March 10, 2012

Calgary police buoyed by drop in domestic violence charges

I’m glad to hear that the complaints are rising slightly, may mean more victims are getting reached and reaching out for help!  I like that they have gotten social workers involved with the team, and think it would be great to add in Domestic Violence Advocates to that team to make it more rounded.  Other areas have been seeing good outcomes when building such teams, and I pray that it’s the same for Calgary.

Complaints rise slightly, according to new data

By Jason van Rassel, Calgary Herald March 5, 2012

CALGARY — Domestic violence continues to exact a high toll on society, but in Calgary there are signs more people are seeking help before it’s too late.

In 2011, the number of domestic complaints received by Calgary police climbed to approximately 16,500 — an increase of more than 4.5 per cent over the 15,789 recorded the previous year.

While that statistic points to a high number of families in conflict, police and agencies that work in the domestic violence field say there’s reason for optimism because the number of criminal charges arising from those incidents is going down.

“After a dozen years of working on this thing, maybe we’re finally making a difference,” said Kevin McNichol of HomeFront Calgary, the coalition of police, prosecutors and local agencies behind a specialized court that hears domestic violence cases.

Calgary police laid 3,772 criminal charges while responding to domestic calls in 2011, down from 4,044 charges the year before.

Authorities in Calgary have worked for years to bring police, prosecutors and local agencies together in a coordinated effort to reduce domestic violence.

Established in 2000, the domestic violence court works to break the cycle of abuse by offering treatment to perpetrators who are willing to change and jailing the ones who aren’t, while at the same time ensuring shelter, protection and support for victims and children.

When it first began hearing cases, between 30 and 35 per cent of defendants would go on to face a new accusation of domestic violence. The recidivism rate among domestic abusers eligible for the specialized court now sits at about 12 per cent, McNichol said.

Despite some encouraging signs, domestic violence continues to kill people — most recently 33-year-old Andrea Conroy, who was stabbed to death in her Airdrie home by ex-boyfriend Richard Doucette.

Doucette later killed himself in a Nanton hotel room.

The RCMP had no reports of trouble between the couple, but Doucette had a long history of violence.

Doucette, 41, spent time in prison for the attempted murder of a girlfriend in the 1990s and had two more recent convictions in Calgary for assaults on another woman.

Historically, domestic homicides have accounted for just over 25 per cent of killings in Calgary.

Of 364 reported homicides in Calgary since 1992, 97 involved a spouse, intimate partner or family member who either committed the crime or stands accused of it.

As is the case generally with domestic violence, perpetrators and suspected killers in those family homicides are mostly male: 74 men, compared to 23 women.

Although only one of Calgary’s 11 homicides in 2011 involved domestic violence, police are still dealing with thousands of cases and local women’s shelters are often running at capacity.

“We’re super busy,” said Staff Sgt. John Guigon of the domestic conflict unit, which reviews all domestic calls handled by police and becomes involved in cases deemed to be a higher risk.

Guigon credits a pilot project that employs police and social workers to steer families toward community resources before their domestic crises become more serious with cutting the caseload (see sidebar above), but it’s still a significant one.

“How do we fix that? I really wish I had a really good answer,” he said.

Like McNichol, Guigon said the lower number of criminal charges resulting from those police visits may be a sign families are seeking help sooner.

“I think it’s getting easier for people to talk about it,” he said.

While Calgary may be finally seeing results from its collaborative efforts, smaller communities often can’t offer the same.

Some municipalities have their own specialized courts and the RCMP has teams of domestic violence investigators at some larger detachments, but those resources don’t exist in many communities.

“In some ways it’s a postal-code lottery, depending on where you live,” said Jan Reimer, provincial co-ordinator for the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.

Many communities don’t have the population to support the same resources as cities like Calgary, Reimer acknowledged — but she added they are still lagging behind in more basic areas, such as shelter spaces.

Reimer’s organization is one of many in the domestic violence field pushing for the Alberta government to establish a body that would examine each domestic homicide and make recommendations.

“There could be a great deal to learn,” she said. Twitter:@JasonvanRassel

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