With numbers still coming in, Queens officials are hopeful that this will be the third year in a row that domestic homicides decline in this borough and throughout the city.
Despite a recent rash of high-profile cases in Queens, so far this year there have been 11 domestic homicides compared to 18 in 2003. Most recently, on October 29th, Leonardo Almonte choked his wife to death in their South Jamaica home and left her body and her two-year-old daughter in an SUV. The daughter survived.
Another case in October involved a murder suicide in which a St. Albans man allegedly shot his girlfriend before killing himself. Ironically, October had been named “Domestic Violence Awareness Month” by advocacy groups.
In a September incident, Miguel Carrasquillo allegedly abducted his estranged wife from an Elmhurst hospital, raped her in a motel and kept her hostage for two days until he was arrested.
These high-profile domestic homicide cases may be one reason an increasing number of women are asking for help, according to Paula Rogowsky, senior director of the domestic violence police program for Safe Horizon. “The reason a larger number of women are reaching out for assistance may be that they don’t want to become the next homicide victim,” she said.
Throughout the city, totals for domestic homicides are at the lowest level since 1995. There were 64 family-related homicides in 2003, according to the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence. This reflects a 20 percent drop from the previous year.
Rogowsky attributes that decline, in part, to programs that help victims of domestic violence very early on in the process. “The Queens District Attorney’s Office has been incredibly proactive with Safe Horizon on working with victims through early outreach programs,” she said. In a 2000 Department of Justice report, the Queens D.A. and its Domestic Violence Bureau were cited as “a jurisdiction to emulate.”
The D.A.’s Office and Safe Horizon have several programs throughout Queens that aid women who are victims of domestic violence. Safe Horizon helps women find housing, obtain orders of protection and understand what their options are. Because professionals reach out to women in police precincts as well as in criminal and family courts, they help women understand how they can prevent violence from recurring or escalating.
According to the non-profit agency, there are fewer calls to the city hotline for domestic violence from Queens, than from any other borough except Staten Island. Besides the success of outreach programs, the relatively low number of phone calls—approximately 23,000 last year compared with 41,000 from Brooklyn—may be the result of the large number of immigrants in the borough. “In large immigrant communities victims don’t always know what their options are,” Rogowsky said. “They may think the laws are the same as in their country of origin. They may not trust the system. They may not speak the language. Batterers may think there are no laws.”
In Queens, the 1994 Violence Against Women Act and subsequent federal grants have been used to expand the D.A. Office’s Domestic Violence Bureau. Last week, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall announced a $950,000 grant from the United States Department of Justice to combat domestic violence.
“The horrific headlines of the past several weeks have tragically reminded us all of the continuing need to keep our combined efforts focused on domestic violence,” Marshall said.
Federal grants to the District Attorney’s Office began in 1997. Since then, the D.A.’s Domestic Violence Bureau increased from three assistant district attorneys to a 20-member bureau that includes eight misdemeanor assistants, five felony assistants and two detectives.
Since 1997, the Domestic Violence Bureau has doubled its conviction rate. Like Safe Horizon, the D.A.’s Office attributes its success to early outreach. Photographs, 911 tapes, medical records and other evidence are gathered from the time of arrest. Involving Domestic Violence Assistant District Attorneys from the beginning of a case has allowed the bureau to proceed with many cases without calling victims to the stand.
The recent grant will increase the use of technology in domestic violence cases. Currently, all 16 police precincts in Queens have digital cameras to photograph victims’ injuries and an Internet link with Police Headquarters in Manhattan is used to send recordings of 911 calls.
“Digital photographs and digital 911 calls have enhanced our prosecutions and provided judges with compelling sight and sound evidence—sometimes in graphic detail—of domestic violence assaults.”
City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., chairman of the public safety committee, has helped fund a number of programs aimed at preventing domestic violence. In Queens, one of these programs is the Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program. SAVI offers emotional support and helps victims navigate the medical and legal system.
“For far too long, violence in our homes has been whispered about, danced around, or simply ignored,” Vallone said. “We have to let people know that they don’t have to live and suffer in silence. There is help out there.”
For more information about the SAVI program call 718-736-1288. Women in need of assistance can also turn to police precincts where there are Safe Horizons representatives to help them understand the process and explain the options available to them. They do not need to file a police report.
These precincts are the 103rd and 113th in Jamaica, the 114th in Astoria, the 101st in Far Rockaway and Police Service Area 9 in Flushing. For further assistance women can also call the domestic violence hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE or log on to www. safehorizon.org.