On practically the first day Julie Pleasant became a lieutenant, HPD tasked her with the job of totally revamping what was known as the Victim Services Unit to make it more responsive to the on-the-scene needs of domestic violence victims.
Then-Police Chief Art Acevedo provided Lt. Pleasant with a possible model operation being used by one of his alma maters – the Austin Police Department. The lieutenant immediately experienced a very pleasant professional click with “a lady who was super helpful,” APD Victim Services Director Kachina Clark.
Pleasant learned Austin’s victim services priority began in the 1980s and placed a high priority on placing a victims’ advocates at the scene of every domestic violence event handled by APD. “They were so nice,” she recalled of the information-gathering. “They gave me all the SOPs and said they would do everything they could to help me.
From Unit to Division
“I went on a ride-along with a victim advocate and was completely taken aback by their program. I actually went to an infant’s death scene. It was rough for the parents and it was rough for the officers. The advocate was there not only to help the parents but the officers as well. She said, ‘I will see you tomorrow at roll call.’
“I said, ‘Man, this is what we’re missing!’ “
HPD no long is “missing” the victim services boat. As was expected of Pleasant, she grew a unit with about six advocates into a wide-ranging and ly respected division that numbers up to 50 officers, advocates and contracted forensic nurses.
The division’s reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, as evidenced by Houston Woman Magazine recently honoring Lt. Pleasant as one of the city’s 50 most influential women.
Commander Jim Dale expressed the opinion of many others when he told the Badge & Gun a key part of Pleasant’s success story – which she humbly refuses to take full credit for.
Dale cited “her compassion and empathy for victims of violent crime. The task was thrown on her when Art Acevedo asked her to build the division at a time when there were five victim advocates scattered around the department.
“They didn’t know what to do. They had no knowledge of grant-writing. Now the division is 40- or 50-something people.”
This happened almost five years ago before anti-police activists loudly advocated the defund-the-police and re-prioritizing law enforcement goals. Many of them wanted more attention paid to the victims.
“Victim Services was doing this before all the talk about using the resources in a better matter,” Dale said. “She was doing that with the DART program for domestic violence before anybody else.”
Actually, DART – Direct Area Response Team – began by the ever-vaunted LAPD. But it never took off as an effective policing tool there. Pleasant took the baton after her Austin PD experience and the HPD DART history speaks for itself.
Lt. Pleasant tells what happened. She said six advocates were scattered around HPD in divisions like Homicide and Robbery. They each operated with the different approaches advocated by their commanders or lieutenants. She changed this by insisting that all advocates report to the same administrator and in an operation with “the same mission, the same goal.”
The victims’ advocates “didn’t go to scenes at all,” Pleasant recalled. She knew from APD that this would not work. Advocates there were present at practically every domestic violence scene handled by patrol officers. They got medical help for the victims and found them safe houses if necessary. And another important factor – they became a crucial part of evidence collection that helped prosecutors.
Pleasant built the preverbal “umbrella” of operation. As usual, the first requirement to move forward was money. “We focused on the same mission and the same goals,” she said, “so when we apply for federal funding, we can talk about what we do. We were missing the boat on funding.”
A Match and a Cloud
Enter another major character in the plot that resulted in a major HPD success story. Assistant Chief William Dobbins told the lieutenant she should get with a Harris County assistant district attorney who was responsible for victim services as well as writing grants.
You might say a Cloud resulted in clearing the sky. It was the perfect match under the new umbrella.
Carvana Cloud loved recalling the day she met Pleasant met in 2018 when she was still an assistant DA.
“Immediately when I met her, I knew we would hit it off,” Cloud remembers. “Not only was she a decorated member of HPD but also a visionary. She is a leader we need in times like these to start to respond and move the needle forward in policing.
“She is open-minded and keeps in mind those who are least at the top of priority. By leading that division, she made reporting crimes a lot less complicated, less cumbersome and not as scary. It’s very scary – yes, it is. She’s taken that away.”
As chief of the DA’s Special Victims Bureau, Cloud successfully applied for a multi-million-dollar federal grant to fund a program that called for on-scene advocacy for domestic violence victims.
The long story made short: Cloud had the money and Pleasant had the personnel – and needed the funding. The grant was designed to fund the on-scene personnel who would be a key element in the investigative process, a situation found to be outside the realm of typical DA investigators.
Cloud’s grant funded Pleasant’s vision.
“Her federal grant was going to give her the ability to do on-scene response with law enforcement and advocates,” Pleasant explained.
Many questions arose in Cloud’s DA bailiwick. Pleasant found the answer in hers. She had officers on duty at all hours, while DA investigators generally aren’t available in the evenings and overnight.
“This is very staff-driven,” the lieutenant said. “This came at the perfect time. We were staffed and good and ready to take my next step, the DART grant. Dobbins put us together and we worked out the details and we launched DART.”
The new approach to a domestic violence case called for the initial patrol officer to summon a DART officer and a victim advocate to the scene. Usually, an administrative officer and a forensic nurse followed.
Referring to the original concept, Lt. Pleasant said, “The only thing we added different was the forensic component.”
What an important law enforcement component it has proven to be. It became a formula developed from the Pleasant/Cloud chemistry.
In former times a police officer had to testify about the injuries suffered by the victim in his/her case. Now there is a forensic nurse who can tell a court the extent of the injuries and play a key role in the evidence-gathering process.
Pleasant and Cloud take great delight in saying that this effective approach has resulted in a dramatic increase in plea bargains.
More Police Wins in Court
Overall, the DART system saves the victim from a repeat performance by her attacker by providing her with a safe place to live, sometimes with young children. If her attacker gets out on bond he can’t find her.
Also, when the attacker comes to court, his defense attorney no longer has an officer (non-expert) to grill about the extent of the injuries suffered by the victim; he has to confront an expert, a forensic nurse.
“I think that we are on the front lines (of policing)” with the DART program, Norteast Sgt. Josh Kohler said in an interview. “Lt. Pleasant is carrying the weight of it on her back. She writes a lot of grants and gets support from the community. The advocates get out there and are able to talk to victims and get them to open up a little bit more.
“The forensic nurses ride with the sergeants, who take nurses to the scene where they document injuries. If there are serious injuries, we take them to the doctor.
“They document what happened. Their role is more case building. A lot of these cases are really strongly built and would expect defense attorneys making plea deals. Everyone is doing such a good job of putting the case together.
“Lt. Pleasant took this from an idea and brought it to fruition. We all enjoy working for her.”
Kohler echoed the feelings of Commander Dale and others when he said, “I would say calling her an 18-hour woman is probably doing her a disservice. She is available any time.
“I don’t know how she does it. It just shows how much she cares about the program. She’s very passionate. She wants to see this thing all the way through. Her big goal is not just to spread this to a couple of PDs. Her goal is to make it a nationwide thing.”
Pleasant quickly avoids the spotlight and gives credit to the officers, advocates and nurses on the streets ready and willing to help victims of domestic violence. She likes making the scenes herself at times to make sure the personnel has everything needed to make these cases and help the victims.
The team is strong all over HPD. Carvana Cloud, for instance, went from the DA’s office to HPD Community Affairs in April 2021 as deputy director, reporting directly to Chief Troy Finner. Her division manager is Cheryl Murray, who writes grants among many other duties. Murray took the initiative to nominate Lt. Pleasant for the Houston Woman Magazine honor.
Murray’s profile of the lieutenant is included in this edition.