Onondaga County, NY Pushes for Public Awareness to end Domestic Violence

Randi Bregman, Executive Director of Vera House in Syracuse, gives the organization’s annual Report to the Community Wednesday ELLEN ABBOTT / WRVO NEWS

The contagious myth that domestic violence takes place in private and should accordingly be kept from public consciousness has infected many communities throughout the U.S. Onondaga County in New York, however, believes they have found the perfect antidote to ending the epidemic of public ignorance on issues of domestic violence: transparency.

Each year, Vera House, a domestic and sexual violence service agency based in Syracuse, publishes an Annual Community Report. In an interview with The Daily Orange, Randi Bregman, executive director of Vera House, emphasized the importance of public knowledge of domestic violence in every community.

“Every incident of domestic and sexual violence is, in fact, a public issue,” said Bregman. “Having a public opportunity to talk about the impact, to let the survivors’ stories be heard, is essential.”

The 2016 report published by Vera House for Onondaga County showed a significant improvement in law enforcement’s supervision of domestic violence offenders since beginning their mission to end public ignorance. In 2015, Onondaga County’s Department of Probation supervised 220 offenders. The very next year, almost one thousand offenders were under direct supervision and over one thousand were issued temporary orders of protection by the Onondaga County Family Court, a critical increase from only 959 the year before.

Below, Figure 1 shows the remaining data Vera House acquired from law enforcement crime reports for the 2016 year. The data shows that out of 10,963 total calls of reported domestic violence disputes, 6,696 were answered by the authorities.

Figure 1

The Vera House report does not account for homicides that occur as a result of domestic dispute. William Fitzpatrick, an Onondaga County district attorney and director of the Victim Assistance Program (VAP), stated that one out of every four homicides in Onondaga County is directly related to domestic violence. Syracuse, the largest community in the county with a population of 140,000, had a total of 31 homicides in 2016, six of which were directly linked to domestic violence; several are still under investigation.

Elevating public knowledge about the ravages of domestic violence is part of the mission of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). NCADV’s report showed that, of all intimate partner homicides, 20% of victims were not the intimate partner of the offender, but close family, friends, neighbors, law enforcement, or third-party bystanders.  These collateral damage statistics don’t often show up in the national numbers surrounding aggregate domestic violence homicides. 

In addition to the loss of life, NCADV’s National Statistics Domestic Violence Fact Sheet shows an undeviating correlation between domestic violence and economic defects in a community. About 20-60% of domestic violence victims lose their jobs as a result of their abuse. This accumulates to a total loss of eight million days of paid work per year or 32,000 full time jobs. It is estimated that this inability to work costs the U.S. economy between $5.8 billion and $12.6 billion annually.

The connections are clear: domestic violence may occur in private, unseen by much of the public eye, but it has an undeniable ripple effect across American communities. In addition to the economic and familial aftermath, local officials must strive to educate themselves on issues regarding domestic violence and contribute to the public’s understanding as often as possible. Similar to Big Mountain Data, organizations such as the Vera House work closely with law enforcement agencies across the nation to make this knowledge easily accessible to the public. 

 

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

New South Carolina Program Trains Probation Officers to Work Specifically with DV Cases

Over the past two decades, South Carolina has been ranked among the highest domestic violence hotspots in the nation. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), South Carolina has had double the national average of women murdered by intimate partners and nearly 1 out of every 5 women in South Carolina will experience stalking at some point in their life. Big Mountain Data spoke with Peter O’Boyle, public relations director of South Carolina’s Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon (DPPP), to learn what the state is doing to lower these statistics and better protect its victims from domestic violence.

“Unfortunately, in South Carolina, we have always been ranked at the top of the nation for domestic violence cases for percent of our population,” said O’Boyle. “Thankfully, however, Governor Henry [McMaster] has been working closely with us and suggested the creation of a specialized task force.”

Governor McMaster, upon winning his election earlier this year, began studying the current laws in place. His recommended solution to the state’s high rates of offenses was to create a specialized task force comprised of trained parole officers to deal specifically with domestic violence cases.

