Nevada is No. 1 in the nation for domestic violence deaths, but instead of just shaking our heads, a group of Nevadans led by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is tackling the problem.
The statewide domestic violence fatality review board unveiled 17 recommendations Thursday it hopes will lessen the number of murders.
We applaud Masto for leading this group and for taking steps to combat the problem. Domestic violence related deaths occur all over the state, including here in Elko County. In 2011, our county had four homicides that were suspected to have been at the hand of a husband, ex-husband or ex-boyfriend.
Nevada had a rate of 2.62 women killed by men per 100,000 residents in 2010, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center. That’s well ahead of the second-highest state, South Carolina, with a rate of 1.94 per 100,000. The national average was 1.22 deaths per 100,000 residents.
No one can pinpoint why Nevada is first in the nation for domestic violence, but Masto hopes the recommendations will reduce the number of incidents.
At least three of those recommendations may be key for rural counties.
The board said the state needs to speed up the restraining order process, offer less leniency for defendants, and have better communication between agencies. We agree and hope rural law enforcement, district attorneys and judges take these recommendations to heart.
Counties of 50,000 people or more are required to have judges available to issue after-hour temporary protection orders, said Committee Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Yvette Waters. This means judges in rural counties don’t have to make themselves available on holidays or during non-business hours.
Fortunately, here in Elko County our judges are willing to take weekend and holiday calls even though the official population is just under 50,000. Waters said when District Judge Al Kacin was elected Elko justice of the peace, he implemented a plan so temporary protection orders could be issued even when the court wasn’t open.
Yet, in other rural counties, a victim may have to wait until Monday morning to file a protection order after a weekend attack.
Waters also said many times defendants are charged with alternate charges. So, someone accused of domestic violence may be able to plead guilty to the alternate charge of disturbing the peace and have the domestic violence charge dropped.
The state’s domestic violence fatality review team said “when these cases are pleaded down to lower-level offenses, sentencing is ineffective or even dangerous. For example, impulse control classes are not effective in domestic violence cases. In addition, this creates a system where future domestic violence incidents are treated as a first offense, and therefore the cumulative nature of domestic violence sentencing is ineffective.”
While both of these suggestions need to be followed up on, communication between agencies is something that could be implemented right away by individual officers.
The first recommendation from the statewide team was for agencies to submit complete and accurate information into the Nevada Criminal Justice Information System or NCJIS — including arrests, convictions and TPOs.
“All things considered we have a lot of excellent communication in the area,” Waters said. “But we have a lot of self-protection attitudes in the agencies. ... When you are trying to pull together the resources for a victim, they’re going across a lot of jurisdictions.”
She said domestic violence incidents can happen anywhere. A victim could be abused at home and at work, but may live in the county and work in the city. One incident would be handled by the sheriff’s office and the other by city police, yet these two agencies may not know about both incidents.
To combat that problem, CADV has set up a program where the victim allows CADV advocates to tell the different agencies about the possibility of a lethal situation. However, that only happens if the victim signs off and if CADV is involved.
We think the agencies themselves should be communicating the issue. If sheriff’s deputies respond to a domestic violence incident and the victim works in Carlin, Elko or West Wendover, the sheriff’s department should communicate with those other agencies.
This statewide team and its recommendations are a good start to reducing domestic violence deaths in our state. We hope they continue to face the problem head-on and hope local agencies follow through.
The state will not reduce these types of homicides unless it acts on its own plan.
Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are Travis Quast, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak McKown.