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Resources aimed at easing Schenectady's domestic violence

Resources aimed at easing Schenectady's domestic violence

Response requires services, police enforcement
Resources aimed at easing Schenectady's domestic violence
Antonio Bargallo Sr.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photo

SCHENECTADY — Kareem Taylor fired nine times at the fleeing car in July. Some of the shots hit the car, but none hit the woman driving it — Taylor's ex-girlfriend, according to an account given by prosecutors in the attempted-murder case against Taylor.

The allegations against Taylor, 39, represent one of the higher profile domestic violence cases in Schenectady in 2017, a year that in March also saw the fire death of Elizabeth Gonzalez in Schenectady at the hands of her husband Antonio Bargallo, Sr.

Domestic violence remains a constant in Schenectady and elsewhere, law enforcement and agency numbers show. Violence against partners, ex-partners and family members is included.

The YWCA reported an increase in victims served in 2017 over 2016, while calls to its domestic violence hotline appeared on track to equal 2016's number.

Domestic violence victim data collected by the state through its crime reporting system show Schenectady's numbers at around 1,100 victims for three of the past four years, with brief drop reported in 2015. 

Agency and law enforcement officials say the numbers result from both increased awareness of domestic violence, as well as better response to incidents when they happen.

Police officers screen victims during police calls and refer or get them to services, the Police Department says. The YWCA also offers an expanding list of programs and services from emergency shelter to emotional and group support. 

Domestic violence, advocates say, is an issue that has many underlying problems that must be addressed.

"There are a lot of other components that a domestic violence victim faces, and that's homelessness, financial abuse, it leads them into that poverty," Andrea Scott, economic solutions coordinator for the YWCA, said recently. "There are a lot of components that they really have to deal with all at once. ... It's important for people to know that domestic violence really does encompass a lot of other situations."

In all, the YWCA reported serving 1,065 domestic violence victims in various capacities in 2017, as of Dec. 19. They served 966 all of 2016.

Their hotline received 618 calls as of mid-December. It received 644 in 2016. (The YWCA's Schenectady 24-hour domestic violence hotline number is 518-374-3386.)

The YWCA's emergency domestic violence shelter recorded 304 individuals for 2017, as of earlier in December. It saw 331 in 2016.

The shelter, which has 20 beds on any given night, recorded 192 individuals using it in 2015. Officials attributed the jump to shorter shelter stays as victims move on to safely access other resources quicker.

"We're always looking at the barriers that prevent the victims from moving on from the shelter," said Lauren Jarrard, director of women and family services at the YWCA.

Domestic violence calls continue to make up a significant number of the calls Schenectady police respond to, department spokesman Sgt. Matthew Dearing said.

They amount to difficult calls, Dearing said, as officers work to determine what happened as emotions run high.

"It's important for us to get there and separate the parties, obviously first and foremost, and speak to each of them," Dearing said.

"There's a lot that goes into it," he added.

The domestic violence victim data reported to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services showed 1,110 overall victims (partners and family members) reported in Schenectady in 2016. There were 1,106 in 2014. In between, 889 were reported in 2015. The 2017 numbers are expected in early 2018.

Officers complete a detailed risk assessment form for partners in domestic cases. The form includes a series of questions that result in a score reviewed by the department's domestic violence advocates. Officers ask for a phone number at which victims can be contacted safely.

The department has had a policy of arresting a suspected perpetrator of certain crimes whether or not the victim wants an arrest. 

There's also a domestic violence high risk team comprised of representatives of the city Police Department, YWCA, Sheriff's Department and others to evaluate the highest risk cases and responses, Dearing said.

"As long as I can remember, it's always a call that seems to happen a lot," said Dearing, who joined the force in 2007. "It's a very cumbersome kind of call type. But over the years, being able to have these advocates here, having that risk assessment form, the more serious domestic violence crimes and issues, I think we've gotten better at addressing them quicker and faster, getting the victim in those cases a better avenue for help quicker."

Success is also often difficult to quantify. There are the women who get away from their abuser, get on their feet financially and move on. But there are also those who continue in the relationships. In those cases, success is education and empowerment, advocates say.

Jarrard recalled a statewide association meeting concerning the issue of success. 

"At the end of the day, success is that somebody's alive," Jarrard said. "That's the baseline for it."

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