Washington Implements Life-Saving Alert System for Domestic Violence Victims

Addressing a matter that many victims consider to be one of life and death, Washington state will be the first in the nation to alert domestic abuse victims when their abuser attempts to illegally buy a firearm. The program is free, anonymous, and provides life-saving information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Federal law prohibits offenders with a misdemeanor or final protective order from purchasing firearms in the United States. Laws against the crime, also referred to as “lie and try,” were egregiously unenforceable because previous state laws did not require gun salesmen to report failed background checks to authorities.

According to an article from The Trace, over 3,000 of these cases were overlooked in Washington in 2016. The new Washington Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification Service (WA SAVIN) requires all failed attempted purchases of firearms to be reported to Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs for further investigation.

The new program is operated by VINELink, a system already widely used to alert victims of protection order statuses. Notifications are sent to registered victims via email and phone calls within 30 minutes of the “lie and try” sale.

Femicide, the homicide of women, is driven heavily by gun violence. American Progress reported in 2014 that 55% of women killed by intimate partners from 2001 to 2012 were killed by the use of guns. The report also showed U.S. women are 11 times more likely to die from gun-related injuries than women in any other high-income country.

Further research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information indicates abusers with access to a gun are almost twice as likely to commit murder than those who are publically denied use of firearms. Alerting victims when such attempts are made gives them the vital information and time needed to protect themselves and those closest to them.

To register for the new alert system, Washington residents need only visit www.vinelink.com or call 1-877-846-3492. They must know either the last name or birth date of the abuser they wish to track. They will then be prompted to provide their phone number, email address, and to create a secure personal ID number. For additional protection, further personal information is not required, and victims will automatically begin to receive these crucial notifications. More information on the system is available on the program web page

Just like Politics, All Domestic Violence is Local

From L: David Barden, Attorney; Jim Verity, Former Orange Co. Sheriff Law Enforcement Officer; Carol Wick, Domestic Violence Expert; Dr. Lee Ross, UCF Assoc. Professor of Criminal Justice; Tom Gabor, Criminologist Christy Jordan, Mental Health Counselor.

Big Mountain Data was pleased to produce a local learning event for the League of Women Voters here in Seminole County.  The topic was, “Guns and Domestic Violence: a Deadly Combination.”  The event ran two hours and featured noted gun violence scholar, Dr. Thomas Gabor, as well as an expert panel including voices from law enforcement, victim services, and academia.  Nearly 100 Seminole County residents attended the two-hour event.

Key takeaways included a better understanding of how the danger increases exponentially when a domestic violence offender has access to a firearm, the gaps in the existing process regarding the surrender of firearms, how “murder-suicide” in the headlines is nearly always a euphemism for domestic violence homicide, and the role the community can play in increasing pressure on local leadership to identify and safeguard the population from dangerous, high-risk offenders.

“We need to focus on the volatility of the perpetrator rather than the vulnerability of the victim.” – Carol Wick, domestic violence expert.

An Open Letter to Women in Data Science

It was my honor to present at the Women in Data Science convening at the New College of Sarasota last week.  The agenda featured prestigious speakers from Stanford streamed in, along with local speakers like me who could attend in person.  I was extremely fortunate to discover this amazing event and get onto the agenda at the last minute.

You see, these are my people.  Women in data science are what I need in 2017.*  

My company, Big Mountain Data, is designed to solve one of the most horrific problems that impact women around the world – every day: Intimate Partner Violence a.k.a., Domestic Violence.

My presentation briefly described what we aim to do and how we can disrupt this seemingly intractable societal issue.  I then described the success we’ve had so far in proving our thesis.  I showed a short clip from our documentary about a town that effectively short-circuited its domestic violence problem.  One woman told me she cried after she saw the short film clip. Crying absolutely permitted in social impact startups solving big world problems.

A career in data science is one of the most lucrative, interesting, and potentially ground-breaking pursuits in the tech field today. Name an industry, and it has an acute demand for data scientists and analysts.

But what if you could use your talent and passion to really make a difference on a horrific scourge that impacts women every day? Here is what you need to know: behaviors in this field follow a standard pattern. They are predictable.  Much of the data we need to make these predictions, we already have in structured databases.  If we layer on unstructured data, the possibilities are limitless to intervene – and disrupt –these cycles of violence.

Would you like to know more?  Contact me.  I would love to talk to your company, university or data science meetup about the possibilities.

*Of course, we are an equal opportunity startup.  But, how cool would it be if women solved this problem?  Very cool.