“A typical agent will be dealing in all areas of the law, including property crimes, burglary, nonviolent offenses, and even murder,” said O’Boyle.

The specific training of these newly appointed agents will lower their case load and allow for more victims to be helped.

The Post and Courier, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for “Till Death Do Us Part,” a special investigation on domestic violence, recently reported that $1.2 million was funded for the new training program for officers. This funding includes the hiring of 20 new agents who will complete a one week program which will educate officers on handling offenders and working with victims. The main goals of the new task force will be to specialize agents’ skills, decrease caseloads, and more closely supervise offenders.

The new program hopes to cover approximately 60% of all domestic violence cases in South Carolina by targeting high-risk areas. Two centers are already planned to open in both Charleston and Dorchester. In an interview with the Post and Courier, Jerry Adger, director of the DPPP, said he would like to see specialized officers in every county of the state and believes within the coming year, the new program will make a big impact on the safety of the state.

Video Credit: Post and Currier © 

Colorado Passes No Bail Legislation for Stalking and DV Offenders

DENVER — As of August 2017 domestic violence offenders will no longer be granted bail after conviction. House Bill 17-1150, “No Bail For Stalking and Domestic Violence Offenders,” protects victims from further abuse by some of the most dangerous offenders.

The bill was signed just a year after the fatal Colorado domestic violence case of Janice Nam.

Coverage by the Denver Post states that on the night of May 30th, 2016, Glen Galloway violated Nam’s restraining order by breaking into her Colorado Springs home as she slept. He proceeded to shoot her twice in the head.

Prior to her murder, Galloway failed to appear in court for a stalking conviction Nam had filed against him. Earlier articles from the Denver Post show that Nam had filed “multiple protection orders related to domestic violence cases in 2014.” The case lead Colorado legislators to question the effectiveness restraining orders have of protecting victims against domestic violence.

Lydia Waligorski, policy director for Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said in an interview with the Post that stalkers “are the folks that don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They are typically not the people who are respecting protection orders.”

Cases like Nam’s are not uncommon. A study conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law titled “Do Protection Orders Protect,” cross-examined the rate of protection order effectiveness of every state in the nation. Their findings showed that for every 100,000 adults, 880 have filed protection orders. Between 84 and 92 percent of these orders are implemented for domestic violence offenses alone. However, almost a fifth of all protection orders go unenforced. Supporters of the new House Bill hope it will eliminate the possibility of further abuse victims often experience once their abuser is set free on bail.

Along with Colorado, 20 other states and DC have implemented immediate arrest laws for domestic violence calls. These laws allow police officers to detain the primary offender without a warrant at the scene of the incident. These laws, along with the denial of bail to offenders, has given new hope to many victims in Colorado.

In an interview with Fox 21 News, Colorado State Representative Clarice Navarro, a main proponent of the new bill, is optimistic for its potential to help victims in the very worst situations.

“This new law will be a sigh of relief to many victims who after enduring the stress of a criminal trial, won’t have to fear retaliation from their attacker,” said Navarro. “I am grateful to all the stakeholders and legislators who participated in this process and hope this new law empowers more victims of stalking and domestic violence to report the abuse they have suffered.”

The new law will take effect August 9.

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.

Josh Brown TV Interview A Reminder of NFL’s Domestic Violence Problem

Just in time for Super Bowl LI comes yet another chapter in the ongoing story of the NFL’s domestic violence problem. Former Giants star Josh Brown  drew headlines this week after he publicly admitted domestic violence. The admission came during an emotional interview February 2 with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Sports pundits are describing the interview as Brown’s effort to revive his professional football career; the Giants dropped him in October after he admitted the abuse to the team. The NFL had earlier suspended Brown for one game for the spring 2015 incident. He was arrested on suspicion of domestic assault in the fourth degree after Molly Brown, now his ex-wife, said he grabbed her wrist during an argument. Charges were never filed, according to numerous media accounts of the case.

The public apology has become a staple in celebrity efforts to repair their reputations and careers. And the he said-she said nature of the incident is, sadly, familiar. The Brown situation, like all domestic violence cases, does have its own nuances. Central to the ABC interview were Brown’s journal entries, in which he wrote that he had “been physically, emotionally and verbally” abusive toward Molly Brown. The journals became public as part of the investigation.

