Posted in the Fitchburg Forum
A recent national survey of 700 police departments by the Police Executive Research Forum indicated that 56 percent of respondents believe the number of domestic-violence cases have risen since the start of the recession.
Although police in North Central Massachusetts say they haven't seen an increase in domestic-violence cases, they are seeing a change in the types of domestic crimes.
They are more violent.
"The dangerousness of the assaults are much, much worse," Leominster Police Department victim advocate Joan Mullahy said.
Fitchburg Police Chief Robert DeMoura cited the example of Burlington resident Christopher Piantedosi, who allegedly killed his longtime girlfriend Thursday and was reported to have at least stopped in Leominster afterward.
Piantedosi surrendered to police Friday.
Leominster High School graduate Tiana Notice, 25, was a University of Hartford student when she was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in Plainville, Conn., on Valentine's Day 2009. James Carter was convicted on Nov. 1 and sentenced in January to 60 years in prison.
Leominster Police Department handles about 500 domestic-related cases a year, Mullahy said.
"Some of these are just verbal," she said. "An argument, or they walk in and want advice, but these numbers are pretty consistent."
Fitchburg crime analyst Kristi Andrews said domestic-violence arrests were nearly one-fifth of all arrests for the department from 2009-2011.
There was an average of 320 domestic-violence incidents reported between 2007 and 2010 in Fitchburg, according to statistics.
Then there were 374 incidents in 2011, a 16.97 percent increase over the average.
Incidents include reported offenses plus arrests.
"So far in 2012, there have been 67 arrests made in regards to domestic violence; they have accounted for about 16.52 percent of all arrests," Andrews said in an email. "Our domestic violence advocate also gets 'walk-ins,' which are people calling or coming to her for help or information on domestic incidents. So far 24 people have reached out to her in this fashion."
The department's domestic-violence victim advocate, Stephanie Dondero, believes there has been a rise in domestic violence among people middle-aged and older.
Fitchburg's decision to hire Dondero several years ago, coupled with improved training for officers in the area of domestic violence, may be helping to control the escalation of violence, department spokesman Sgt. Glenn Fossa said.
"I also know the training for officers and advocates has shifted somewhat, looking for those telltale signs that could be a prelude to domestic violence, up to and including homicide," he said.
The number of domestic-related incidents and arrests in Leominster ranged from 432 in 2007 to 285 in 2011. All together, there have been 1,962 since 2007, including 86 so far this year.
Most of the cases are related to "simple assault," according to statistics provided by Carol Fitzgerald, the crime analyst for Leominster Police Department.
Mullahy said she has been a domestic-violence advocate for nearly 20 years and knows it's a self-perpetuating problem.
Boys who watch their fathers abuse women are at higher risk of being abusers when they grow up.
Girls who watch as their mothers are victimized are at risk of being victimized.
"One thing I do know and say -- as long as kids grow up witnessing it, it's going to keep the ball rolling," Mullahy said. "They grow up with it and think that's how people resolve conflict."
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