Steve Nunn

Domestic violence data not tracked

The Kentucky State Police can tell you the number of auto collisions in Kentucky last year (123,630), but not how many people were killed by intimate partners.

Although state police are mandated by law to keep a detailed database of every car crash in the state, lawmakers have never ordered them to collect systematic information on domestic violence.

The Sept. 11 murder of 29-year-old Amanda Ross, allegedly by her ex-fiance Steve Nunn, has refocused attention on preventing domestic violence, leading some advocates to call for a state-mandated database of domestic violence crimes.

Advocates and experts say more accurate information about domestic violence would help lawmakers craft better public policy that saves lives.

"I would like to see it mandated that numbers are collected," said Teri Faragher, executive director of the Domestic Violence Prevention Board in Fayette County. "We are remiss that we don't do it. Law enforcement could do it. We would use it to prevent future deaths, plain and simple."

For instance, knowing whether the victim of a domestic violence homicide had obtained a protective order might help officials understand who is most at risk and how to better protect future victims, said Sherry Currens, executive director of Kentucky Domestic Violence Association.

Leaders of both chambers in the Kentucky General Assembly — Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg — said they would be willing to consider legislation mandating such a database.

Stumbo, a friend of Amanda Ross's family, has already proposed "Amanda's Law," which would allow judges to require some people with a domestic violence order to wear an electronic device that monitors their whereabouts. In March, Ross had sought and received a domestic violence order against Nunn, a former state representative and gubernatorial candidate.

"We are certainly open to looking at additional ways that can help us have a better understanding of this problem," said Stumbo spokesman Brian Wilkerson.

Currently, a hodgepodge of public and private agencies attempt to keep track of various domestic violence statistics, but the information they gather is disorganized and incomplete.

The Administrative Office of the Courts collects information on all domestic violence court orders (36,515 last year) while the Kentucky State Police counts how many people are killed each year (205), but none of that information is connected.

"None of our computers talk to each other," Currens said.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association tries to collect data using newspaper clippings, but newspaper stories don't always note whether the victim had requested a protective order. Their best estimate is that the deaths of 48 women in the state since 2007 are linked to domestic violence.

At the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Violent Death Reporting System compiles information on violent deaths using death certificates, coroner and medical examiner reports, police reports, crime laboratory reports and toxicology reports. When the information is available, director Sabrina Walsh said, she includes whether a death is related to domestic violence.

Walsh said she thinks domestic violence deaths are underreported in her project because the information she receives is limited to death-scene investigators' records and reports. A coroner might not necessarily investigate a history of domestic violence if the death was not a direct consequence of a domestic violence incident, she said.

Officials with the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, the Attorney General's Office and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services are on the reporting system's board and have discussed including domestic violence information.

Walsh said the group is in the process of determining the most efficient way of linking to court records. "It would be extremely helpful to collect that information," said Walsh.

Darlene Thomas, executive director of the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program, said that not knowing exactly how many deaths are related to domestic violence and how many protection orders were involved in those deaths is a "barrier" for domestic violence advocates who are trying to provide services.

"We've talked about the need," she said.

The electronic reporting system now used by Kentucky State Police to track homicide data includes a place to flag related domestic violence, said spokesman Lt. David Jude. But that section of the form doesn't have to be filled out before it is submitted.

In addition, several major localities, including Louisville and Lexington, report only summary homicide data to the state that doesn't include information about domestic violence.

A new data collection system would need to include all Kentucky counties, as well as the AOC database on protective orders, say advocates.

"There would have to be some legislation," Jude said.

Fayette and Jefferson counties have domestic violence fatality review teams, a group of officials from related agencies who review deaths and make recommendations.

The Fayette County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team, which began meeting 18 months ago after being dormant for a few years, has just begun collecting data on Fayette County deaths, including whether a protection order was involved.

Those numbers have not yet been collated because only a few deaths have been reviewed, said Faragher, who is a board member.

Faragher said that during Gov. Paul Patton's administration (1995-2003), she served on a statewide committee that decided to implement uniform domestic violence data collection and a system in which deaths could be reviewed at the local and state levels.

"It all evaporated after Patton left office," she said.

Other states do have better information on domestic violence, although it's rare to find statistics that are directly linked to the court system.

In Virginia, the chief medical examiner provides a detailed annual report on homicides, including those caused by domestic violence. But the report does not show whether protective orders were involved.

Ten fatality-review teams in Florida provided information for a 2006 Florida Department of Law Enforcement report on domestic violence deaths reviewed in 2005. Out of 19 assailants, three had court protective orders against them at the time they committed the crimes and three had previous court orders against them

A 2009 report from the University of Toledo College of Law found that only 11 percent of the people in Lucas County, Ohio, whose deaths involved domestic violence during 2007 sought or received a protective order.