We are joining our partner, Superion, in Nashville, TN this month to host a screening of our film preview and to discuss the ways data can inform the criminal justice ecosystem surrounding the intimate partner violence challenge. If you’re a Superion customer going to SUGA 2017, we look forward to seeing you there. Our film preview will be in Hermitage C at 2:15pm on June 20. We will feature our film team, as well as host a conversation with Chief Ken Shultz of the High Point Police and Shay Harger, victim services director at Family Services of the Piedmont.
Law 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.
Among 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.
Jim 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.”
We wrote earlier this year about the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who made chilling and vivid threats on Facebook to harm his estranged wife and others. Anthony Elonis had been convicted and sentenced to 44 months in prison. In fighting the conviction, Elonis argued his posts (which he continued despite a restraining order) were meant as jokes and, therefore, qualify for First Amendment protection. He also argued that the jury must find that he intended his Facebook posts to be threatening.
Since the June Supreme Court ruling did not address the First Amendment question, media attention about the case contributed to an important conversation about the increasing, and ever-changing, role of social media as a tool for offenders to stalk, harass and threaten their victims.
But turnabout is fair play.
The sheriff’s office in Shelby County, Tennessee is using Facebook to look for more than 1,300 domestic violence offenders. Sgt. Mickey Keaton, aka The Facebook Guy, told the Memphis Fox station that within 15 minutes of posting domestic violence arrest warrants on the Shelby County Sheriff’s Facebook page, he’s received calls and texts about the offenders’ locations. In one case, a suspect surrendered within 30 minutes of a post about him.
“A lot of these people, their victims are already willing to talk with us so we can usually contact them, especially if it’s a spouse, ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, and they usually have an idea of where they might be or where they’re working,” Keaton told the Fox station.
Using Facebook and other forms of social media to find offenders follows the tradition of television crime shows like “America’s Most Wanted.” Law enforcement can leverage social media’s broad reach to share information about public safety threats. And posting domestic violence arrest warrants on Facebook has the potential to hold offenders accountable by publicly naming them and their crime.
We give a hearty “like” to this Facebook trend.
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.The 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
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.
What are lethality assessments and how can they help? The practice is one of many highlighted in the recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).
One model — The Lethality Assessment Program—Maryland Model (LAP) – was created by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV) in 2005. The goal is to identify victims most at risk of serious injury or death by their intimate partners and connect them to service programs. In Maryland, trained officers ask victims questions in their Lethality Screen for First Responders.
Read about the roots of the model, adapted from Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell’s Danger Assessment.
PERF’s study found that 42 percent of responding agencies use lethality assessments, or “structured risk” tools – to assess the level of danger a victim faces. The yes-or-no questions help determine the need for a safety plan. Questions include whether violence from the offender has increased; whether the offender has a criminal history or a history of drug or alcohol abuse; whether the abuser has violated an order of protection; and whether the victim has decided to leave the offender.
Of the agencies using this assessment, 81 percent include the findings in the police report, the PERF survey found. Seventy-nine percent of agencies using the tool say responding officers administer the assessment.
MNADV says using LAP has “improved partnerships and collaboration among law enforcement officers and other community practitioners and advocates.” Agencies have created new guidelines for hotline advocates who speak to high-danger victims and special protocols for health care providers.
Researchers who studied seven Oklahoma police jurisdictions found that “the LAP demonstrates promise as an evidence informed collaborative police-social service intervention that increases survivors’ safety and empowers them toward decisions of self-care.”
Elected 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.
A court in a small county of 150,000 people, Stearns Central Minnesota, has been recognized as a “national expert in both the prevention and prosecution” of domestic violence by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.
The county is home to the Stearns County Felony Domestic Violence Court , a court whose main goal is to prevent homicide by monitoring repeat domestic violence offenders. The court uses a two-pronged approach to address the issue. The court holds the offenders accountable with weekly hearings and a special surveillance officer that monitors the offenders’ whereabouts. Simultaneously, the court provides an array of support services for the victims to help ensure their trust and safety. According to its website, the court “supervises a core group of the most dangerous repeat felony domestic violence offenders with close judicial and probationary supervision enforced by strict conditions of release, surveillance, weekly offender accountability check-ins directly to the court and utilizing an extended slate of victim support services to enhance victim safety.”
The DOJ office awarded the county training grants to brief other agencies across the country on the innovative practices used in the Stearns County Felony Domestic Violence Court. Created in 2008 the court has received over $1,000,000 in grants to support its work.
The Stearns County Attorney, Janelle Kendall, created the court six years ago while looking for a way to control jail-crowding and prevent homicide. In 2008, seven out of eight of reported homicide cases in her jurisdiction were domestic related. After some internal research and conversations with other law enforcement officials, Kendall determined the best way to prevent homicide in the area was to address and intervene in the lives of repeat domestic violence offenders with a “specialized team of domestic violence-trained professionals.” The addition of a surveillance expert to monitor the offenders and ensure they are following the rules given by the court has been the key ingredient for the court’s success. The “unarmed but experienced investigator,” Bill Nelson, spends his days tracking and randomly checking in on the offenders to confirm they are not stalking their victims.
Options for pre-trial release supervision for felony repeat offenders include the following:
- Electronic Home Monitoring Drug and Alcohol Testing
- Domestic Abuse No Contact Order Enforcement
- Mandatory Weekly Compliance Hearings
- Daily Schedule and Curfew Enforcement
- Supervision and Surveillance
According to Jim Hughes, Chief of Police in Sartell, Minnesota, they have been “seeing a lot of great change.”
“In three full years of operation, the population of repeat offenders (136 total) has committed only five new domestic assaults. Prior to the court there were on average three felony assault arrests a year per defendant,’’ according to information on the program from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
– StarTribune Editorial Board, 6/3/13