St. Cloud police, battered women's shelter team up to help domestic violence victims

Officer Ryan Ebert, left
Officer Ryan Ebert of the St. Cloud Police Department, left, stops to speak to a fellow officer during his shift on Nov. 12 in St. Cloud.
Manda Lillie | MPR News

St. Cloud police are experimenting with a new response to reports of domestic violence — they're bringing advocates from a battered women's shelter to the calls.

For the past three years, police have teamed up with Anna Marie's Alliance, a St. Cloud-based domestic abuse shelter, to try improving the likelihood that victims will seek help.

St. Cloud police Lt. James Mortenson said the new partnership has translated into big progress for the department.

"Even though our Anna Marie's attempted to make contact and provide services with all our victims before, we had about a 9 percent success rate of providing some type of service to victim," he said. "We're in the 50 percent now."

Lieutenant Jim Mortenson
Lt. Jim Mortenson of the St. Cloud Police Department speaks to fellow officers before a nightly briefing in October.
Manda Lillie | MPR News

When St. Cloud officers investigate a domestic violence report, first they make sure the situation is safe. Then, they call the advocates from Anna Marie's who offer services to the victims.

The person who supervises those advocates is Johanna Klinkner, the shelter's manager of advocacy services and criminal justice intervention. She has worked with Anna Marie's for 21 years.

"They believe if an advocate shows up, it shows that advocate cares," Klinkner said.

If an advocate goes to the scene, there's a 90 percent chance they will make contact with the victim. If they reach out by phone, there's a 30 percent chance, Klinkner said.

Working closely with advocates has changed officer attitudes towards domestic abuse calls, according to Mortenson.

"When they go to these domestic violence calls for service, they're like, 'God again,'" he said. "Well that's all part of training we provide to the cops. And so they have better understanding of the issues those victims have with trying to make that separation."

St. Cloud's program is just one of several in the state in which social service agencies are teaming up with the criminal justice system to prevent and prosecute domestic violence and help victims.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe intimate partner violence at some point. In 2015 the Minnesota Women's Coalition reported 32 Minnesota women died from injuries related to domestic violence.

JoHanna Klinkner
Johanna Klinkner is the advocate supervisor at Anna Marie's Alliance, a women's shelter based in St. Cloud.
Manda Lillie | MPR News

Klinkner has first-hand experience with the struggle to leave an abusive relationship. She's a survivor of domestic violence and got help at Anna Marie's. She said she made the decision to leave her abusive ex-husband in 1992 when he tried to break into the home when the children were there on their own.

"The deputy had never seen children look so terrified in his entire career. That was an eye opener, he wasn't trying to get at me, he was terrorizing our children," Klinkner said. "Then I said, no more."

Klinkner has watched the cyclical nature of domestic violence play out at Anna Marie's. Some children and grandchildren of victims enter their own abusive relationships or become abusers.

But she feels there's hope.

"Nationally, a women would leave seven times before leaving for good. Now it's down to five," she said. "We're making progress. For that I'm grateful."