WASHINGTON – Fewer people died at the hands of “loved ones” last year in Maryland than in the previous four years, according to new state police data on domestic violence.
Advocates could not point to a specific reason for the drop in domestic violence deaths, but said they hoped it is the result of increased funding through such programs as the Violence Against Women Act.
Whatever the reason, they said, they are cautiously optimistic.
“It’s great to see those numbers turn around,” said Marty Burns, spokeswoman for the Governor’s Officer of Crime Control and Prevention. “But any death from domestic violence is one too many. . .they have a long way to go.”
According to the data, which was released Monday by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, 62 people were killed as a result of domestic violence in 1999-2000. That was down 22 percent from 1995-96, when 79 people died at the hands of a loved one.
The sharpest decline came in the last year, a 15 percent drop from the 73 deaths that were reported in 1998-99 to the 62 in 1999-2000. Women and girls did the best in that year, with death falling from 42 to 26, a 38 percent drop in one year.
While many advocates warn it is too early to call this a trend, some tentatively credited a number of state initiatives made possible by federal dollars.
Burns said the state has allocated about $17 million over the past five years to bolster existing programs — such as battered women’s shelters and counseling for abusers — and to launch a spate of new initiatives. Those include programs to train everyone from 911 operators who have first contact with victims to the prosecutors who deal with frightened witnesses.
“All of these together might mean that maybe we’re turning the corner. . .and that would be such good news,” Burns said.
A new “pro-prosecution” program trains lawyers to prosecute offenders even without testimony from victims of domestic abuse, who are often afraid to testify.
“They don’t want to go up against their perpetrators because they’re afraid of what might happen to them,” she said.
Another program distributes Polaroid cameras to help police gather evidence at the scene. If the victim decides later not to testify, prosecutors can still go forward. About 400 cameras have been distributed since 1998, Burns said.
“They take as many pictures of the scene as possible,” said Jodi Finkelstein, director of the state’s Family Violence Council. Police even take pictures of the suspect, she said, “because obviously an abuser on the day of a violent episode will look much different than when he walks into court.”
Despite the increased funding, some advocates said it is still not enough.
“Yes, it is helpful, but I would not say that it is so plentiful that it is solving our needs,” said Yvonne Crockett of the Prince George’s Family Crisis Center. “We’re sitting here crunching numbers trying to see how we’re going to make payroll.”
And many said the drop in victims is still not good enough.
“I guess my own feeling is we’re not going to put ourselves out of business any time soon,” said Michaele Cohen, director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. “It’s a little too soon to have a party and celebrate.”
And the data in some categories, she said, is not at all heartening.
In each of the last two reporting periods, 15 children have been killed, many of them babies or young children. This represents a jump from 1995-96, when eight children were killed.
And about half of the victims each year are shot.
“It’s almost always more than half,” Cohen said. “What’s hard for us is we tend to dwell on the ones we lost. We do a lot of hand-wringing over the ones who got away.
“I really hope it stands,” she said of the data. “It would mean that all this hard work has really done something.”