Monday, April 30, 2012

Domestic violence rises in sluggish economy, police report

Kevin Johnson

Police are encountering more domestic violence related to the sluggish economy, a national survey of law enforcement agencies finds. 

The review, part of a continuing examination of how economic conditions are affecting law enforcement by the Police Executive Research Forum, found that 56% of the 700 responding agencies reported that the poor economy is driving an increase in domestic conflict, up from 40% of agencies in a similar survey in 2010.

Domestic violence is not a separate category of crime tracked in the FBI's annual crime report, which has recorded a sustained decline in overall violence since the financial collapse in 2008. But the survey concludes that police are responding to more reports of domestic incidents, regardless of whether charges are filed.

In Camden, N.J., police responded to 9,100 domestic incidents in 2011, up from 7,500 calls in 2010.
Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson said it was "impossible'' to separate the economy from the domestic turmoil in the city where unemployment is 19%. 

Thomson said domestic-related aggravated assaults increased nearly 10% in 2011 from levels in 2010. The chief said the department has been tracking the calls closely because of the time and personnel they draw from a force that has been depleted in the past two years with layoffs of about 200 employees, another consequence of the poor economy.

"When stresses in the home increase because of unemployment and other hardships, domestic violence increases," Thomson said. "We see it on the street."

Eugene, Ore., Police Chief Pete Kerns said troubling increases in assaults have coincided with the timing of the financial crisis and the slow recovery. In 2011, aggravated assaults increased to 234, up from 188 in 2010. Simple assaults also were up in 2011 to 1,552, from 1,440 in 2010.

Kerns said, more of the assaults are taking place in residential communities in addition to nightclubs and other traditional trouble spots.

The police survey appears to corroborate findings in 2009 by the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Katie Ray-Jones, president of the hotline, said that financial stress was a factor in "intensifying and escalating" reported abuse. 

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the research forum, a Washington-based law enforcement think-tank, said police have been expressing concern about rising calls related to domestic strife for at least the past two years.

"You are dealing with households in which people have lost jobs or are in fear of losing their jobs," Wexler said. "That is an added stress that can push people to the breaking point."

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