DENVER — There were 94 deaths, including six children, in 62 cases of domestic violence last year, according to the 2022 Colorado Domestic Violence Fatality Report.
The report, which was published Monday, shows deaths were 1.5 times higher than the average number Colorado has seen over the past seven years.
Margaret Abrams, the executive director of the Rose Andom Center, said it’s not just fatalities that are increasing. According to Abrams, domestic violence as a whole continues to spike across the state.
The center provides resources for 200 to 300 families fleeing abuse monthly.
“It's not just an incident that impacts the two people in the relationship,” said Abrams. “There's numerous other people that are killed in those incidents and impacted as well.”
Abrams is concerned about the collateral death numbers.
The state says 22 people were killed in domestic violence cases without being directly involved. Additionally, two law enforcement officers were killed while responding to a case. One of the names included in the report is Arvada Police Officer Dillon Vakoff, who was killed in September 2022 while responding to a child custody dispute.
“We've seen cases where a victim's mother, father, brother, or best friend tries to help them leave new partners and are also killed in an incident,” said Abrams. “That really speaks to the fact that domestic violence is absolutely an issue that affects our community.”
Abrams said the impact is especially felt in rural communities. The report found that deaths in rural areas were higher per capita than urban environments.
“For someone who's experiencing intimate partner violence in a rural area, they may very well be having additional barriers to getting help,” said Abrams. “Whether it's the lack of resources available to them, or transportation issues and more distance to travel to reach those resources, the victim may be left in a very vulnerable place.”
Although Rose Andom is not a shelter, the center provides a variety of resources for survivors of domestic abuse and the families of victims. Their facility in Denver has playrooms for children, legal consultation rooms and work rooms for parents.
Abrams said the group is based on the Family Justice Center model, which connects private and public organizations in order to provide resources. The nonprofit is currently partnered with 16 other local nonprofits and seven city agencies.
The center’s fatality review program manager, Keisha Sarpong, said although the numbers are concerning, she’s happy to see recommendations outlined in the report.
“We don't spend half the year doing this work for people to read this and kind of gawk at the numbers and be like, ‘Wow, domestic violence is bad.’ We know it’s bad,” said Sarpong. “We want people to be able to take this report, and implement action with it.”
The report outlined three recommendations to address the spike:
- Expand the use of risk assessment tools in organizations that work directly with domestic violence survivors. The report underscores the importance of courts, advocacy agencies, law enforcement and others using these tools. They help create a common understanding of safety risks, enabling the community to respond to the needs of adults and children affected by domestic violence consistently and effectively. The board recommends conducting a thorough survey to evaluate the current state of risk assessment in Colorado. The goal is to establish a set of best practices and principles for consistent use, ultimately leading to statewide measures for improving the safety and security of survivors.
- Provide firearms relinquishment investigation support for a limited pilot program in Colorado through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Given the pervasiveness of guns in the domestic violence fatality cases, the board continues to recommend greater investment in the enforcement of Colorado’s existing firearm relinquishment procedures. Specifically, the development of a pilot program through CBI that fosters collaboration between prosecutors, law enforcement, and the defense bar helps ensure Colorado’s relinquishment statutes are enforced.
- Increase collaboration and partnership with the Maternal Mortality Prevention Program, Child Fatality Review Board, and the Office of Suicide Prevention. While these entities focus on different challenges, the intersection between their work and the work of CDVFRB can increase the ability of the board to identify and analyze domestic violence fatalities more comprehensively.
Attorney General Phil Weiser said the proposals are targeted at several numbers outlined in the report. Eighty-six percent of deaths were from gunshot wounds, which Weiser said could be due to poor gun relinquishment policies.
“We need to figure out what about our current gun relinquishment law isn't working effectively,” said the attorney general. “One concern might be that it's too voluntary. People simply check a box. There's no oversight or other measures to make sure that we're actually removing weapons from people we know are a grave risk.”
Weiser also said the state has invested in training programs for law enforcement officers. The state also has a $3 million grant program dedicated to supporting domestic violence victims.