Domestic violence incidents have increased to an alarming level highlighting the need to do more to protect victims of domestic violence. Of particular concern is the unique nature of domestic violence offenses and provisions within the law that sets bail. Under the current system, perpetrators of domestic violence offenses are often set free on low or no bail and thereby allowed to stalk, harm and sometimes kill their specifically targeted victims.
New York state Sen. Steve Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, has outlined a proposal that requires the court to consider certain factors when determining bail in cases of domestic violence such as prior acts of violence or threats of violence, prior orders of protection, prior arrests or convictions for offenses against family or household members, prior violations of orders of protection, and access to firearms or a history of firearm use. The expanded assessment of perpetrators gives judges and law enforcement the tools to identify and address concerns of high risk cases.
Domestic violence affects victims as well as witnesses, family members, co-workers, friends, and the community at large. Victims are of all ages, races, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations. According to preliminary statistics provided by the state Division of Criminal Justice Service, in 2011, there were 5,048 domestic violence incidents in Dutchess County reported. While the number of domestic violence incidents reported continues to increase, many go unreported as victims are often afraid to tell police, family or friends about the violence.
Throughout the criminal justice system, it is imperative that the needs of victims remain at the pinnacle of all discussions. The numerous homicides in the last three years has led the public to urge government officials, advocates, victim service providers, law enforcement, the judiciary and survivors to develop policy and services to better protect victims. The Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Domestic Violence recommended in their 2010 system-wide review that consideration be given to victim safety when setting bail. It is a topic, like sex offender management, that few people want to discuss and confront, however avoiding this topic someone you know and love might very well be its next victim. As Chairman of the Dutchess County Legislature, a 26-year veteran law enforcement officer, and long-time champion for domestic violence victims, I have advocated to make domestic violence a prominent issue on the minds and in the hearts of the community. Due to the unique nature of domestic violence cases, we need to consider public safety and victim safety in setting bail in order to afford greater protection to its victims. Under the current Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) articles 510 and 530 the rules of law and criteria controlling bail determination does not factor an arraigning court to consider public safety issues when setting appropriate bail amount. This proposal will better protect victims as well as make our county safer and the communities that have experienced too many shattered homes and too many lives lost.
Domestic violence is not a problem unique to Dutchess County, however, it has been highlighted here by the homicides and assaults our community has faced. These tragic events should be an opportunity for us to evaluate our criminal justice system in relation to prosecution of domestic violence offenders and protection of victims. Therefore, bail reform is necessary to protect victims and hold offenders accountable. I applaud Sen. Saland and his colleagues for recognizing the importance of strengthening laws pertaining to domestic violence and I ask members of the New York state Legislature to adopt bill S.1414-A before the end of this legislative session.
Robert Rolison is the chairman of the Dutchess County Legislature Chairman and represents District 8 in the Town and City of Poughkeepsie. He is a former law enforcement officer.