Let’s go!

Presentation:

Big Mountain Data Assembles Data Analysis Panel at #IACP2016

IACP2016Law enforcement is on the front lines of domestic violence.  Before we can implement policies and procedures to hold offenders accountable, we need to get an accurate portrayal of what is happening behind closed doors in our neighborhoods, towns, and cities.

Domestic violence rears its ugly head every day where at least three people are murdered at the hands of someone they know intimately.  On average, across the U.S., domestic violence homicides constitute at least a third of all homicides every year. Moreover, it’s one of the most predictable homicides law enforcement must confront on an annual basis. Officers new to the force start to see the predictable patterns emerge soon after they begin their careers.  It’s for this reason, Big Mountain Data works with law enforcement to demonstrate how the data they have already in their RMS and CAD systems can reveal answers today.

Our longtime partner, SunGard Public Sector, invited us to orchestrate a panel at this year’s International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference to discuss how data analysis played a major role in the highly successful High Point Model, now recognized by the DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women.

The workshop will be moderated by V.P. Kevin Lafeber, of SunGard Public Sector. Participating on the panel will be retired Chief Marty Sumner, who led the domestic violence initiative for High Point for the past 7 years, as well as the crime analysis team from High Point and SunGard PS that had to modify the RMS in order to effectively implement the ground-breaking tracking system.  Chief Ken Shultz will talk about future improvements and enhancements to the OFDVI strategy.

The IACP conference will be held October 15-18 in San Diego, CA. This session will fill up early, so be sure to reserve your spot.

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Who is Keeping Track of the Dead? This woman.

2015-11-19-1447944639-6154714-ChristineArmstrong.jpgEvery day, for the past fifteen years, Christine Armstrong sits at her computer and scans the overnight news stories for deaths related to domestic violence.  These days, she limits her research time to four hours a day. Well, she tries anyway.

Her quest began in 2000 when Armstrong had a personal brush with domestic violence and then helped a friend escape an extremely dangerous marriage.  At the time, she was living in New York City working in the television business. Her experience prompted her to learn everything she could about domestic violence.  After her research revealed how prevalent domestic violence homicides were around the country, she was surprised she wasn’t able to find any documentation other than a few hundred names on a national organization’s web site. Horrified, and knowing there there were many, many more victims as a result of her own investigation, she began searching them out and documenting them with calendars.

Today in 2015, she has honed a sophisticated practice of conducting news searches that scour the web using over 27 different keyword combinations that turn up homicide stories every day that the media doesn’t always correctly identify as domestic violence related.  This unfortunate practice of “missing” the domestic violence connection to homicides is one that has been well-documented in academic and journalism circles. According to researcher Lane Kirkland Gillespie, assistant professor in the department of criminal justice at Boise State University, “Recent studies find only about one-quarter to one-third of news stories utilize language that identifies the homicide as domestic violence; and a lesser amount, 10-15%, specifically discuss intimate partner homicide in the context of domestic violence as a broader social issue.” (See her academic paper on the subject.)

Soon after she began her record-keeping, Armstong started volunteering in the field educating others about domestic violence.  She kept up the chronicling of domestic violence homicides from 2001 to 2004.  In 2005, she relocated to Alabama and went to work for a local shelter where for the next seven years she would continue to research the stories, keep calendars, notebooks, and spreadsheets of data as part of her day job.  She eventually built a web site, 2015-11-18-1447864608-1178054-f.pngand launched a Facebook page where she could post daily stories for the public.  That Facebook page has grown to more than 28,000 fans with thousands of posts over the last few years.  She left the shelter in 2011, and two years ago she had to take the web site down, as it was difficult to justify the expense and time maintaining the platform.

Yet, her work has continued even though now she is employed outside the field.  Publishing at least a half dozen different news reports a day, she tracks it all: women, men, parents, grandparents, children, neighbors, co-workers, law enforcement officers, and any other bystanders impacted by these crimes.  On average, Armstrong is documenting approximately 1,800 names a year that have been directly touched by domestic violence homicides.  Her spreadsheets contain over 14,000 names.  She keeps a running list of missing and unsolved cases she’s turned up over the years.  The list includes more than 800 missing women where domestic violence is known or is believed to have been a factor in their disappearance. You can see their photos on her Facebook photo albums.

