The death of Deanna Cook, who police believe was murdered by her ex-husband as 911 operators listened, was a rare public reminder that instances of domestic violence can turn fatal, with alarming frequency. So far this year, 19 PEOPLE have been murdered in acts of domestic violence, few of which received much attention in the media.
But as a member of Dallas County's Adult Intimate Partner Violence Fatality Review team, Genesis Women's Shelter executive director Jan Langbein hears about them all. She's not particularly troubled by the fact that four more domestic violence victims have been murdered in 2012 than during the same period last year, nor is she particularly encouraged by the fact that the total number of family violence cases reported to Dallas police has dropped by about five percent.
The numbers inch up and down depending on the year, Langbein says, but "the bottom line is family violence remains at epidemic proportions."
Epidemic as in 10,000 cases handled by DPD and untold more that are never reported. Reducing that number will take a concerted effort by pretty much everyone, Langbein says: neighbors, family members, and co-workers who notice aggressive behavior toward a partner, shelters and resource centers like Genesis, and, of course, DPD.
The department has long had a domestic violence arm but Langbein says that "that particular unit, in my opinion, has been critically understaffed for years and years."
Now, not quite so much. DPD recently increased the number of detectives in the unit from 21 to 29. Each of the eight detectives had finished training and was working in the unit by July.
"Before, because we didn't have the extra bodies, a lot of times ... (officers would) do reports as quick as possible just to get them through," said Lt. Miguel Sarmiento, who heads the unit. More manpower means lighter caseloads, which means detectives have more time to spend on each case. That's led to a notable improvement in the cases the unit passes on to the district attorney's office for prosecution.
Another element in DPD's increased focus on domestic violence is the lethality assessment program, a pilot project aimed at identifying individuals at greatest risk of being killed in a domestic violence situation and encouraging to go to a shelter or seek counseling.
It's a simple process in which officers responding to a domestic violence call ask the victim a predetermined series of questions to gauge their danger, then following up with shelters and resource centers. Before, the response was typically limited to filing a police report.
Langbein says she can already notice a difference. This week at Genesis, "the phones have lit up with patrol officers making that extra call."
If neighbors and family members are equally observant, and if the media is more dogged in reporting the dangers of domestic violence, than maybe the epidemic will subside, she said.
"If everybody's talking about this we can turn this around."