Domestic Violence Experts Worry About Rise in Domestic Violence Cases— Including Homicides

After a decline in the number of domestic violence homicides during 2012, it appears that the number of homicide victims related to domestic violence may rise again this year.

Within the first two months of 2014, domestic violence related homicides have taken the lives of four people and injured one other person. Two domestic violence deaths in late 2013 were declared homicides in 2014 and are included in this year’s count, bringing the total to date to six.

This year, the deaths of Tykia Dickerson, Detra Martin, Claudia Hall, and Leroi Elliott, one-month-old Hakeem Brown, and one other infant have been confirmed as related to domestic violence.

During all of 2013, 11 homicides were classified as domestic-violence related by MPD.

According to Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham while the number of domestic violence related homicides is up, it is “too soon to say if it is a trend.” The Metropolitan Police Department is watching the increase carefully, says Newsham, but there no indication that they are related.

Meanwhile, D.C. mayor Vincent Gray attributes partial responsibility to domestic-violence homicides for an increase in the overall homicide rate this year. Before the D.C. City Council, Police Chief Cathy Lanier said, “I don’t know what the percentage of domestic cases are so far this year, but domestic cases, yes, is pushing our numbers up.”

Karma Cottman, Executive Director for the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, calls “any increase” in domestic violence homicides “concerning.”

“Greater attention needs to be paid batterer accountability. What we know is that services alone aren’t enough. We need policies and systems responses that will actually hold offenders accountable for their actions,” Cottman said via email.

To address the recent increase in violence, MPD has adjusted resources including “patrol, specialized tactical teams and undercover operations” to the sixth and seventh district, which is where MPD has seen the most cases, Newsham says.

Another way that MPD works to lower the rate of domestic violence is through public and private partnerships with organizations like DC Safe, which works with survivors of domestic violence.

This year, DC Safe has seen an increase in the number of people they have treated so far this year, as compared to previous years, says executive Director Natalie Otero.

In fact, winter months are “usually slow,” but this year there has been a high volume of walk-in clients, says Otero.

“The last time we saw a surge like this it was correlated to the closing of the city shelters and the privatization of the mental system.”

For Otero, the big question is whether the surge in clients will also correspond with the number of women who are at risk to become victims of the most violent crimes.

This number is determined by D.C.’s 4-year-old lethality assessment program. Under the program, after police respond to a domestic violence complaint, trained counselors from DC SAFE speak to the victim by phone and conduct a risk assessment.

“The big question is, at the end of the year, are we going to see a number higher than those 1800 clients that are considered high lethality. I don’t know the answer to that.”

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