The nation’s leading prosecutors, including Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley, joined the PAVG’s 11th convening. Attendees included county government employees, law enforcement officers and representatives from nonprofit organizations focused on crime prevention and related issues.
Dudley provided the overview remarks regarding in-home crimes during the free, five-hour conference titled, “Prosecutors Respond to COVID-19 Virtual Summit.”
It appears the nationwide pandemic has turned into a potential epidemic of in-home crimes, including domestic violence and spousal rape, as well as abuse of the most vulnerable victims — children, elders and pets, Dudley said.
“We know right now, even without official reports coming to us, that domestic violence, spousal rape, child, elder and animal abuse is occurring behind closed and slammed doors throughout our country,” Dudley said. “To help those crime victims, we must first reach them and then give them not just a safe route out, but also wrap-around services to keep them out of harm’s way as well as providing them with a safe path forward.
“That is why we have all come together this morning. We have always known that first, we have to name it to tame it. So, we have named it. We named it in-home crimes.
“In all of our communities — in fact, throughout our world — stress plus isolation plus intoxicants can equal violence.”
The way to stop it is through education, action and follow-up attention, she said.
In early March, Dudley said, she contacted Santa Barbara County’s police chiefs, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown and county Fire Chief Mark Hartwig to discuss making in-home crimes the greatest priority.
Thousands of fliers with information about in-home crimes and how victims can get help were placed in local grocery stores, pharmacies and the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County‘s boxes and bags, Dudley said.
“These fliers were both in English and Spanish, and they clearly stated if you feel, see, hear or even sense abuse is occurring, call 911,” she said. “If you are not comfortable making that call, call our newly created 24/7 District Attorney Victim/Witness Advocate hotline, where a bilingual advocate will be available to talk to you any time of day or night.”
The District Attorney’s Office Victim Assistance Program’s telephone number is 805.568.2400.
“Throughout our campaign, we always knew the most deadly of these in-home crimes would occur because of gun violence,” said Dudley, who has been a prosecutor for 30 years.
Implemented in March, the statewide coronavirus shelter-in-place order required all nonessential services to adjust operations, and residents not working in essential occupations were asked to remain home to help stop the spread of the virus.
“I have heard the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order referred to as the great pause,” Dudley said. “I agree with the phrase, but this morning I spell the word pause differently. I spell it p-a-w-s as I envision the great paws of an angry bear, or in this case, a violent perpetrator, and I see great big paws committing horrendous acts of domestic violence.
“I also see paws holding down a spouse and raping them, and paws abusing the most defenseless among us — our children, our elders and our pets. Paws reaching for alcohol, drugs, a victim’s cellphone and, worst of all, their gun. Then I see death and heart-wrenching destruction.”
Thursday’s summit offered “some additional tools to also help you prevent these highly predictable crimes from occurring,” Dudley told attendees.
Top prosecutors, along with leading subject-matter experts, explored during the webinar a variety of public safety issues and challenges that have come to light during the global pandemic. Topics explored were domestic violence, child abuse, gun violence restraining orders, safe storage of firearms, examining the considerations for jail release, and firearm suicide.
“A family member who loses a loved one to COVID-19 has something in common with a victim of crime who loses a family member to gun violence,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., co-chairman of the PAGV. “There are few words one can offer to help someone through, in both cases, something that is inexplicable, sudden and a heartbreaking tragedy.”
The coronavirus outbreak has forced prosecutors around the country to become nimble and rapidly adapt to “something none of us could have foreseen or predicted,” he said. “COVID is changing crime patterns before our eyes.”
Founded in 2014, the PAGV is a nonpartisan coalition of more than 50 prosecutors from diverse jurisdictions throughout the United States working toward solutions to end gun violence. The group includes members from both big and small counties, Vance said in opening remarks.
The PAGV brings together prosecutors to discuss legislation and policies to help prevent and combat gun violence. The prosecutors focus on gun violence prevention strategies ranging from improved enforcement of existing laws to policy advocacy.
“Throughout it all, prosecutors will continue to be guided by twin goals to ensure fairness and to ensure public safety in our communities,” Vance said. “In doing so, we are even in the crisis still moving justice forward.”