- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Birmingham Mayor William Bell, police Chief A.C. Roper and other officials said Tuesday that they hope consolidating legal and social services at a family justice center will help reduce domestic violence homicides in the city.

Bell and Roper met with stakeholders at Birmingham City Hall to discuss strategic partnerships and ways to spread the word about the newly formed justice center.

The meeting came less than a week after Coral Anita Wilson, 34, was fatally shot in a domestic dispute May 11 and four of her eight children were wounded. Police arrested Sedrick Norris, 36, on charges of capital murder and attempted murder. Norris violated a protective order when he came to Wilson’s house, investigators said in an affidavit.

Advocates have said consolidating resources and getting the word out about services that are available to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault could save lives.

“There’s a gap there when you talk in terms of law enforcement. The chief and the D.A. - there has to be a clear violation of the law before they can intercede. They can go and talk to people all day long and try to get someone to leave a house and escort them away, but then there’s a social side of it,” Bell said. “We’ve got to figure out a way so the victim knows there’s someone out there they can talk to and educate them on the steps that they need to take.”

One Place Metro Alabama Family Justice Center Director Allison Dearing said the facility, which offers free and confidential services, now operates out of the basement of the Jefferson County Criminal Justice Center and is expected to move into a renovated building near the University of Alabama at Birmingham this fall. The center includes representatives from the Jefferson County district attorney’s office, the Birmingham Police Department, the YWCA of Central Alabama and elsewhere.

“We have called together really some of the best and brightest minds in this community who are already working to end this, who are committed to making a difference,” Dearing said.

Roper said there seems to be a “new intensity” to domestic violence and he wants advocates involved with the family justice center to help eliminate the bystander mentality among people who are aware of potentially dangerous situations but don’t intervene. The connections between victims and suspects make domestic violence a difficult issue to prevent from a law enforcement standpoint, Roper said.

“Normally there’s kids, there’s financial connections, they live together and those bonds are difficult to break and that’s where we need a stronger partnership with the social service agencies to help us kind of move back from that chaotic and violent situation,” he said. “We want to make it easier. We want to present options and show that person that they can live a safer life where they’re not subjected to violence.”

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