Aurora sees slight bump in domestic violence calls; some fear increase with stay-home orders

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AURORA | As more Aurora residents continue to limit their trips to public places, city dispatchers have seen an increase in calls related to domestic violence, staffers say.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing at least anecdotally an uptick in domestic violence,” Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor told city council members in a telephone briefing March 20.

Though hard data has yet to be compiled, staffers are concerned the trend could become compounded as residents prepare to stay in their homes at the order of the county health department until at least April 17.

“We’re worried as we … tell them to stay (in their homes) that we might see more of those types of calls coming in,” Batchelor said.

City Manager Jim Twombly said his office is monitoring the number of domestic violence calls being made to city dispatchers on a daily basis.

We’re going to really have to keep a very close eye on that day in and day out,” he told council members.

Domestic violence services remain available to Aurora residents through Gateway Domestic Violence Services, which offers 39 beds to victims and their children at two separate locations in the metroplex. One of the locations is currently full, though the other still has capacity, according to Gateway’s Executive Director James Gillespie.

He said Gateway and other service providers are worried that the pervasive stay-at-home orders could be devastating for people in abusive relationships.

“There is an increased concern around the fact that victims of domestic violence are sheltering in place and likely sheltering with their batterer,” Gillespie said. “So we’re looking at how can we create safe ways for expediting these individuals into shelter.”

Gillespie said people sheltering in their homes and in need of services could become effectively trapped by an abusive partner with access to their browsing history or phone records.

The Gateway crisis line remains staffed 24 hours a day and can be reached by calling 303-343-1851.

Calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline have stayed within normal volumes in recent weeks, The Associated Press reported. However, officials say it’s often only after emergencies and disasters are over that people finally access the services they need.

Overall calls for service in the city have recently stayed relatively flat at about 250 calls a week, Batchelor said. That’s consistent with pre-virus levels, but it’s unclear how many of those calls stem from suspected domestic violence incidents.

The Aurora Municipal Court, which closed to the public last week, hasn’t seen an increase in domestic violence filings, prosecutors said. The city’s fast-track domestic violence program is still hearing cases against defendants within 48 hours of arrest, according to Deputy City Attorney Julie Heckman.

We’re not seeing an increase in those cases,” Heckman said. “Now, will that increase as people are cooped up together longer? Maybe, but I wouldn’t say we’ve seen an increase so far.”

That could be due to occasional delays in the reporting process for domestic violence calls, officials said. While officers continue to make probable cause arrests on domestic violence calls, some suspects may have warrants issued for their arrest in the ensuing hours or days, according to Officer Matt Longshore, spokesman for Aurora police.

The department approved a new domestic violence unit last year in an effort to further expedite those actions.

“One of the reasons we’re starting a domestic violence unit is to help speed up that process,” Longshore said.

The unit is expected to be fully functional early next year.

Overall, criminal cases in municipal, county and district courts have plummeted in recent weeks, according to Heckman and officials with the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

We’re having huge decreases in the other cases just because officers have to prioritize what they’re going on,” Heckman said.

Two weeks ago, Aurora police announced that officers would only be dispatched to “priority calls” and encouraged residents to report many crimes online or via phone.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis issued guidance to municipal law enforcement agencies urging them to forgo arrests in favor of issuing summonses.

“Except when otherwise prohibited by statute, law enforcement should issue a warning or summons instead of effectuating a warrantless arrest when there is no clear risk of physical harm to others or the community,” officials with the governor’s office wrote. “Law enforcement should extend the return date on the summons to minimize detention center and courthouse contacts.”

Heckman said her office has been inundated by motions from defense attorneys asking to grant defendants personal recognizance bonds and reduce sentences for incarcerated people on the verge of being released.

We’re trying not to object to those that don’t have a public safety impact,” she said. “There are some I will be objecting to.”

On March 19 alone, the city’s public defender’s office successfully argued for the release of 36 pre-trial defendants. While one case was dismissed, the other 35 were released on bond.

“(Chief Defender) Doug (Wilson) and the public defender’s staff have been working to continue cases and trials well into the future,” Tom Tobiassen, who heads the city’s public defender’s commission, wrote in an email last week. “They are working to get people out of jail by reducing bail and whatever else can be done.”

Heckman said her office is relying on bond conditions to keep people both out of jails and away from abusive home lives.

“It is is a very difficult situation with a lot of factors right now,” she said. “If we’re looking at shelter in place, the last thing we what to do is send someone in a volatile situation back to where now you may not have anywhere else to go.”