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Study, Dallas police: Domestic violence incidents increased 12.5% this year

A UT-Dallas study, using information submitted by Dallas police, found that domestic violence rates spiked at the start of the state’s shelter-in-place orders


A Dallas SWAT officer walks near the scene of home on Highcrest Drive after a domestic violence call-turned-murder-suicide early Monday morning on May 18, 2020.


Cassandra Jaramillo
Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — A study led by UT-Dallas researchers found reported incidents of domestic violence spiked in the beginning of shelter-at-home orders to stem the coronavirus pandemic and then gradually dropped off.

The research, which will be published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice in June, compared domestic violence crimes for 83 days before the order took effect in March with 35 days after.

The study strongly associated a 12.5% increase in domestic violence incidents with the shelter-at-home orders. Researchers found forms of family violence often occur in tandem with partner abuse and child maltreatment.

“Stay-at-home orders may have unintentionally compounded the threat for domestic violence victimization by trapping at-risk partners at home and disrupting access to social support and social service resources typically available to them,” according to the study.

To combat the rise in domestic violence incidents, the Dallas Police Department this month started a public service announcement campaign to raise awareness about the issue. Neighborhood Patrol officers are being deployed to areas with multiple offenses to distribute information on resources, said Police Lt. Polly Ashford, who oversees the domestic violence unit.

Researchers used data from the Dallas Police Department to evaluate incidents of family violence and child abuse. Researchers said they believed decreases in reports could be attributed to fear among victims “to call the police or domestic violence shelters because their perpetrators are confined with them and can closely monitor their communications.”

Ashford said police have found the underlying reasons behind domestic violence are related to drugs, alcohol, financial issues and infidelity. As families are stuck at home, she said, police have noticed “unhealthy coping” with alcohol and drugs.

“There’s no denying that there’s an increase,” Ashford said in an interview Tuesday. “But the reasons haven’t changed.”

Dallas police reported 918 cases of domestic violence in February. March had 1,169 cases, and April had 1,202.

Prior to the pandemic, six detectives and a sergeant started issuing warrants to offenders.

And that work hasn’t slowed.

“It gives them a fervor,” Ashford said. “They know that these victims are sheltering in place with their offender.”

aige Flink, chief executive officer of the Family Place, a Dallas family violence shelter, said it saw a big spike in calls to its hotline before the orders were enacted. Flink said people were trying to get shelter before being in lockdown with an abuser.

The shelter has been full and is helping about 115 people, but hotline calls did see a drop.

“I think it’s because people are unable to make a call,” Flink said. “I’m worried about the long-term mental health effect.”

Prior to shelter-in-place restrictions, the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center was seeing an increase in child abuse cases in 2020.

Carrie Paschall, chief investigative and support services officer, said the center has seen a more than 50% decrease in reports of child abuse since everyone was ordered to stay home.

Paschall said reports of suspected abuse often came from teachers or religious leaders but that stopped when schools and churches closed. She’s concerned about a backlog of cases that may happen as the state begins to reopen.

“Although we are seeing a decrease, there’s heightened severity,” Paschall said.

On Monday, Dallas SWAT officers responded to a domestic violence call that ended in the murder of an 8-year-old girl. Police believe the mother, who was not identified, killed her daughter before she shot herself.

Researchers wrote that reduced social and educational support is particularly challenging for families whose members have behavioral, mental health or medical needs. Families with co-custody arrangements, or children in foster care, are at risk for child abuse, they added.

Researchers said further studies are needed to consider additional data after shelter-at-home restrictions are loosened or lifted altogether.

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that bars could open at 25% capacity and restaurants could boost capacity to 50%.

Piquero said he hopes the study will help officials ensure resources are available for families and victims if similar orders occur in the future.

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