Kansas City’s Domestic Violence Court only municipal court in nation to be named a mentor court by the U.S. Department of Justice

WRITTEN BY: Benita Jones
PHOTO BY: Karen Lim

The Kansas City Municipal Domestic Violence Court has earned the distinction of being named a Domestic Violence Mentor Court by the U.S. Department of Justice Violence Against Women Initiative. This designation also comes with a $48,090 grant.

Courts from around the country will visit the Kansas City Domestic Violence Court to observe its best practices when it comes to increasing accountability for domestic abusers.

The Kansas City Municipal Court serves the largest jurisdiction in Missouri and, as a result, handles the highest number of domestic violence and child abuses cases of any court in the State. During the past two years many improvements have been made to the domestic violence court program. Since 2015, the most serious offenders, either based on prior history or the nature of charges, are placed on the Domestic Violence Compliance Docket. These offenders appear regularly before Domestic Violence Judge Courtney Wachal and report regularly to an Offender Accountability Officer, both of which monitor their progress on probation. Failure to follow conditions of probation results in sanctions. Sanctions are pre-determined by a uniform sanctioning grid, applied to all offenders equally.

“This is a great honor for the Municipal Court and for the City as a whole,” said Judge Wachal. “We believe our current model is one that is viable for many courts to implement; regardless of the population that specific jurisdiction serves. We continue to strive to learn the most effective methods of keeping victims safe and holding offenders accountable.”

The City of Kansas City has long been dedicated to efforts to stem domestic violence. In 1989, the Mayor’s Task Force Against Domestic Violence created the Domestic Violence Victim Assistance Program. Those efforts led to the establishment of a dedicated domestic violence court docket and, in 1995, the creation of a permanent full-time domestic violence judge position. Currently the domestic violence court handles a variety of cases including assault, harassment, stalking, order of protection violations, child abuse, neglect and endangerment and domestic violence related stealing, property destruction and trespassing cases. The City’s Law Department also employs two full-time and two part-time domestic violence prosecutors and three victim advocates.

“The City and Court have worked very hard to strengthen the Domestic Violence team,” said Municipal Court Administrator Megan Pfannenstiel. “The unit includes a dedicated offender accountability officer and judge working side by side with the City Prosecutor’s Office Victim Assistance Program to ensure the safety of its victims and while holding the defendants accountable. We are also very fortunate in the relationships between the domestic violence team and various community partners.”

Each day there are two domestic violence shelter advocates available to speak to the City’s victims to ensure that they are receiving any assistance needed, legal or otherwise. The domestic violence team also works with Healthy Boundaries to provide low cost batterer’s intervention evaluation and classes. This has allowed for increased attendance and participation.

Visit kcmo.gov/court for more information.