By Dana Tims, The Oregonian
on November 01, 2012
Multnomah County, despite efforts in recent years to address domestic violence, still struggles with an unsettling number of partner-on-partner assaults.
In 2011, for instance, domestic violence accounted for nearly half of all violent crime in the county, according to crime statistics. Since 2010, Multnomah County has recorded at least 20 homicides related to domestic violence, including seven victims killed in five murder-suicide events.
Reported domestic violence climbed in 2011 after a 10-year downward trend. Restraining order applications filed with Multnomah County Circuit Court jumped 6 percent over the previous year. The Portland Police Bureau saw a similar 6 percent increase in domestic violence incidents.
Now, the county and a number of partner agencies are vying for a $200,000 federal grant in what amounts to a coordinated effort to try to identify those most at risk of falling victim to domestic violence.
"Every one of these situations is so heartbreaking but, unfortunately, we simply lack the resources to fund these large research projects ourselves," Commissioner Deborah Kafoury said. "This grant can provide the opportunity to really review what's happening on a case-by-case basis and try to figure out how to prevent the next serious case from occurring."
County officials expect to hear sometime in January if the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women has tapped them as one of 12 areas across the country to receive funding for an intensive, year-long research effort.
Phase two of the project will winnow grant recipients down to six. Those areas would then receive funding for an additional three years to implement a specific intervention model.
Many in the county think they already have a leg up on many jurisdictions nationally when it comes to examining the causes and effects of domestic violence.
Kafoury and Presiding Circuit Court Judge Nan Waller, for instance, co-chair what's called the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team.
The team's 34 members, composed of leadership-level staff from a number of public and private agencies, pore over case files from selected domestic-violence fatalities and identify issues and themes that can be used in preventing future instances.
Other efforts involving the Portland Police Bureau, the Multnomah County district attorney's office and a number of other agencies provide forums for sharing information across systems.
What this grant could achieve, however, is unique among all of those efforts, said Kris Henning, associate dean of Portland State University's College of Urban and Public Affairs.
Typically, he said, data on domestic violence situations come from two broad categories -- case files assembled by criminal justice concerns and victims. Only rarely, Henning added, is information from these respective groups directly compared to help illuminate the full picture of what precipitated any one instance of serious assault.
"What we need are multiple ways of evaluating risk," said Henning, who would serve as lead researcher for the project if the grant is approved. "The whole idea is to close the gaps that now exist in the system."
A recent paper Henning co-authored, for instance, indicates that victims of domestic violence are often able to predict whether they are likely to be re-assaulted within the next year. Sometimes, however, they get it wrong and miss what should have been clear warning signs, such as the psychological effects on someone who has just been laid off, is habitually drinking or using drugs or has been estranged from a partner.
Similarly, risk-assessment scales developed by criminal justice experts are not perfect and can also be blind to some aspects of predicting future risks.
"We've already taken a lot of steps to address this awful problem," Kafoury said. "But the statistics speak for themselves and there is obviously room for improvement."