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 © 

A Look at What’s New at Big Mountain Data

In case you’re not subscribed to our newsletter (and you should be!), here is what we’ve been up to lately at Big Mountain Data:

1. Collaborative Project with Wunderman Health.

In May, at the inaugural American Society of Evidence-based Policing conference in Phoenix, #ASEBPconf2017, we announced a new venture with Wunderman Health in NYC. Together, we are collaborating on an educational web site that curates innovation examples around the U.S. focused on Violence Against Women solutions. The site will be parked at the URL: ViolenceAgainstWomen.sucks.

The URL says it all, and, frankly, it’s all you need to say about the everyday reality of violence against women. Our goal is to showcase what is working.

Oftentimes, law enforcement, nonprofits, and civic agencies stumble upon something interesting by attending a conference, or reading a media report. We want to accelerate that exposure and learning. We are asking progressive law enforcement agencies to share their stories, so that we can amplify them via this site and social media.

If you want to learn more about how you can get involved, or how to submit your cases, please let us know. We are pitching this idea to backers, and are optimistic about our prospects to make this showcase a reality.

Wunderman Health is a New York City-based global digital agency and a world leader in marketing and database operations.  The Wunderman Health team, led by CEO Becky Chidester, has partnered with us on the site design and launch plan.

 

2. First Steps in Nashville.

At our partner Superion’s flagship customer event, #SUGA17, we launched our MVP (minimum viable product) for the law enforcement market. The IPVO Tracker will create an offender list, as well as training staff on how to properly collect data on offenders and teach staff on how intimate partner violence is uniquely different from other types of criminal behavior.

Analysis of the data is the first step in the highly successful High Point Model.  If you’re interested in learning more, let us know.  First-time pilot customers can sign up now for a 20% early adopter discount.

 

 

 

3. Our “Dream Product.” 

With the expertise of Dr. Jill Messing, a leading academic and thought leader on Lethality Assessment, we are creating a new software tool in order to assess the threat risk of domestic violence offenders. The software will be able to combine criminal history with lethality factors and compute a unique score for each offender.

The software will be SaaS-based and accessible via any mobile or desktop device, including patrol car systems. Criminal justice, law enforcement, and social services professionals will have real-time data available on all known offenders.

 

 

 

4. Capstone Kick-off.

Big Mountain Data is now a board member of the  Master of Data Analytics (MSDA) program at University of Central Florida.  We will be partnering with Brevard County Sheriff’s Office to build a tool that will identify, track, and hold offenders accountable. The project will be a capstone assignment for MSDA students who will graduate in the spring of 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

5. New Services Listed on Web Site. 

 

We have a number of new services on our website, including our co-venture with Superion.

We’re primarily interested in providing law enforcement with clean data on dangerous, repeat offenders.  But, we’ll also do data analysis local to your region.  We’ve worked with universities, journalists, nonprofits, and researchers to supply data visualizations and reports.

If you have a custom report or project in mind that involves data analysis, we can turnaround projects fairly quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Moving Forward

August is approaching fast and will bring with it the Tech2Empower conference in Austin, TX. The statewide conference will provide an exclusive peek into leading technology that will help “build community, strengthen services, and tell the story of the Texas family violence movement.”

Below is a description of our workshop.  We’ll also be exhibiting at the event, showcasing our software prototype, and answering questions about our data analysis offering.

We are looking forward to returning to our Austin roots!

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.

Private Violence: Three Years Later

This post is cross-posted from the Private Violence team email.  It’s authored by our longtime advisor, Kit Gruelle. 

Kit Gruelle in the film “Private Violence.”

In January 2014, Private Violence premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Many people who watched the film were stunned and appalled by what they saw on the screen: Deanna Walters, rescued after her estranged husband kidnapped and terrorized her from one end of the country to the other, lying like a corpse in her hospital bed, every inch of her bruised and battered. Viewers were equally appalled by how little regard North Carolina’s criminal justice system had for prosecuting Deanna’s near-death assault. Deanna, it turns out, was lucky: her abuser was ultimately brought to justice in federal court and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

For the last three years, I have traveled throughout the country with the film, including spending a great deal of time in the South, both in small towns and big cities. After the credits roll and the lights come up, a Q&A session usually follows. The general feeling in the room is one of outrage. Again and again, people ask, “How can this be happening now in the United States? Aren’t we more evolved than this?” Sadly, the answer to that question is a definitive no. No, we are not more evolved than this. This sort of violence is a too-oft occurrence in homes all across this country.

