Sheriff’s Office, a procedure was implemented to have protective orders issued by the Court entered into a state-wide Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) system by Sheriff’s personnel, thereby eliminating the need for victims to deliver this information to the Court and Sheriff.  Information entered into this system is accessible by law enforcement personnel statewide. 


Ø      An existing, centralized computer system (Sheriff’s Domestic Violence Tracking System), which retains domestic violence reports and supplemental information from multiple law enforcement agencies County-wide, was refurbished and enhanced.  This system already tracked valuable statistical data such as the number and geographic location of children who were exposed to domestic violence.  New fields for Probation and Child Protective Services information were created.  In addition, technical staff “linked” this system to systems in 14 local law enforcement agencies.  A 4-hour training was offered to enhance the capability of local police to utilize the system.  The District Attorney’s Office improved computerized reporting capability to better track cases through the system as adjudicated, improving on the previous point-in-time capability. 


Ø      In the Sheriff’s Department, a Domestic Violence resource screen, with critical information such as current restraining order data, was created and made available to all patrol deputies through their Mobile Data Computers in patrol vehicles.


How is the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative funded?        [TOP]

Approximately $2,000,000 annually in County General Funds and existing revenue streams such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) are deployed to finance the “Zero Tolerance” initiative.  This funding supports new positions, technology improvements, staff training, community capacity-building and increased enforcement costs.  The County considers the “Zero Tolerance” initiative, with its emphasis on misdemeanor-level services, to be a long-term investment, designed to reduce expensive crisis services over time.  Agencies are tracking data quarterly, measured against baselines (where possible) to determine progress toward these reductions.  Annual costs are allocated as follows:


Sheriff ($464,000)                   $151,500                     Victim Protection

                                                  215,000                     Domestic Violence Unit

                                                    97,500                     Data Enhancements


District Attorney                      $324,000                     Misdemeanor and Elder Abuse Prosecution


Public Defender                      $103,000                     Increased Legal Representation Costs


Probation ($479,000)              $187,000                     Felony Intensive Supervision

                                                    78,000                     Victim/Witness Services

                                                  214,000                     Misdemeanor Probation Services



Courts ($113,500)                   $  52,500                     Victim Restraining Order/Filing Assistance

                                                    82,000                     Restraining Order Clinic Pilot Project


Human Svcs. ($328,000)        $103,000                    Child Protective Service DV Liaisons

                                                   225,000                    CalWORKs (TANF) DV Liaisons


Health Services[1]                     $100,000                    Physician/Medical Service Provider Training


Community Svcs.                   $200,000                    Victim and Children’s Services/Elder Abuse Services          


$10,000 in project administration start-up costs helped fund a County-wide “Zero Tolerance” symposium on domestic and family violence.   The approximately 70 participants developed and prioritized system improvements that drove initial implementation and focused future planning on two areas:  developing centralized coordination of domestic and family violence and elder abuse-related activities; and establishing multi-disciplinary teams to coordinate victim, offender and child services and activities.



Is the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative helping?       [TOP]

Ø      The Domestic Violence Court handled 40 cases in the first month.  In the first few months of operation the Court caseload quickly grew to 186 cases.  The Court issued 25 bench warrants resulting in 16 defendants taken into custody and identified/tracked 68 related cases (civil, probate, family law).  It also succeeded in better enforcing probation violations and drastically reduced the number of repeat offenses among those supervised in this Court.  The Court also created a “Crossover Committee” to better track and align orders in criminal, civil and probate cases. 


Ø      Initial Sheriff’s data showed a doubled rate of misdemeanor domestic violence filings, and an increased rate of felony filings attributable to increased capacity for investigating domestic violence offenses.


Ø      The Sheriff’s Domestic Violence Tracking System has input 16,231 reports from 1997-2001.  Since “Zero Tolerance” was implemented, calls from other agencies have gone from an average of 20 to an average of 50 per month. 


Ø      The District Attorney’s Elder Abuse Unit posted 14 convictions in its first 90 days of operation and established an elder abuse hotline (1-866-ELDER-OK/1-866-353-3765).


Ø      The number of misdemeanor cases filed by the DA went from 664 in the baseline year to 708 in the first tracking year, and the conviction rate went from 79% in the first quarter to 84% for the year.  While in the baseline year only 5 misdemeanor cases went to trial, there were 22 misdemeanor domestic violence trials in the first tracking year of “Zero Tolerance”.


