Speaker of the House Christopher G. Donovan (D-Meriden) joined members of the Speaker’s Task Force on Domestic Violence, led by State Representative Mae Flexer (D-Killingly, Plainfield, Sterling), today in proposing a number of steps the legislature could take to better assist victims of domestic violence and their families.
“The task force’s recommendations build on a multi-year, bipartisan effort to improve our state’s response to domestic violence,” said Speaker Donovan. “This year's recommendations focus on making the system simpler to navigate. When a victim works up the courage to call police or leave her home, we want to make sure services are in place to support that decision. That's why our legislative priorities will focus on making it easier to get a restraining order and report a violation to police, keeping the victim informed of an offender's status, and improving law enforcement’s ability to respond to domestic violence calls.”
“We took a comprehensive look at police policies, arrest standards, and protective order enforcement—none of which had been seriously reviewed for over 25 years,” said Rep. Flexer. “Implementing a statewide model policy will better prepare our law enforcement for domestic violence situations and most importantly it will help better protect victims.”
Chief among the group’s recommendations is implementing enhanced training standards to improve police response on domestic violence calls. Although municipal police officers and state troopers are required to receive domestic violence training—they do not all receive the same training. The task force is recommending that the state create one uniform policy that all of Connecticut’s law enforcement agencies will use when responding to incidents of family violence and violations of protective orders.
Currently, 16% of domestic violence calls in Connecticut result in dual arrest—meaning both parties are arrested. Rep. Flexer said that the dual arrests are an inadvertent result of tougher state laws requiring the police to arrest anyone they believe to have broken the law when called to the scene of a domestic violence incident.
The proposed statewide model policy more clearly explains self defense guidelines to police officers, which would help prevent the arrest of victims going forward.
The task force is also proposing improvements to civil restraining and criminal protective orders, including clarifying state law to allow minors to obtain restraining orders. Although minors are not currently prohibited from obtaining orders, the task force learned that minors have had trouble obtaining orders from some courts.
Presently, victims must return to court to renew restraining orders at least once every 180 days where they are often forced to interact with their offenders. The task force would like to extend the maximum length of restraining orders to one year so victims are no longer forced to encounter their abuser as frequently, potentially putting their safety in jeopardy.
“In our continuing efforts to reduce and prevent domestic violence, the task force has come up with another set of solid recommendations that are deserving of broad bi-partisan support,” said State Representative Clark Chapin (R-New Milford), a member of the task force. “For those recommendations that require legislative action over the next 10 weeks, I look forward to helping in moving them through the process.”
The task force is also recommending expanding the bail commissioner’s ability to provide for victim safety by requiring that bail commissioners evaluate safety as a matter of release. This will hopefully prevent future tragedies like the death of Milford’s Cathy Fox. Last August Cathy Fox was stabbed to death by her estranged husband after he posted $1,000 bond—despite the prosecutor recommending that the offender not be released.
They are also proposing improved notification for victims when a nolle or dismissal is entered in a case, when an offender violates probation or when the terms of an offender's probation are altered. This change would enable the victims to alter their safety plans. Changes in court proceedings or probation can be precipitating factors for additional violence.
Understanding that students are often victims of intimate partner abuse, the task force is also calling for a copy of protective and restraining orders to be sent to any school the victim attends, and to require defendants who attend the same school as their victims remain the prescribed distance from the victim while at school.
“The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence—the state's leading voice for victims of domestic violence and those who serve them—is pleased to support the comprehensive recommendations of the task force which serve to strengthen communication, training, and systems aimed at helping victims,” sais Karen Jarmoc, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “In a given year, our statewide coalition and its member programs serve more than 54,000 victims of domestic violence. Clearly, domestic violence is a problem in Connecticut and these proposed statutory and policy changes will stridently improve Connecticut's response.”
Although the task force secured funding to keep all of the state’s emergency domestic violence shelters open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the last two years, Rep. Flexer is concerned there could be proposals put forth to slash funding.
“Although these are trying economic times and everyone is looking at ways to trim our state budget, we cannot balance the budget at the expense of endangering victims and their families. We must maintain funding for 24/7 staffing levels at domestic violence shelters,” said Rep. Flexer.
The task force, created by Speaker Donovan in 2009 and led by Rep. Flexer since its creation, has led the effort over the past few years to enact stronger and tougher laws to prevent violence against women and assist victims of domestic violence. The new laws include improved enforcement of protective orders, funding for 24/7 staffing at domestic violence shelters, requiring certain high-risk offenders to surrender their firearms to police, and reforming the bail bond process making it more difficult for offenders to be released back into the community quickly.
Additional information about the task force and the full report can be found on its web site at http://www.housedems.ct.gov/DV.