Domestic violence Outreach urged in wake of killings
Police and anti-domestic violence advocates in Rutland County say they’re working on strategies to prevent lethal incidents of domestic assaults like one in Pittsford last week in which a man allegedly killed his 32-year-old girlfriend.
Less than a week after Christopher Sharrow, 35, allegedly killed Kristen Parker inside the home they shared with their three young children, members of four law enforcement agencies in Rutland County along with the head of the Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter said they want to reach out to victims of domestic violence who could be in similarly life-threatening situations.
“We want to get the message out so people can get help and if a neighbor, co-worker, employer or friend knows what’s going on we want them to pick up the phone too,” Rutland Police Chief James Baker said. “This kind of thing is everyone’s responsibility.”
The last month has witnessed a number of brutal domestic-related killings in Vermont including what police say was a murder-suicide in Peacham and the death of a Charlestown, N.H., woman who police say was killed by her estranged husband from Saxtons River.
Two of the recent domestic violence-related killings have happened in Rutland County where Parker was killed on July 5 and Aaron Allen, 28, of Hudson Falls, N.Y., was shot and killed while allegedly stabbing his ex-girlfriend in Danby on June 17.
Rutland County is also home to the state’s second largest domestic violence shelter which RCWNS executive director Marianne Kennedy said provides 3,000 bed nights a year to women and children seeking shelter from abusers at home.
“The numbers have gone up dramatically in the last three years,” Kennedy said Wednesday during a press conference in Rutland attended by members of four Rutland County law enforcement agencies.
To lower the chance of future homicides and to give victims greater access to agencies that can help them leave abusive relationships, the county’s law enforcement, prosecutors, related state agencies and RCWNS are seeking a $1 million U.S. Department of Justice grant that planners want to use to start a special domestic violence task force.
Kennedy and Baker, who have been spearheading the effort, found out in March that Rutland County was one of just 12 sites in the country selected to receive about $200,000 in Justice Department funds that planners are using to study every aspect of domestic violence policing, prosecution and advocacy in the county.
Officials in Rutland County are hoping the results of that self-analysis will convince Justice Department officials to invest in a plan that Kennedy and Baker hope will serve as a template for rural communities everywhere.
The task force concept Rutland County officials hope to adopt has been used to good effect elsewhere, including in Newburyport, Mass., where members of law enforcement, domestic violence advocates, state agencies such as the Department of Corrections, and others have worked together to help victims of domestic violence leave before situations turn lethal.
“Domestic violence homicides are one of the few homicides that have a history,” Baker said.
The Rutland police chief and Kennedy hope to pair the task force concept with the use of a domestic violence survey already used in the city by police investigating domestic complaints. By asking 12 questions posed on the survey — including questions such as “Does he/she have a gun?” and “Do you have a child that he/she knows is not his/hers?” — police can determine whether a domestic violence victim is in “high danger” of being killed.
For those in danger, officers can contact domestic violence advocates who can help victims with the economic and logistical problems posed by leaving an abusive relationship.
The law enforcement representatives who gathered at the Rutland Police Department on Wednesday said the task force and survey concepts could eventually be used statewide to prevent domestic violence homicides — but they stopped short of saying the tools could have prevented the two most recent killings in Rutland County.
Vermont State Police Maj. Edward Ledo, who was part of the investigation in Pittsford last week, said he wasn’t sure the new techniques would have made a difference in the recent cases in Rutland County or the killings in Peacham, where police say a New Hampshire man killed the husband of his ex-wife before taking his own life.
But he said the outreach and educational aspects of both techniques being explored in Rutland are essential to breaking through the wall of silence that surrounds many domestic violence cases.
“Abusers want to maintain control and isolate their victims from friends and family,” Ledo said. “When people see what’s going on they need to reach out to law enforcement. In the year 2013 we as a society need to do a better job. It’s about educating people that these aren’t just dirty little family secrets.”
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