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Domestic assault in Duluth: Five takeaways

The News Tribune spent several months looking at Duluth's record prosecuting misdemeanor domestic assault between 2015 and 2017. Using court records, police reports and the voices of those involved, we tried to measure how the city accomplishes its stated goals of victim safety, offender accountability and prevention.

Below are just some of the findings from Sunday's story. Read the full story here.

• Just 9 percent of domestic assault cases the city charged ended with a conviction for domestic assault, which is not much different from large cities and counties around the state. But conviction rates are an imperfect measure of success — victim advocates and legal experts said that sentencing outcomes are more important.

• In Duluth, nearly two out of every three people the city prosecuted for domestic assault received unsupervised probation or less. That happened in cases where victims told police they feared for their lives and where there were visible signs of injury. City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said his office needs a higher burden of proof than police, and each case presents complex challenges.

• Police always arrest suspects when there is probable cause and write lengthy reports, part of the coordinated community response that was born of the Duluth Model, an organizing method that has become synonymous with domestic assault response around the world.

• The ideal outcome for misdemeanor domestic assault cases is to see offenders change their behavior and thinking, advocates say. "Putting him in jail isn't going to change who he is as a man," said Scott Miller, interim executive director of Duluth's Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs.

• There are many reasons why victims find it difficult to participate in the court process — living situation, finances, fear of retribution. Victim advocate Ragan Balzer joined the Duluth City Attorney's Office this spring, becoming the first person the city has employed in that role in several years. The grant money to pay for her position runs out in two years.

The Duluth Police Department is still fulfilling the News Tribune's data request for domestic assault cases from 2017. If anyone has an experience they would like to share, please reach out to investigative reporter Brooks Johnson at bjohnson@duluthnews.com, call (218) 723-5329 or text using the secure messaging app Signal at (218) 461-9509.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

(218) 723-5329