Ø      The West County Restraining Order Clinic prepared 119 proposed domestic violence orders in the first 3 months of “Zero Tolerance” reporting; 72% of the orders processed in the Richmond Branch Court during this period were prepared through the Clinic.


Ø      In its first 90 days of operation, the Sheriff’s office entered over 1,600 orders and other documents into the statewide DV Restraining Order System and was able to avoid hundreds of duplicate or erroneous entries.  Their entry rate is now within one day and they have developed special handling processes for long weekends. 


Ø      In the first 60 days of outreach, the Victim/Witness Program contacted over 160 misdemeanor-level victims and helped a significant number to access the state program for services such as relocation and counseling. 


Ø      The comprehensive Victim Resources brochure was updated and 10,000 were made available for distribution.  Over 1,200 activity books for children from the Judicial Council of California (“What’s Happening In Court”) were distributed.


Ø      The rate of Public Defender-represented clients nearly doubled, from 12% to 20% in the first six months and the office experienced an increase in probation violation cases.

In mid-2001, the County Administrator’s Office surveyed all County Departments for information on existing policies and management training to meet the needs of County employees who may be victims of domestic or family violence.  In partnership with Blue Shield of California, the County Administrator’s Office is planning policy development and training for senior County managers in Spring, 2002 to address this issue.


Also in 2001, the Sheriff’s Department initiated an in-custody batterer’s intervention program in its West County Detention Facility and made plans to expand the program countywide.  On a parallel track, the County’s Advisory Council Against Domestic Violence worked with certified Batterer’s Program service providers to establish criteria allowing inmates participating in in-custody intervention programs to count participation in these programs toward mandatory 52-week batterer’s treatment programs when released.


In July, 2001 the Governor signed into law SB 425 (Torlakson), the “Contra Costa Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” Act, making Contra Costa the first “Zero Tolerance” county in California.  SB 425 gave the Board of Supervisors authority to increase fees for certified copies of certain vital records, to fund governmental oversight, coordination and support of the County’s “Zero Tolerance” initiative.  The bill requires Contra Costa County to track performance measures related to the initiative and report back to the Legislature on the success of the program in 2006.



Why is “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” important?     [TOP]

There are two unique features to the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative.  First,  “Zero Tolerance” interventions are concentrated at the misdemeanor level, which for understandable reasons (given the urgency of addressing egregious felonies) had not been the focus of activities before the initiative was created.  By addressing domestic and family violence at the misdemeanor stage, serious trauma and injury are more likely to be avoided.  Scarce resources go farther, reach a broader constituency and improve the quality of life of more of the County’s residents. 


Second, “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” is a system-wide effort that takes into account the role of each partner in contributing to reductions in crime, violence and trauma related to domestic and family violence and elder abuse.  Under the leadership of the Board of Supervisors and the coordination of the County Administrator’s Office, partner agencies have been successful in identifying and addressing gaps in services, reducing overlaps and duplication of services, leveraging existing resources, developing new interagency protocols and agreements, and better coordinating and integrating services.  Each agency’s commitment to quantitative data collection ensures that progress can be tracked over time, course corrections made, and eventual reduction in crisis costs documented.


However, while quantitative performance measures are necessary and desirable, they cannot tell the whole story of the effectiveness of the “Zero Tolerance” initiative. 



And in the words of one domestic violence survivor:


“I came to apply for assistance at the Antioch CalWORKs office after being homeless for the last few months by choice.  After meeting with [my eligibility worker], she had me talk with [the intensive services case worker]. Then she had me meet with [the STAND! domestic violence liaison working in the CalWORKs office].  Without these three ladies, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I am able to do now.


Prior to knowing them I only knew what I did not want.  After working with them, I knew what I wanted.  When one of them did not have the answer to my question, that person went to someone else who did have the answer.  They did a good job, even when I fought them.  They would not give up on me. …


When I was a child, I was scared whenever I saw the County car.  I was told that those are the people who take kids away.  Now I know that people who work for the County and the people at STAND! are there to help me.”




Where can I call for help?

For 24-hour help call 1-888-215-5555


For more information about the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” initiative, call 925-335-1017


[1] Twelve months only