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Victims are reporting more domestic violence, but perps often go free


Being cooped up at home is having a negative effect on some families, with law enforcers seeing a notable increase in domestic violence in recent weeks.

Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson says the county has long had a problem with domestic violence, usually around 20% of the cases which come across his desk. He says that number is now up to one-third, partially reflecting a drop in other crime. 

What is different, accoding to Swanson, is more victims coming forward to report incidents. He says often a domestic partner who is a victim is reluctant to bring charges because of the effect it would have on their families and relationships.

Swanson said he saw the extent of the problem Monday morning in court arraignments.

"Around 80% of them were domestic violence. You don't have businesses open so you don't have the opportunity to commit crimes of businesses. There's not as much traffic going on out in the public. Confidential informants on drug cases are difficult to come by right now. So, the majority of our caseload right now coming in is domestic violence-related," Swanson said.

Swanson said the increase appears to be across the income board and not tied to any one group of people. He says there is one key difference these days..

"What we're getting, primarily, is direct victims reports. Our domestic violence cases that are coming in now are more reported by victims, predominantly by victims, because we don't have that social support group there because people aren't going to work. They aren't talking to co-workers as frequently. Co-workers aren't in a position where they can observe their co-workers, to see if they show signs of abuse," he explained.

Swanson says new state laws aren't helping, leading to the automatic release of most alleged perpetrators. He says he can no longer ask a judge to lock up the alleged perpetrator after arrest because that is one of the crimes, under recent state legislation, for which a judge can't set bail or send them to prison without further court action.

"You can have a DV offender come in to be arraigned, to get the order of protection placed. They can tell the police officers, flat out, 'As soon as I get out of here, I'm going to kill her.' That's not a crime, to say that. And, there's nothing a judge can do because the bail statute completely ties our judge's hands and doesn't give him any discretion to consider the unique circumstances of every case," Swanson said.

The DA says his office has three victim aid coordinators continuing to assist victims, while working from their own homes. 

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.