At screenings, after the Q&A session ends, a line forms. People want to share their personal experiences. Many approach with tears in their eyes. Even more talk about how afraid they are to “say it out loud.” Too many are afraid to call the police. Some have lost loved ones to what we still call “domestic violence,” but what should be called “intimate or misogynistic terrorism.”

The stories are cut from the same cloth. I hear the same narratives, on repeat. Over and over, women say, “He seemed like such a nice guy when we first got together! The nicest guy I ever met!” They wonder what they missed, and often, they blame themselves for the abuse. They take their cue from larger society, and also, our criminal justice system. With deep, lasting, devastating consequences.

It is our addiction to victim-blaming that allows the abuser to carry on, almost completely unchecked, until there’s one or more dead bodies on the ground, and way too many children left to live with the legacy of family-based terrorism that alters their world view forever. I tell people that the abuser commits the act, but the system drives the getaway car for him. And we all pay for it in spades.

What will it take for this country that gives so much lip service to caring about women and children to actually start caring about them? When will we connect the dots between the abuse and violence that is used to control, coerce, and intimidate family members and the criminal conduct we read and hear about in our communities?

I wish I could say that the issues presented in Private Violence have been addressed and rectified, but they have not. Not by a long shot. The (reported) numbers remain the same: One in three women in the U.S. will experience intimate partner terrorism at the hands of their husband or boyfriend. Many abused women who attempt to leave their abusers will be hunted down and murdered in cold blood. Domestic violence murder/suicides are on the rise. Firearms are the weapon of choice. Over 50% of mass shootings have some connection to domestic violence. These are the hard truths, no matter how hard we try to turn away. It is now 2017, and a new administration is in place. And despite these dismal numbers, there is talk about doing away with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a bipartisan law that was passed in 1994. It seems that it’s now open season on women and children in the United States.

In the three years since our Sundance premiere, Deanna has graduated from college and is ready to move on to the next phase of her life. But most importantly, she is safe. Living a life free of violence. But thousands upon thousands of Deannas wake up every day in the most dangerous place in the world for them: their very own homes. How is that acceptable in a so-called “free society?” It isn’t, and sadly, Private Violence remains as relevant today as it did at our premiere, and as relevant as it was 10 years ago when we started this project. If VAWA is done away with, it will send an even louder signal to abused and terrorized women and children that what’s happening to them is just fine with the government. In my mind, I can see the lines of women I’ve spoken with around the country, and I think about how nice it would be to say to them “your elected officials care about this and want to make sure you are safe at home.” At this juncture, in too many cases, that would be a lie.

Until we prioritize this crime and deal with it like we should, we will continue to simply play catch-up. Feminist icon and our Executive Producer Gloria Steinem suggested that, rather than lining up ambulances at the bottom of the waterfall, it might be a good idea to build a partition at the top to stop families from cascading over the edge. That would be the more humane and proper approach. Lives and money will be saved (the economic costs to domestic violence are staggering), and we’ll all be able to sleep safer at night. Until then, the work continues. We work until we #EndPrivateViolence.

 

Taking the Show on the Road – Austin

Big Mountain Data is kicking off its U.S. speaking tour next week in Austin, TX.  If you’ve been following along with us, you know we launched the company in Austin.

It’s our pleasure to return to town to tell our story and show a preview of our film about High Point, NC. We are also pleased to be presenting at the offices of our original advisor, Erik Huddleston.  It was Erik, now CEO of TrendKite, who casually mentioned I should focus on offenders, rather than victims.  He set in motion all our future plans with that simple, important redirect.

If you’re in the Austin area, or you know someone who’d be interested in our work, please sign up to attend our Lunch & Learn at the TrendKite offices.  You’ll get free food and a lot to think about.

When: March 24, 2017, 12pm – 1pm

Where: TrendKite Office, 800 Brazos St #340, Austin, TX 78701

Eventbrite - A 21st Century Approach to Ending Domestic Violence

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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Connecticut Law Obfuscates Abuser Accountability

Thanks to a change in Connecticut law, law enforcement agencies in that state may not report the names and addresses of people accused of Top Secretdomestic violence crimes. Supporters of the new state law say the change guarantees confidentiality to domestic violence. In most cases, they say, releasing the name or address of the offender results in the release of the victim’s identity.

