FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – Three years ago when Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly took office, he discovered the number of domestic violence cases had been steadily growing and victims and offenders were slipping through the cracks.
Staly came up with an aggressive plan to protect victims, help survivors and turn around the numbers.
Today, domestic violence is the lowest it's been since he took office, according to Staly.
Domestic violence cases dropped 8.5% last year and the number of domestic violence offenders who re-offend after their arrest is down 33% - meaning they're staying away from their victims and not violating the terms of their bond or probation or injunction.
In 2017, Staly got a $200,000 grant from the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence to hire a full-time detective and crime analyst dedicated solely to domestic violence cases.
Staly said the two-person team is largely the reason for success.
“Many times victims cooperate in the beginning and don’t want to follow through with the prosecution, so having a dedicated detective and all these other components we do make better cases, stronger cases, so the state can continue to prosecute, should the state decide to do that,” Staly said.
Detective Fiona Ebrill and Crime Analyst Nikki North support and guide survivors through the judicial process.
"Between having me and the domestic violence analyst focus solely on domestic violence, we can do follow-ups, we can catch what's been missed, and just be available for victims," Ebrill said.
Ebrill helps survivors get injunctions against their abuser even when they're scared to go through with the process.
“A victim came in to get an injunction,” Ebrill said. “She was nervous about the process, she was getting ready to go through the injunction, and then she was ready to walk out. She actually did walk out of the courtroom. So I kind of went back there and found her and encouraged her to come back in. If she changed her mind, it was something she could cancel later on. But she was here now and ended up getting a permanent injunction against the perpetrator, which might have saved her life and this never would have happened a few years ago.”
Together, Ebrill and North track every domestic violence offender released from jail using the now-mandated court-ordered GPS tracking bracelet.
Staly said before he took office, no one was watching.
"There was no real teeth," Staly said. "All domestic violence injunctions are only as good as the person willing to follow them, it's a piece of paper."
Offenders who violate the terms of their bond or injunction face felonies that can make domestic violence cases stronger and can be crucial in sending an abuser to prison if a survivor chooses ultimately not to testify against the abuser.
"Even if we can't make the case on domestic violence, because we did charge them with violation of pretrial release conditions, we have enough evidence to go get some on that," Ebrill said.
Ebrill and North also spend much of their time listening to phone calls made from the jail. They often catch abusers harassing survivors -- a felony -- and making admissions.
Those phone calls also help make stronger cases.
“We’re getting results,” Staly said. “If you’re going to commit domestic violence, don’t do it in Flagler County. Follow the judge’s orders or you going to get arrested.”