Domestic violence calls suddenly increase

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Whether it’s the strained economy, the holidays, population changes or something else area law enforcement leaders can’t be certain.

But what they do know is they are seeing an increase in domestic violence calls in recent months.

In Clovis, calls for assistance in domestic disputes have risen moderately.

In Portales, officers say their numbers have doubled the last couple of months.

Measuring the period between September and Dec. 3, Clovis experienced a 13-percent increase in domestic violence calls, Capt. Patrick Whitney said.

And at roughly the same time, Portales police saw their domestic dispute calls go from one or two a day to at least three or four, Capt. Lonnie Berry said.

“We do see it every year, but I noticed more of an increase than I’ve seen in the past … it’s enough of a climb that we noticed it,” Berry said.

So much, in fact, that Berry said domestic disputes have become a major topic at shift briefings and planning sessions for officers.

While it is typical to see an increase in disputes as a result of stress leading up to the holidays, Berry said this year’s jump is uncharacteristic.

The majority of calls officers have been responding to in Portales are loud verbal altercations that attract the attention of a neighbor or someone nearby, prompting a call to police, Berry said. And many of the people involved are not those police deal with on a frequent or regular basis.

Experts have long known that economic strife causes more problems for couples and families, transcending any other single contributor to domestic violence.

“The incidence of violence in the home is exacerbated by economic factors apart from the characteristics of the individuals involved,” A 2004 study published by the U.S. National Institute of Justice concluded.

“Couples who reported extensive financial strain had a rate of violence more than three times that of couples with low levels of financial strain.”

Whitney, however, isn’t sure yet what’s going on locally.

An increase of 49 calls from the number of calls in 2007’s fall months could be a reflection of financial woes causing stress for Clovis couples, or the simple result of a growing population, Whitney said, cautioning against hasty conclusions.

“People argue in marriages and relationships… (And) we know that most divorces occur over financial issues,” Whitney said.

But he pointed out the numbers in Clovis have been increasing steadily for years, and long before the current economic strife. The 2008 figures represent a 67-percent increase from numbers reported during the same period five years ago.

“There are always variables to statistics,” Whitney said, explaining that while it’s known that financial issues contribute to the majority of relationship arguments, problems and even divorce, numerous other factors can impact domestic violence statistics.

Berry agrees with Whitney’s observations.

“It’s hard to know whether it’s completely financial,” Berry said, explaining alcohol consumption is another high contributor to domestic disputes.

By the same token, he said, people often drink more when they are stressed about money.

And Portales police have also noted an increase in fraud cases, another crime typically partnered with periods of financial hardship, he said.

There’s really no way for officers to plan for the increase in calls, Berry said, other than acknowledging the trend and ensuring each call is treated with the same care and consideration as the next.

At least two officers respond to each incident, both because of the danger domestics pose to officers, Berry said, and so they can separate the parties and work to bring the argument to a peaceful resolution.

In instances where there has been a violation of law, the person is taken into custody. In other instances, officers seek to separate the combatants for the night to give them a cooling off period, he said.

The Institute of Justice study focused primarily on violence against women, documenting an increase in the severity of violence with couples living in disadvantaged communities and in relationships where the male partner experiences high levels of job instability.

But one of the dynamics Berry said his department has found surprising is the number of disputes they respond to involving adult children who have returned home to live with their parents.

The blending of adult family members within a home creates an unusual dynamic, he said.

“There’s frustration because of jobs,” Berry said. Adult children are living back at home and they’re having arguments with older parents and some of that’s over income.”