City lauded for work against domestic violence

Published on Wed, Feb 1, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The city of Blaine has been recognized as one of the first cities in Whatcom County to implement language specifically addressing domestic violence into its employee policies.

The Bellingham/Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence awarded certificates to Blaine, Bellingham, the Whatcom County government and a handful of private companies across the county, commending them for instituting policies that are designed to help employees report and cope with domestic violence. The commission has worked for the past few years in conjunction with these cities and companies to develop a model domestic violence policy for work places, commission director Susan Marks said.

Both Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic and Blaine police chief Mike Haslip sit on the domestic violence commission. Tomsic said they felt strongly about the domestic violence issue in Blaine and wanted to take steps to combat it.

“Having a general policy for domestic violence when we started was pretty uncommon,” Tomsic said, “so as a result of being involved in [the commission], I thought we ought to do something.”

Blaine’s policy addresses what resources are available for a city employee who has been a victim of domestic violence and encourages employees to report suspected acts of domestic violence committed against their coworkers. While the policy cannot require employees to report suspected domestic violence, it seeks to establish the working environment as a place where concerns can be raised safely.

“It’s not just a matter of a work place, it’s a matter of our community,” Tomsic said.

In 2010, 18 percent of all criminal offenses in Blaine were related to domestic violence, compared to 14 percent countywide, according to a report from the county domestic violence commission. The report also showed that the percentage of domestic violence-related crimes reported in Blaine has dropped since 2009.

Marks said encouraging cities to establish domestic violence polices is one the best ways to impact large numbers of people, since cities are often the largest employers in a given area. Governments that implement these policies can also act as models for private businesses in their community, she said.

“For any employer, domestic violence can have a huge impact on their employees,” Marks said.

Though Marks could not list any other Whatcom County cities actively developing domestic violence polices, she noted Ferndale mayor Gary Jensen is on the domestic violence commission, which suggests Ferndale may be the next city to implement them. She said about half the commission members are representatives from the county’s municipalities, so she is confident the fight against domestic violence has a strong ally in local governments.