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Contact: Janine Kava, Press Office
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
(518) 457-8906 or (518) 275-5508 – cell

For immediate release: Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010

New initiative targeting domestic violesnce to be launched in three Erie County towns

Police departments in Cheektowaga, Tonawanda and West Seneca receive grants to implement follow-up visit program

Three police departments in Erie County will enhance the fight against domestic violence in their communities by instituting a program that sends officers on follow-up visits to homes where they have responded to domestic incident calls.

Police departments in the towns of Cheektowaga, Tonawanda and West Seneca will each receive $25,000 grants from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to institute a program inspired by one implemented by the New York City Police Department.

Through the follow-up program, officers will return to homes where they have responded to domestic incident calls, with the ultimate goals of holding offenders accountable, improving investigation and prosecution of cases as appropriate, enhancing victim safety and connecting victims with resources and services.

“We know that domestic violence is a serial crime,” DCJS Acting Commissioner Sean M. Byrne said. “Unlike almost every other crime, we know who the victim is going to be, who the perpetrator will be, and more likely where the crime will occur. But what we don’t know is when. These grants will allow these agencies to proactively check to make sure victims are safe, that perpetrators are keeping their distance if an order of protection is in place and behaving appropriately if there are no orders. We want to hold offenders accountable for their behavior.”

DCJS provided the one-time grants to the police departments through the federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program. A variety of criteria was used to determine which departments would receive the grants, including the number of domestic violence incidents in the jurisdiction and if departments had infrastructure in place, such as a dedicated officer and/or a specialized team to follow up on domestic violence incidents and established relationships with the domestic violence services provider in their community, to support the new initiative.

  • In Cheektowaga, nearly half of the simple and aggravated assaults reported to police as domestic in 2009 involved intimate partners; women were the victims in 80 percent of those incidents. Intimate partner is defined as a spouse, ex-spouse, sexual partner or ex-partner, including same-sex partners.
  • In Tonawanda, 44 percent of those cases involved intimate partners, with women reported as the victims in 76 percent of the assaults.
  • In West Seneca, 19 percent of simple and aggravated assaults reported to police as domestic involved intimate partners; in 76 percent of those cases, women were the victims.
    • Additional 2009 domestic violence statistics as reported by these three departments, as well as departments across the state, can be found on the DCJS website.

Cheektowaga Police Chief Christine M. Ziemba said: “The Cheektowaga Police Department has always been in the forefront in being proactive in the handling of domestic violence cases.  Our officers have undergone extensive training in response to calls, we have a pro-arrest policy in effect, and we are fortunate to have a domestic violence advocate located on site in police headquarters to assist victims.  We are very happy and pleased to have been chosen by DCJS to be the recipient of a grant that will allow us to conduct home visits with our domestic violence victims.  We look forward to being able to provide another service to the members of our community.”

West Seneca Police Chief Edward F. Gehen said: “The Town of West Seneca is grateful for the opportunity and financial assistance from DCJS to further enhance our domestic violence response. Domestic violence is a serious issue that requires police intervention, resolution and prevention. The home visits provided by this funding will enable assigned officers to speak with victims personally, providing an opportunity for assessment of actions taken and a gauge for future actions needed.”

Tonawanda Chief Anthony Palumbo said: “This grant gives us another means to protect one of our citizens’ basic rights: to be safe in their own home.”

In addition, statewide in 2009, many indicators of non-lethal domestic violence, including the number of court filings and calls to hotlines, are showing an upward trend for the third consecutive year, according to the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV). According to the data collected by the agency:

  • 25 percent of all assaults reported by police agencies outside of New York City in 2009 were committed by intimate partners; 80 percent of those victims were female.
  • New York State’s courts issued a total of 262,327 orders of protection in 2009, a 21 percent increase from the prior year, and a 26 percent increase over 2007.
    • Legislation enacted in 2008 allows intimate partners – including dating couples, same-sex couples and teen-age couples – to seek civil orders of protection against their abusers; prior to the enactment of the Expanded Access to Family Court Law on July 28, 2008, those individuals had to pursue an order of protection through a criminal case.
    • As a result, 14 percent of the family offense filings fell under that newly expanded definition, and 4 percent were made by individuals in current or former same-sex relationships. More than 20,000 applicants for public assistance indicated danger due to domestic violence, a 17 percent increase from 2008 and a 41 percent increase from 2007.

Each department will develop its own specific protocols and guidelines for the follow-up visits based on guidelines provided by DCJS – for example, determining which calls will trigger the follow-up – and the grant funds will be used to fund any overtime associated with those visits. Also through the grant, officers from each department will be trained by OPDV staff on how to correctly conduct follow-up visits.  

“OPDV stands eager to assist these police departments in enhancing their response to domestic violence cases,” OPDV Executive Director Amy Barasch said. “Many situations that begin as low-level offenses can develop into a felony, even a homicide: consistent evidence-collection, monitoring and support for victims can prevent cases from escalating, and ensure that police are doing everything in their power to stop this crime from dominating their communities.”

The New York City Police Department expanded its follow-up visit program in 2007, an effort complemented by an anti-domestic violence public awareness campaign. That year, officers made 76,000 visits, and the department reported 45 domestic violence homicides; in past years, that number had been consistently hovering around 70. In 2009, the NYPD reported 43 intimate partner homicides.

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services (www.criminaljustice.ny.gov) is a multi-function criminal justice support agency with a variety of responsibilities, including collection and analysis of statewide crime data; operation of the DNA databank and criminal fingerprint files; administration of federal and state criminal justice funds; support of criminal justice-related agencies across the state; and administration of the state’s Sex Offender Registry and a toll-free telephone number (1-800-262-3257) that allows anyone to research the status of an offender.

The state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (www.opdv.ny.gov) is charged with improving the response of state and local communities to domestic violence. OPDV provides guidance to Executive level staff on policy and legislation; conducts statewide community outreach and public education programs; and trains professionals on addressing domestic violence in a wide array of disciplines, including child welfare, law enforcement and health care.