Over the past 30 years, Delaware has seen a mix of late starts and trailblazing efforts when it comes to domestic violence policy.
The First State was the last in the nation to allow for civil orders of protection for abuse. It wasn’t until 1994 that Protection From Abuse statutes took effect through a Senate bill. But Delaware was also the first state to create a fatal incident review team, which investigates and reviews circumstances of deaths caused by domestic violence.
Both of those efforts were headed up by the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, an organization which held a commemoration for its 20 years of service on Monday. The organization helped Delaware improve its domestic violence policy by leaps and bounds, said Sen. Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere), who serves as chairwoman of the council.
“We were very much dead last in the country in the work that we were doing in domestic violence and the work that we have done since has risen to the top,” Blevins said.
The Domestic Violence Coordinating Council was created in 1993 and is made up of legislators, law enforcement professionals, medical professionals, the attorney general, judges and representatives from advocacy groups, as well as others.
Policies that the council has helped to enact include a Senate bill that prohibits those with
PFAs against them or those who have been convicted of certain domestic violence misdemeanors from owning a firearm. The DVCC also helped create an expansion in domestic violence protection to include same sex; dating and teen couples, as well as a law deeming strangulation a felony crime in Delaware.
Delaware’s strangulation law was an important development, said Deputy Attorney General Patricia Dailey Lewis, who spoke on behalf of Attorney General Beau Biden at Monday’s ceremony and who worked with the Delaware State Police to draft a new strangulation law.
“We have used this thousands of times in the last couple of years to protect people,” Lewis said. “Fatal Incident Review told us that strangulation is a leading indicator of subsequent lethality in cases of domestic violence. We have been able to catch many, many cases recently because we now have that law.”
Lewes Police Chief Jeffrey Horvath touched on how the work of DVCC has affected police work over the last 20 years.
“When I was a patrolman you’d go to a domestic violence incident and if it was a busy night it was not uncommon to have the statement made, ‘Look if you hit her again we’re going to come back and take care of it.’… We were much more willing to sweep it under the carpet,” Horvath said. “We don’t do that anymore. The work of DVCC, the police chiefs council and law enforcement has made improvements to better protect the victim.”
Page 2 of 2 - Officers are now required to look into incidents more closely by asking certain questions and are required to make an arrest if they feel there is a threat of violence.
Not everyone agrees with recent expansions in grounds for arrest, though. Gordon Smith attended Monday’s commemoration and expressed a different view.
“To me, the culture is such that a mere allegation in domestic violence constitutes probable cause for an arrest,” Smith said. “Domestic violence should be treated as any other crime. If you are accused you need to have that standard of evidence and probable cause. I am not saying go easy on domestic violence. I am saying you have to protect those who are innocent until proven guilty.”
Monday’s ceremony was about celebrating the achievements of DVCC over the past 20 years, but the council’s members are looking toward the future, Blevins said.
“While we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years, we have to remain vigilant in our efforts to make certain all Delawareans are safe in their interpersonal relationships,” she said.