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Fairbanks council mulls change in domestic violence law

Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Fairbanks City Council is considering repealing a local domestic violence law.

Under the proposal, police would enforce the state domestic violence law, saving the city thousands of dollars. The state would pay to prosecute and incarcerate offenders.

The measure was introduced at Monday's Council meeting.

''There's no free lunch,'' District Attorney Harry Davis said. ''Fairbanks is going to get less services.''

The ordinance is meant to save money for the city, which is facing revenue shortfalls. The city pays more than $75,000 a year to jail domestic violence offenders, said Councilman Jerry Cleworth, who wrote the measure. The cost of prosecutions is harder to quantify.

''I do not know why this is still on the books,'' he said. ''We're hurting ourselves right now. We could use that money elsewhere in the police department.''

Police Chief James Welch supports repealing the law. He said the change wouldn't affect how the department investigates cases and that it would bring Fairbanks in line with other communities in the 4th Judicial District.

Davis, who is retiring at the end of the month, said having to deal with a larger caseload would probably mean his office would have to strike more bargains with misdemeanor offenders as a whole to avoid time-consuming trials.

That possibility worries Brenda Stanfill, executive director of the Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living.

She supports the proposed change because it would create consistency when people are arrested for domestic violence. But she doesn't want to see fewer trials.

''The city attorney's office is so short-staffed. They really don't have time to put them through trial,'' Stanfill told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''If we transfer all of these to the district attorney's office, are we going to run into the same problem because we don't have enough prosecutors?''

The district attorney's office does not count the number of domestic violence cases it processes each year. The city processes about 300 such cases a year.

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