Domestic violence rates higher in Blaine than county

Published on Wed, Dec 14, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Over the past six years, domestic violence criminal offenses have been more common in Blaine than in Whatcom County or across the state, according to a recent report.

In 2010, 18 percent of all criminal offenses in Blaine were related to domestic violence, compared to 14 percent countywide, a report from the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence shows. The commission, in partnership with the city of Bellingham, compiled the report after receiving a grant from the federal Office of Violence Against Women, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The report also showed that the percentage of domestic violence-related crimes reported in Blaine has dropped since 2009.

In fact, the number of domestic violence verbals and domestic violence offenses reported by the Blaine Police Department has been on a general decline, with the exception of verbals in 2010. Verbals are situations in which police are called but no physical assault has occurred nor was there probable cause for an arrest. Offenses occur when violence or threats of violence are committed by a family member, regardless of the family relationship, or by a domestic partner.

Though the rate of domestic violence offenses per 1,000 people is higher in Blaine than in the county or the state, with population growth taken into account, domestic violence offenses reported to Blaine police have declined over the past six years. In 2010, the domestic violence-related offense rate per 1,000 people for Blaine was 9.1. Bellingham’s rate was 6.5 while Ferndale’s rate was 7.1.

Blaine police chief Mike Haslip said domestic violence calls make up roughly half of the Blaine Police Department’s case load. While the number of offenses has generally decreased over the past six years, the severity of individual cases seems to be increasing, he said.

“It’s a very serious problem,” Haslip said.

So far in 2011, Haslip said Blaine police have responded to 89 domestic violence calls and have made arrests in 25 of those cases. Haslip said these numbers are slightly lower than the same time last year.

Though no formal analysis has been conducted, the report’s researchers suggest Blaine’s proximity to the border may contribute to the city’s high domestic violence rate. Haslip echoed this sentiment, saying abuse seems to be more common in cross-border relationships. Blaine also has a higher-than-average low-income population, which could also be a contributing factor.

Haslip said Blaine police and departments across the county owe much to the county domestic violence commission’s domestic violence specialist. The specialist helps coordinate between police officers, the courts and prosecuting attorneys and works to give domestic violence victims a stronger sense of what their rights are.

“The specialist backs their stance when they decide to say ‘No’,” Haslip said. “None of the courts I’ve been involved with can imagine doing without one.”

The number of domestic violence charges filed in Blaine in 2010 was 37, down from a high of 58 in 2008 and 2006 over the reporting period. The number of domestic violence cases resolved, either through trial or guilty plea, was 32 in 2010, down from a high of 59 in 2006. In a given year, the number of charges filed will be different than the number of charges resolved, as charges are not necessarily filed and resolved in the same year.

To further decrease domestic violence cases, Haslip said the police department’s main weapon is information. The domestic violence commission’s specialist continues to train Blaine police officers on how to recognize the signs of domestic violence, both physical and situational, he explained.

Early intervention from the public also helps to combat domestic violence. Haslip added that police would rather respond to a verbal dispute after an attentive neighbor calls 911 than come back later when someone has been hurt.

“What we want is to break the cycle of violence,” Haslip said.

To learn about domestic violence resources in Whatcom County, and for a link to the commission’s report, visit www.dvcommission.org.