Number of domestic violence protection orders up in Whatcom County

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 12, 2014 

More protection orders were filed and a greater percentage of people booked into jail for domestic violence in 2012, according to the 10th annual report about domestic violence in Whatcom County.

For the first time, the recently released report also tracked stalking to establish a baseline.

"It's a very common behavior in domestic violence," said Susan Marks, director of the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence.

Published by the commission, report highlights for 2012 included:

-- One domestic violence killing. Kevin S. O'Leary, 55, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for smothering his common-law wife, 60-year-old Valerie Jefferson, with a pillow in the couple's Smokehouse Road apartment.

-- Law enforcement reported 1,387 domestic violence offenses in Whatcom County, down slightly from 1,422 in 2011. Nearly 55 percent were assaults and 30 percent were violations of protection or no-contact orders.

-- The number of domestic violence protection orders filed in Whatcom County courts went up in 2012. At 427, it was the highest since 2004. People use the civil orders instead of calling law enforcement or in addition to calling police, according to Marks.

Marks said advocates used federal grant funding to identify gaps victims faced when trying to file such orders and made improvements so the orders have a greater chance of being approved by the courts.

It's not certain that's the reason for the increase, though.

"We can only correlate. We can't say that's causation," Marks said.

Differences in how law enforcement gather data for domestic violence makes it difficult to analyze trends and reasons for changes, although the report does show "significant levels of domestic violence in Whatcom County," according to the commission.

-- No clear trend emerged from stalking offenses reported in 2008 through 2012; a total of 18 instances were reported by Whatcom County law enforcement in 2012 with a high of 32 in 2008.

The data doesn't differentiate between domestic violence stalking and a different type, such as stalking committed by a stranger.

The commission suspects that stalking is under-reported, Marks said.

-- Domestic violence made up 20 percent of Whatcom County Jail bookings in 2012, an increase from previous years and double the 10 percent of all jail bookings in 2011.

-- Thousands of victims sought help, with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services providing aid to 2,554 victims.

The commission wants the report to be used as tool for policy and for the community to help victims.

"It's time for each of us to think about what role we can play to reduce that problem and make this a better, safer community for people to live in," Marks said.

READ THE REPORT

Read a copy (PDF) of the 10th annual report on domestic violence in Whatcom County at http://bit.ly/1cVluAO.

The website for Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence is dvcommission.org.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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