Here’s some of what he said on “Good Morning America:”

I mean, I had put my hands on her. I kicked the chair. I held her down. The holding down was the worst moment in our marriage. I never hit her. I never slapped her. I never choked her. I never did those types of things.

Later, he concedes that, “What I did was wrong. Period.” He goes on to say that domestic violence is not just physical abuse: “We’re talking intimidation and threats, the attempt to control, body language.”

Despite talking the talk about domestic violence, he drew a distinction between abuse and, well, actually hitting his wife. He still draws a distinction between his actions and, you know, real abusers. “The world now thinks I beat my wife,” he said in the television interview. “I have never hit this woman. I never hit her. Not once.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Brown’s case is still open. We’ll see how the NFL applies its personal conduct policy, revised in 2014, after Ray Rice was caught on camera punching his then-fiancée in an elevator. Brown told ABC he’s hopeful he can play pro football again.

Super Bowl weekend, with more than 100 million people likely to watch the contest between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, is a good time for the NFL to make it clear they plan to hold players accountable.

[ed: Interesting note on the body language in this interview. Brown shakes his head “no,” while saying “yes.”  A common non-verbal indicating a dishonest response.]

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.

session2

 

 

Two New Additions to the Big Mountain Data Advisory Board

In January of 2015, I was invited at the request of the High Point Police Department, to learn about the agency’s incredible work on domestic violence.  It was a full two-day workshop and law enforcement agencies from around the country attended.  Also present were representatives from The Battered Women’s Justice Project, the Department of Justice, John Jay College, and The Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR).

sandi

Sandi Murphy, Battered Women’s Justice Project, asking the tough questions about the High Point Model for domestic violence offender deterrence.

Sandra Tibbetts Murphy, BWJP

Before I got to the meeting, I met a woman in line at the car rental counter.  We exchanged jokes and pleasantries about the inefficiency (understatement) of the car-renting process.  When I got to the HPPD workshop, I spotted this same woman in our session!   That woman was Sandra Tibbetts Murphy.  She asked tough questions in our workshop, and I made a mental note to be sure to connect with her after the two-day training class was over.

Sandi is a world-class attorney who’s written extensively on scholarly and legislative aspects of domestic violence law.  Many times, I’ve reached out to her over this past year and asked her to clarify aspects of the law I didn’t fully comprehend.  She has always been patient and kind to give me her best insights on her interpretation of the law or the issue I was addressing.

Today, I’m proud to announce Sandi is joining our esteemed Board of Advisors.  She will now be able to engage with our extended team on our enterprise social network, and help guide and inform our understanding of the law.

Retired Chief Marty Sumner, HPPD

martyretirement

Chief Sumner’s May 2016 retirement party in High Point. A still from our film footage.

The second superstar joining our board is someone I’ve come to know and admire since our very inception.  In fact, it was his words spoken on national television in September 2014, that compelled me to jump out of my seat and demand to know more.  At the height of the Ray Rice saga, ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos ran an investigative segment on domestic violence.  I will never forget the words I heard that day:

“In the five years before we began this, we had 17 domestic-related violence homicides.  In the five years since, we’ve only had one.”  – Chief Marty Sumner,  September 2014.

Chief Sumner retired from his 31-year in law enforcement last May.  He has an unparalleled understanding of crime data, and especially domestic violence data. For the past 7 years, he led the initiative to apply focused deterrence to High Point’s domestic violence problem that was once over a third of the city’s homicides.  What has come to be known as the High Point Model has now been recognized by the DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women, resulting in a $1.6M contract to the National Network for Safe Communities for replication and further evaluation.  The High Point story is the subject of our documentary. It was Chief Sumner who led the effort to perform a thorough analysis of the city’s domestic violence data, make necessary modifications to the law enforcement software, and implement a system of reporting and alerts that established the baseline that fueled the High Point Model’s success.

The addition of these two strong advocates for change have added a new layer of credibility and strength to our mission.

