KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Friends of Yates has been the only domestic violence agency in Kansas City, Kansas, for 43 years.
"We provide a really important service because it's so needed in the community, but at the same time, there's so much more we can do because the needs are so great," said Arica Roland, the agency's executive director.
Those needs were illustrated on Sept. 8 when Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree announced two assault charges against a KCK police officer as KCKPD Chief Karl Oakman stood nearby.
"Domestic violence is a real issue and an extremely volatile situation that many people in our community are dealing with, and if we don't speak about it, the only time this office can deal with it is when I'm charging murder rather than giving some person an opportunity to live again," Dupree said.
Brian Christian heads up violent crime investigations for KCKPD. He says when officers respond to domestic incidents, they often provide "hotels, medication, clothing, food vouchers, things of that nature. There's still a human component to policing."
A few weeks ago, Oakman shared his concerns about increasing domestic violence with KSHB 41.
"One alarming thing that we noticed so far this year, we have 11 homicides that have been contributed to domestic violence of our 31, " he said. "So that's over 30, 35, 36 percent. That's very alarming."
Starting this December, KCKPD is now doing a threat assessment at any scene involving domestic violence.
"When the officers arrive on the scene, it's a checklist," Oakman said. "If this victim meets a certain score, then we intervene immediately."
Roland says the checklist can help reduce lethal outcomes.
"That on-the-scene screening to assess how high risk that victim is for lethality and then get them immediately connected to services with our agency, it matters because it can reduce the homicide rates for domestic violence," she said.
To understand domestic violence is to understand survivors like Tessa, who completed the Friends of Yates program.
"One-on-one counseling. We had support groups every day," Tessa said. "Just a lot of time was spent with me and my son where we could just bond."
She says with the help of the program, she is now thriving.
"I've flourished since I left," Tessa beamed. "I started school. I have a job, me and my son have our own place. I'm not needing for nothing. I'm doing this. What I was scared that I couldn't do, I'm doing it."
Dupree believes being part of the support system for survivors is critical.
"They need people to empower them and to give them hope that, 'You know what, you're not alone in this by yourself. I'm right here with you, and let's take the steps to get you out of this thing,'" he said.
Oakman wants victims in KCK to know help is available to provide resources to "get your life going in a better direction."
To any others in the community suffering from domestic violence, Tessa says she understands how difficult it can be to leave.
"Never seen a way out. I thought I was stuck in this forever just because I did love him," she said. "I was scared to leave. I didn't know anything else at that point.
"I overcame that. It was the hardest thing ever, and I overcame it and it turned out to be my best decision I ever made in my life."
The threat assessment is made possible, in part, thanks to a grant secured by KCKPD.
Friends of Yates is also going into area high schools every month to educate kids on the warning signs and risks of domestic violence.