March 1, 2012

Domestic Violence Task Force: Strengthen Stalking Laws, Restraining Orders


6:46 p.m. EST, February 27, 2012


There were 12 domestic-violence slayings last year in Connecticut; down slightly from the 10-year average of 16.

But anti-violence advocates drew no solace from those statistics. The number of new domestic violence cases hitting the court system last year held steady at about 37,000 – roughly a third of all criminal matters. Against this backdrop, the legislature's 3-year-old Domestic Violence Task Force on Monday announced its 2012 agenda – 20 recommended bills to help further protect victims, punish offenders more meaningfully, and intervene earlier in the lives of children and at-risk families.

House Speaker Chris Donovan and state Sen. John A. Kissel (R-Enfield), said there's bipartisan support for the bills, which include strengthening restraining orders, bolstering stalking laws, expanding services to children who witness violence, and pushing the court system to set up more domestic-violence dockets that concentrate exclusively on family crimes.

Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she doesn't take that political support for granted. She said police, prosecutors, politicians and advocates work better together here than in many other states.

Rep, Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, chairwoman of the task force, said the reforms implemented since 2009 represent the most progress on the domestic-violence front since Torrington's Tracey Thurman took a stand against apathy and won mandatory-arrest laws and other landmark changes in 1986.

But budgetary pressure has blunted some of the improvements. The judicial branch in 2010 used $140,000 in federal stimulus money for GPS tracking devices for repeat domestic-violence offenders in Hartford, New Haven, and Danielson. The technology led to quicker notification of protective-order violations – but the money ran out last year.

Flexer said the task force is trying to find a new source of funding. Since domestic violence cuts across all economic tiers, it may be possible to charge a fee to those offenders who require GPS monitoring, Donovan said.

The task force is also pushing for more standardized training on domestic-violence response among town, city, and state police.

In 16 percent of the cases, both people involved in an incident are arrested. Advocates view these "dual arrests'' as an "unintended consequence'' of the mandatory arrest laws, which removed discretion from police. Advocates would like police arrest policies to place a greater emphasis on self-defense, which might reduce the number of times the victim is arrested along with the instigator.

Other recommendations include extending from six months to a year the time that a restraining can stay in place, thereby limiting the number of times a victim has to come to court to seek to renew it; preserving the funding for around-the-clock staffing of shelters; and notifying victims when a case has been nolled or dismissed, or when an offender's probation has been violated or the conditions of release have been changed.

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