“I do this work because, to my knowledge, no one else is doing it and many of these victims aren’t even included in domestic violence statistics. A lot more people are dying from domestic violence crimes than most people realize. These are real people with lives. Their loved ones have been in touch with me and would like to see some good come from their loss.” – Christine Armstrong

As difficult as this work is, Armstrong perseveres.  What’s most alarming to her is how little things have changed over fifteen years.  She sees the same stories in 2015 she saw in 2001.  The stories reveal how common it is for a domestic violence homicide suspect to have several contacts with the police and the courts with little or no consequence.  She notes that with 18,000 separate police departments and justice systems in the country, progress is sketchy and piecemeal.  The quality of service a domestic violence victim receives largely depends on where they live, and sadly, the majority of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges don’t know how to recognize a domestic violence case when the clues are so obvious.  “Rarely does a day go by that I don’t see a story where some law enforcement officer, prosecutor or judge declined to intervene in a high risk case and now another person is dead,” she says.

Armstrong points out some of the worst to suffer are the thousands of children who have lost one or both parents to domestic violence.  Even worse, many have witnessed the violent deaths of one or both of their parents. Left orphaned, many end up in the custody of the state and in foster homes.

One trend Armstrong has observed is particularly troubling. Her data reveals there are more homicides stemming from dating relationships than married relationships in the past few years. Advocates have long been seeking equal protection in dating relationships, particularly as it relates to protection orders and removal of firearms. Progress has been slow, yet the body counts mount.

As a whole, Armstrong  feels we don’t seem to be learning much from our mistakes.  A lot of the change that does take place, seems to take a tragic death and a high profile lawsuit to make it happen. She’s disappointed and somewhat shocked in light of recent national media attention that there isn’t much unity in our national response to this chronic social epidemic. She says, “While response has improved in some of our communities, much work still needs to be done – an incredible amount of work.”

Armstrong is doing her part.

 

Sneak Peek at Insights from Key Players in “Turning Point”

screenAmong the mountains of programs devoted to addressing the plague of domestic violence, the police initiative in High Point, N.C., stands out for it bold approach to holding offenders accountable. Big Mountain Data will showcase the High Point Model in a documentary debuting this fall. “Turning Point” will tell the groundbreaking story of the program’s success so far. In three years, the city has nearly eliminated domestic violence homicides and decreased repeat offender recidivism.

The story, filmed on location in North Carolina and New York City, features in-depth interviews with the key players who came together to create the High Point Model – an innovative program targeting the root of the problem: the offenders.

High Point began developing the program after domestic violence reached record-breaking highs in calls for service in 2008. After doing research, police detectives discovered that the majority of domestic offenders were also committing violent crimes on the street. Officers began tracking down offenders one by one, to deliver a stern warning: “We know who you are. If you beat your girlfriend again, we’ll lock you up for a long time. And by the way, she didn’t ask us to do this.”

Of the 1,142 offenders who received a deterrence message since the rollout in 2009, only 14 percent have reoffended. Last year, domestic calls for service in High Point dropped by 30 percent. Injuries to women have dropped dramatically, and domestic homicides have nearly stopped. The initiative is now being piloted in four cities around the country, with many more interested.

With film production underway, we’re sharing some highlights from interviews. First, we’ll set the scene in High Point. Future posts will describe the role of the community and specific elements of the High Point Model.

High Point is a city of about 107,000 people; its 50.6 square miles touch four counties. The city’s claim to fame is its history as the “Furniture Capital of the World.” Twice a year, international visitors flood the city for weeklong furniture and finishing markets.

Total violent crime in High Point decreased 72 percent from 1994 to 2007, according to the police department. Murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault all declined since 1997, when the police department partnered with High Point Community Against Violence (HPCAV) and focused on crime deterrence initiatives. Still, In 2012-2013, domestic violence remained the top reason for citizen calls to the police.

jimJim Summey, executive director of HPCAV, told our film crew that crack cocaine began taking its toll on city communities in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The city saw an increase in prostitution, robberies, gun use, and murder.  In response to rising crime and growing frustration, High Point’s then-Police Chief Louis Quijas in 1997 invited the community to dialogue with law enforcement.

“They (the police) were not uncaring; they were just as baffled with how to deal with this as anyone else,” Summey said. The police share “where their concerns all are, where they have knowledge of crime. We’re sharing what we know, what we see,” he said.

The dialogue led to the creation of HPCAV, and the model for holding offenders accountable grew out of that partnership. Through direct confrontation and interaction with repeat offenders, the city saw a drop in crime and a decline in crimes by repeat offenders. But the police department continued to receive high numbers of domestic violence calls. That, Summey said, was the “big elephant in the room.” In 2008, the community worked together to apply focused deterrence strategies in an effort to reduce the rate of repeat offender recidivism.