Here’s the key section of Public Act No. 15-211, Sec. 24, Section 54-86e: all names and addresses of victims of domestic violence remain confidential “and shall be disclosed only upon order of the Superior Court.”

Although the intention of the law is to prevent re-victimization, Big Mountain Data opposes the move. The law stands in direct opposition to our philosophy: Only by publicly identifying perpetrators and holding them accountable for their criminal actions can we end domestic violence. We support public access to the names of perpetrators as well as statistics about arrests, convictions and other details about domestic violence offenders.

After the policy became law in July, the police department in the town of Redding changed its official policy, apparently becoming the first agency in the state to do so. Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) told The Redding Pilot in November that she supported the Redding department’s move and hoped the decision would spur open discussion of the issue.

“I do support this policy because it offers confidentiality for the victim. We are, therefore, not outing the perpetrator, but from where I sit, offering confidentiality is the stronger [objective],” Jarmoc said in November.

The Connecticut law conflicts with another state law – one that requires identification of anyone who is arrested. Connecticut lawmakers got around this by approving legislation Oct. 1 that exempts law enforcement records from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act under eight circumstances. One is “if they were compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of crime and disclosure would not be in the public interest because it would reveal … the name and address of the victim of sexual assault or risk of injury to a minor.”

Thomas A. Hennick, public education officer for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, told The Easton Courier the dispute reveals “a conflict in interpretation,” adding, “there is no such thing as a secret arrest in Connecticut.”

We’ll keep an eye out to see how this issue evolves. It may take a legal challenge from a media outlet, relative or concerned citizen to push the issue into court. In the meantime, we respectfully disagree with CADV’s Jarmoc that the Connecticut law is a good thing. But we agree with her on this: Let’s debate this issue publicly.

 

Big Mountain Data to Participate in Police Data Initiative Data Dive

Last spring, the White House announced the Police Data Initiative (PDI).   When we saw the announcement, it immediately piqued our interest.  Big Mountain Data’s mission is predicated on openness and transparency with regard to the data that can be collected, analyzed, and reported on intimate partner violence.  Via our partner Socrata and our contacts at the Sunlight Foundation, we reached out to see if we could begin to form a community of interest for knowledge-sharing and best practices specific to intimate partner violence data within the PDI.

PDImap1-1024x687

We were thrilled to hear last summer that Orlando joined as the first city in the state of Florida to join the PDI.  Orlando has an excellent reputation for community engagement, a strong technology base, and a progressive law enforcement agency keen on innovation. Orlando Police Chief John Mina even attended a forum with President Obama in October to discuss criminal justice reform and specific ways data can be made available to the public.

As the Orlando Police Department (OPD) prepares to release data on the open portal, the agency has been exploring how featured areas of interest can be examined in a “data dive” forum that will bring together subject matter experts in the community, law enforcement, and city government.  Lucky for us, the first data dive effort to explore this new form of collaboration will be focused on domestic violence and sexual assault data.  The event is invitation-only, and we are pleased to be taking part in this exciting inaugural event.  Representatives from the state involved in advocacy work, as well as local advocates and data experts will be sharing their expertise along with local government officials and law enforcement.  The goal of this session is to bring people together to preview the datasets, provide feedback before final public release, and generally kickstart conversations on how increased transparency can help inform programs and introduce new approaches in the spirit of better protecting and serving the community.

The Director of Innovation for the City of Orlando, Matt Broffman is leading this effort on behalf of the city.  He’s done a terrific job of coordinating the stakeholders involved in the event, as well as setting expectations.  The event will take place on January 27th in the afternoon.  Big Mountain Data has provided input for suggested themes worthy of exploration by the participating teams and will be contributing the talents of Stacy Sechrist and John Weil from University of North Carolina – Greensboro who have worked together over three years analyzing a decade’s worth of domestic violence crime data.  We are very optimistic that this workshop will be an excellent catalyst to launch many conversations on the strategic use of police data to thwart violence against women in central Florida.  We are thrilled to be a part of this historic event.  If the workshop yields good results, this model could be replicated to other PDI sites.

 

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.