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Experts discuss domestic violence

Police chief: Numbers remain too high in Azle
Maggie Fraser
Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Police Chief Rick Pippins addresses the crowd at an “Azle issues” meeting Aug.
26. Photo by Maggie Fraser

Domestic violence affects every aspect of life in Azle, community leaders told a group gathered at Ash Creek Baptist Church on Sunday, Aug. 26.

Azle Police Chief Rick Pippins, Azle ISD District Social Worker Jamie Westbrook, and Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital President Bob Ellzey spoke on the far-reaching impacts of domestic violence during a special luncheon focused on the city’s issues.

“Assaultive offenses” are by far the most prevalent crimes in Azle, Pippins said, and most take the form of domestic or family violence.

“We’ve made Azle a much safer, better place to live over the years,” he said. “But one thing that really concerns me is that though the number of serious crimes has gone steadily down, one thing that hasn’t is violent, assaultive offenses.

“This rate stays more or less the same. From 2013 through July of this year, we’ve had well over 700 assaultive offenses. And the thing that’s really disturbing is that 54 percent or more of those crimes have been what we refer to as ‘family violence assaults.’”

Assault is an “intimate” crime that rarely occurs between strangers, Pippins said, but it can run rampant in families.

The stigma against domestic violence means that victims – and perpetrators – often don’t get the help they need until it’s too late, and the chief encouraged open conversations about the issue.

“First of all, we need to talk about it. We can’t hide this, because this cycle is not going to be broken by itself,” he said.

The effects of domestic violence trickle down to local schools, where students are negatively affected by what’s going on at home, Westbrook said.

“Those kids are getting out of the car or off the bus, and the fact they have an algebra test today is the least of their worries,” she said. “I’ve seen it. They’ll flat out tell you they don’t care, that their mom was beat up, their dad may go to jail, and they don’t know where they’re going to go.

“They may or may not have food to eat that night, and they didn’t get breakfast that morning. It’s a lot for these kids to deal with.”

Westbrook is also a foster care liaison, and she works to determine which students in the district are homeless.

There is a shortage of affordable housing in the Azle area, which aggravates the problem, she said.

“Some of our high school kids are couch-hoppers,” she said. “I’ve already processed two applications for kids who are friends of my high school-aged son. I never would have suspected something going on in the home.

“And it was domestic violence. One boy told me he just had to get out, that it would be him next if he didn’t leave. So now he’s going from couch to couch with friends to find a place to sleep.”

Based on last year’s statistics with an enrollment of roughly 6,000, about 300 students – or five percent – in Azle ISD meet the definition of homelessness, Westbrook said.

“That seems crazy to me. I did not know, going into this position, that we had so many kiddos in our school district that met that criteria and were struggling day-today,” she said.

The district and local civic groups have programs to help young people in trouble, including the weekend food backpack program.

“Younger students are given a backpack full of food for the weekend, and that helps to supplement what’s in the house,” Westbrook said.

Business owners can help by working with the district’s career and technical education programs to mentor or employ students.

“Try to link up with the high school and see if you can mentor someone,” she said. “Or even look at hiring these students. Let’s get these kids straight from high school into a job.”

Ellzey said the hospital daily sees the impacts of domestic violence.

“All of these issues – family violence, school issues – these end up in the hospital, and in many cases, in the emergency room.

“We’re here to take care of people. But so many things that show up in the hospital are the result of these issues, things that are preventable.”

Beyond the obvious physical impacts of domestic violence, a victim can develop a number of health problems in trying to cope with abuse, Ellzey said.

Depression and other psychiatric ailments caused or exaggerated by violence can lead to self-medication through drug and alcohol addiction, self-harm, binge eating, smoking, or other problematic behaviors.

“What we’re finding is that depression and things like it are the root cause of several illnesses and diseases,” he said. “Depression and social isolation are huge issues for both Parker and Tarrant Counties, and it leads to so many other health issues.

“Let’s say a husband beats up his wife. He’s had his release, but now the wife is holding all that anger. She holds it in. She has no release. And what happens next? Hypertension, alcoholism, drug abuse, and other things like that to try and mask the mental state she’s in.

“Depression leads to physical complications that put people in the emergency room with high-dollar health issues. But the root cause is in the home.”

Ellzey also encouraged open conversation about domestic violence and to support community organizations dedicated to helping young people in trouble.

Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital participates in “community impact councils” with local leaders to identify and correct social and behavioral issues that negatively impact health, he said.

“We look at where we can be involved and impact people’s health before they reach the emergency room,” Ellzey said.