Domestic violence is an “across the board sickness,” Summey said. “We’ve actually had people of all socioeconomic situations and we’ve told them all it’s wrong. And that’s the power of it. It’s not done to pick on anybody; it’s done because it’s wrong. … It really hurts so many people. And it destroys lives.”

Guns Turn Domestic Violence Into Domestic Homicide, Report Says

South Carolina, Alaska and New Mexico top the list of high rates of women murdered by men,  according to the new Violence Policy Center (VPC) study “When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2013 Homicide Data.”

The study, released in advance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, found that nationwide, 94 percent of women killed by men were murdered by someone they knew, and the most common weapon used was a gun.VPCreport coverThe study applies to 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. It covers homicides involving one female murder victim and one male offender, and uses data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Supplementary Homicide Report.

A total of 1,615 females in the United States were murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents in 2013, at a rate of 1.09 per 100,000. The report found that 94 percent of female victims were murdered by a male they knew.

According to the report, 280 of the women murdered in 2013 were shot and killed by either their husband or intimate acquaintance during an argument. “This is the exact scenario – the lone male attacker and the vulnerable woman – that is often used to promote gun ownership among women,” the report notes. “Women face the greatest threat from someone they know, most often a spouse or an intimate acquaintance, who is armed with a gun. For women in America, guns are not used to save lives, but to take them.”

“When men murder women, the most common weapon used is a gun,” Julia Wyman, executive director of States United to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a press release. “Closing gaps in state and federal gun laws will save women’s lives.”

Despite the grim statistics, the overall trend of women murdered by men in single victim/single offender incidents has declined. In 1996, the rate was 1.57 per 100,000 women, compared to 1.09 women in 2013. That’s a 31 percent decrease.

Here are the 10 states with the highest rate of females murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents in 2013:

  • South Carolina: 2.32 per 100,000
  • Alaska: 2.29 per 100,000
  • New Mexico: 2.00 per 100,000
  • Louisiana: 1.99 per 100,000
  • Nevada: 1.95 per 100,000
  • (tie)Tennessee: 1.65 per 100,000
  • (tie) Oklahoma: 1.65 per 100,000
  • Vermont: 1.58 per 100,000
  • Maine: 1.47 per 100,000
  • Michigan: 1.45 per 100,000

New Jersey Domestic Violence Registry Bill Moves Forward

New Jersey is a step closer to creating the United States’ first statewide Internet registry for domestic violence offenders. The state’s Assembly Women and Children Committee June 18 approved New Jersey Assembly Bill A-2539, also known as Misty’s Law. The registry would be similar to the sex offender registry. Individuals would be able to research potential partners and learn about any history of domestic violence. It would also allow survivors of domestic violence to track their abuser’s location.

“A few clicks of the mouse could help prevent someone from falling into an abusive relationship,” Democratic Assemblywoman Carmelo G. Garcia said in a press release on PolitickerNJ.com. “This could prove an invaluable tool, especially given how hard it often is for victims to extricate themselves from this type of relationship.”

The law would allow any member of the public to view records that include: the defendant’s name and any aliases; any aggravated assault offense involving domestic violence for which the defendant was convicted; the date and location of disposition; a brief description of any such offense, a general description of the defendant’s modus operandi; the defendant’s age, race, sex, date of birth, height, weight, hair, eye color and any distinguishing scars or tattoos; a photograph of the defendant and the date on which the photograph was entered into the registry; the make, model, color, year and license plate number of any vehicle operated by the defendant; and the street address, zip code, municipality and county in which the defendant resides.

Misty Ramos

Misty Ramos was murdered by her boyfriend in 2012.

The bill is named after Misty Ramos. She was strangled to death in June 2012 by her former boyfriend, Noel Irizarry, at her home. Irizarry was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her death. Misty Ramos’ brother, Kell Ramos is president of  Domestic Violence Action Group USA, which supports the bill. After Izarry’s arrest, Ramos learned that his slain sister’s boyfriend spent 10 years in prison for slashing the throat of his ex-girlfriend, NJ.com reported. Ramos is a documentary maker working on a film about the issue.

The group will focus on men, Ramos told NJ.com. “We need men to be part of the solution,” Ramos told the news outlet. “Focusing on the woman is needed, but what happens to the next generation? The same cycle repeats itself. There’s going to be more men doing the same thing. How do you stop that? Other men have to hold men accountable to their actions.”

