Within a recent eight-day span, local law enforcement reported 11 violent or suspicious deaths, some in which the alleged assailant and victims knew one another. While the nature of these crimes is still under investigation, efforts to reduce cases of domestic violence have been a focal point over the past several years.
Just last month, the Springfield Police Department released its 2014 crime data. And while overall crime dropped by 12 percent from the year before, the number of aggravated assaults increased by seven percent.
Lisa Farmer is the executive director of Harmony House, which provides shelter, advocacy and education to survivors of domestic violence.
“Given the fact that aggravated assaults and crimes against people are up in total,” Farmer said, “I would expect that domestic violence, being a significant percentage of those, are up a bit as well.’
Police say domestic violence cases increased slightly from 2013 to 2014. Dating back to 2009, figures show cases of the crime have increased by 20 percent.
“Springfield, Greene County has the highest rate of domestic violence incidents, on a per capita basis, in the State of Missouri,” Farmer added.
Democratic State Representative Stacey Newman (Richmond Heights) represents the 87th district in the Missouri House of Representatives.
“We’ve got an outbreak, an epidemic of those who are losing their lives to senseless gun violence,” Newman said.
Newman recently filed legislation in conjunction with Kansas State Representative Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) that establishes gun violence restraining orders, gun violence seizure warrants, and prohibits domestic violence perpetrators from possessing a firearm.
“The first part of it would actually require those who are convicted of domestic violence offenses, felonies, or even under restraining orders to surrender their firearms,” she explained. “The second part of our legislation is brand new, it’s called a gun violence restraining order works the same way as obtaining a domestic violence restraining order; you still have to go through a court hearing, you get a temporary status for 14 days before it can be lengthened to a year.”
For Lisa Farmer, this legislation is a step in the right direction.
“I have been here with Harmony House just six months and I can think of several residences who have told me that they have been threatened at gun point by their perpetrator,” Farmer said.
Some Republican state lawmakers have publicly opposed the legislation, calling it unconstitutional and unfair to firearms owners that conceal carry.
Captain David Millsap has been in law enforcement for over 30 years. He heads the Springfield Police Department Criminal Investigations unit.
“Most domestic violence calls that we go on are usually physical encounters that do not involve a weapon,” Millsap said. “We do have domestics that involves weapons, whether it is a knife or a club or a gun, but that’s rarer than the other type of domestics that we have,” he said.
Dan Patterson is the prosecuting attorney for Greene County.
“Most domestic violence cases that we work typically involve the use of the hands,” Patterson said. “What we do know though is that the possession of a firearm by someone who is an abuser is one of the key indicators in lethality index for increase violence to the victim.”
Patterson believes Newman’s legislation mirrors current federal statues, but will assist state prosecutors trying domestic violence cases.
“This would give state prosecutors an important tool in combating domestic violence,” he says.
HB 646 has received a second reading in the Missouri House of Representatives, but has yet to be assigned to a committee.
Three years ago, the Springfield Police Department created the Family Violence Task Force to help combat the increasing number of domestic violence cases locally. Its website provides a list of resources for victims.
If you or a loved one is a victim of domestic violence, call (417) 864-SAFE or contact Harmony House directly at (417) 837-7700.
Last summer, KSMU reported extensively on the local domestic violence situation, including the lack of available shelter space for victims, in a 5-part series. You can view that series here.