Leveling Up on the High Point Story

HP1079_coverReaders of this blog should know we’ve been working on a film since our inception.  The story, which we have been calling, Turning Point, is a documentary about a city in North Carolina that got serious about its domestic violence problem.  With documentaries, the power of the story sometimes reveals itself the further you get into the process.  This is exactly what happened with our film team. At some point last year, we all came to the same conclusion: This story is bigger than us. We knew we had a tiger by the tail that deserved a mass audience and higher production values.

Today, after a few months of deliberation and putting the pieces together, we’re announcing we’re partnering with a world class documentary filmmaker to produce the High Point story.  We’re starting over to create a feature film with an ambitious budget and with professionals who are expert filmmakers and storytellers. The amazing news is, we will continue to work on this project creatively. Our two directors will be filming and editing the story.  My role will be to continue to advise on the story, and pitch in on fund-raising.

Our partner is The Documentary Group.  The “Doc Group,” as its known in the film industry, is one of the leading documentary filmmakers in the world.  The company was founded in 2006 by core members of PJ Productions following the death of legendary broadcaster Peter Jennings.  The producers and directors were the team behind Jennings’ documentaries at ABC News.  We had our first meeting with the doc group in November, and decided to move forward together to tell this incredible story.  This week, the film team is back in High Point kicking off the first of many on-location shoots.

Our producer on the film, Tom Yellin, was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Cartel Land.  Cartel Land is a feature documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.  It has since won a series of high profile industry recognition awards and accolades including the 2015 George Polk Award for Documentary Film.  Next Sunday, February 28, we hope you’ll tune in to the Oscars and wish Tom well.

The High Point story has the potential to make a difference in the field of domestic violence unlike nothing else we could have imagined when we started thinking about fresh, new ways to look at this age-old social problem that results in injuries, broken families, and deaths every day.  We hope you share in our excitement and anticipation for the completion of this game-changing story.

 

Even “Really Special People” Can Hurt Their Partners

The famous singer-songwriter Don McLean has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence. Mclean, best known for his 1971 song Don McLean“American Pie,” made the plea in response to a Jan. 18 incident in which Camden, Maine, police responded to an early morning telephone call from McLean’s wife seeking help.

Patrisha McLean said that her husband has physically and verbally abused her for three decades and has “a violent temper,” according to the Rockland District Court order obtained by ABC News.

“For the first 10 years or so his rage was unfathomably deep and very scary,” she wrote in a statement attached to the protection order, ABC reported. “On Jan. 17, Don terrorized me for 4 hours until the 911 call that I think might have saved my life.”

During the incident, Patrisha wrote that her husband “pressed the palms of his hands against my temples and squeezed as though my head were in a vice.” She says that she has suffered from headaches since the incident.

She requested an order of protection. But the order was later dismissed, and the couple reported through their lawyer they had “agreed to go forward.”

McLean defended himself on Twitter. “This last year and especially now have been hard emotional times for my wife my children and me. What is occurring is the very painful breakdown of an almost 30 year relationship,” he tweeted. “Our hearts are broken and we must carry on. There are no winners or losers but I am not a villain.”

After McLean’s arrest became public, Francis Marion University in South Carolina canceled an April 2 fundraising gala and concert featuring the performer. American singer-songwriter Don McLean. “We support gender equity issues and all the provisions of Title IX,” a university official said in explaining the cancellation.

“The entire town was shocked” by McLean’s arrest, a town of Camden Select Board member told the Associated Press. “They are both really special people,” the local official said. “He’s done wonderful things for the community.”

It is shocking to learn these accusations about a singer many feel we know because his songs have been part of our life’s soundtrack. But here’s the thing – even “really special people” are capable of doing really bad things. The arrest of celebrities reminds us of that. In this case at least, unlike some we’ve cited involving domestic violence charges against NFL players, McLean’s alleged actions have cost him a concert. We’ll see if future gigs are canceled.

Of course, we don’t know all the details, and people are innocent until proven guilty. But Patrisha’s chilling words in her written statement ring true, and they suggest a pattern of abuse. If so, odds are that the Jan. 18 incident won’t be the last.