 

Pulitzer-Prize Winning Series On Domestic Violence Sets Precedent For Transparency

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The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, this week was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service for “Till Death Do Us Part.” The five-part series published in August 2014 spurred reform to domestic violence laws for the first time in at least a decade. South Carolina “for more than 15 years was among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men,” the paper reported in the introduction to its multimedia project. “The state topped the list on three occasions, including this past year, when it posted a murder rate for women that was more than double the national rate.”

Journalists consider winning a Pulitzer akin to winning an Olympic medal. The Post and Courier’s ambitious project won journalism’s gold medal with “Till Death Do Us Part.” The Pulitzer jury called it “a riveting series that probed why South Carolina is among the deadliest states in the union for women and put the issue of what to do about it on the state’s agenda.”

The story “revealed numerous failings, including limited police training, inadequate laws, a lack of punishment, insufficient education for judges, a dearth of support for victims and traditional beliefs about the sanctity of marriage that keep victims locked in the cycle of abuse,” the paper said. They called this “a corrosive stew” that made the state one of the deadliest states in the nation for women.

The series is a well-written, well-produced project about a perennial problem. It deserves journalism’s highest honor for shining light on the problems and “shaming” officials to make changes. Six months after the series was published, state lawmakers, prosecutors and police pledged “this is the year we finally pass a comprehensive bill” on domestic violence. Some parts of the proposed laws have stalled, but the paper continues to aggressively cover developments.

Big Mountain Data cheers this work. We’re especially pleased with the precedent the paper set by partnering with the Center for Investigative Reporting and compiling a database of those killed at the hands of intimate partners. They used police reports, court records, criminal rap sheets and other documents to plot where each killing took place. Then they looked for trends. In addition, they studied conviction rates and plea deals, which the paper’s executive editor pointed out in his prize application letter, the state judicial system does not track.

The paper set a valuable precedent in linking online to every fact and statistic they reported. Access to records varies by municipalities. But this project highlights the value of making criminal records public.

Community Comes Together to Support Innovative Massachusetts Law Addressing Domestic Violence

DeleoElected officials are beginning to understand the need for systemic change regarding domestic/intimate partner violence (IPV).  In 2014, The Massachusetts Legislature passed SB 2334.

“I firmly believe that comprehensive action – examining existing loopholes, elevating criminal penalties and prioritizing prevention – is the only strategy that will result in systemic change.” – Speaker of the House Robert Deleo

The law is comprehensive and not without detractors, yet it addresses some of the more egregious remnants of lax laws and takes a bold step forward.  The Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, the state coalition against domestic violence Jane Doe, Inc.,  and domestic violence advocates throughout the state applaud the comprehensive legislation.  Key provisions that will go into effect in 2015 include:

  • Delaying bail for domestic violence offenders by six hours
  • Levying charges and heightened punishment for strangulation and suffocation incidents
  • Establishing Fatality Review Teams
  • Expanded training for law enforcement and judges
  • Allowing employee leave time for victims

The law will also get rid of “accord and satisfaction” agreements.   Accord and satisfaction are out-of-court settlements used to resolve charges involving physical violence.  Abusers tend to intimidate victims by pressuring them to accept this option.

The specific strangulation and suffocation charges are ground-breaking and necessary.  According to the Journal of Emergency Medicine,  23% to 68% of female domestic violence victims experienced at least one strangulation-related incident from their abusive male partner during their lifetime.  Research also bears out what victims, legal practitioners, and medical personnel already know – strangulation is one of the most potentially lethal forms of intimate partner abuse.  Currently, charges run the gamut from misdemeanor simple assault to the impossible to prove attempted murder.  A 2008 Journal of Emergency Medicine study found that a woman who experiences nonlethal strangulation — whether by someone’s hands or by ligature or other means — is seven times more likely to be the object of a murder attempt by her assailant.  It also found that 43 percent of women killed in domestic violence attacks, and 45 percent of attempted-murder victims, had been strangled by a partner in the previous year.

This new law is a step in the right direction and demands specific collaborative efforts by employers, schools and civil courts.   Injury prevention experts from the Centers for Disease Control, community health departments, academic research  and the domestic violence field support the need for a community response.

Other violence prevention initiatives requiring community involvement include offender focus intervention, GPS monitoring, bystander training, and Coaching Boys Into Men.