The Park County Sheriff’s Office generally receives about 600 calls per week, running the gamut from motor vehicle accidents and ATVs on county roads, to shots fired and illegal campfires. 

Such calls are all part of a normal day’s work for Sheriff Tom McGraw and his deputies, and all varieties of calls require timely response and are taken extremely seriously.

But lately, there has been a dramatic increase in a particular type of call that ranks amongst the least favorite for responding deputies: domestic violence-based calls. 

“I can’t say why, exactly, but we have been running crazy lately with a rash of domestic disturbances and domestic violence calls,” McGraw said. “Those calls are among the least favorite for our deputies because emotions at the scene are usually running high, and those types of situations can be volatile and unpredictable.”

Alarming numbers

Park County Victim Services, a department within the Park County Sheriff’s Office under the direction of Mary Pat Bowen, recently provided statistics that clearly illustrate a significant increase in domestic violence-based calls. 

The year-to-date statistics cover the period of Jan. 1-Sept. 23 for this year, and date back to 2016.

Annual domestic violence-based calls reported in Park County since 2016 are as follows: 2016, 130; 2017, 154; 2018: 118; 2019: 132; and 2020, 192.

Violations of protection orders are also up, more than three times higher than in 2016, and more than twice as high as 2019: 2016, 11; 2017, 19; 2018, 21; 2019, 16; and 2020, 36.

Strangulation as a component of domestic violence is among the more disturbing statistics presented by Park County’s Victim Services, rising sharply in 2020 as compared to the previous four years: 2016, 8; 2017, 5; 2018, 7, 2019, 5; and 2020, 25.

Strangulation is particularly dangerous and can potentially result in psychological, neurological and physical injury (death can occur within 4-5 minutes), and delayed fatality due to carotid artery dissection and respiratory complications.  

Approximately 10% of women who are victims of  intimate partner violence experience attempted strangulation by their partners, according to the The National Training Institute of Strangulation Prevention.

Increasing domestic violence-based calls numbering 60 more than last year at this time has presented new challenges for the Park County Sheriff’s Office, its deputies and Victim Services personnel. 

Difficult and potentially dangerous calls

Park County deputies responding to domestic disturbances are first and foremost there to protect threatened individuals and to maintain the safety of all parties involved. 

Usually out of necessity, however, responding deputies also find themselves playing the impromptu roles of marriage counselors, behavioral psychologists or dispute resolution experts. 

Unlike many crimes in which suspects and victims have never previously met, domestic violence usually occurs between parties who know each other well, and who share an extensive history with one another. That sometimes complicates matters for responding deputies and can make identifying the responsible party more difficult than it would be otherwise.

One point of clarification: domestic violence is not actually classified as a crime, but rather, an enhancer to actions such as hitting, shoving or kicking, that constitute criminal acts such as assault. In other words, one might commit an act of domestic violence, but would be charged with assault, harassment or some other specific crime along with what’s referred to in legal circles as a “domestic violence enhancer.”

That distinction aside, and regardless of legal terms used to describe or classify specific types of domestic violence, the scene on the ground for responding deputies is generally chaotic and unpredictable.

“A lot of times we start to make an arrest and the significant other in the house 

hold becomes angry with the responding deputy,” McGraw said. “When it comes to domestic disturbances, you just can’t ever predict what might happen.”

Because responding deputies are stepping into unknown and often confusing circumstances when responding to domestic disturbance calls, a wealth of training, experience, social skills and patience are generally required to effectively de-escalate disagreements.

In other instances, deputies responding to a domestic disturbance might determine that an enraged, well-armed occupant of a given household requires a visit from the Jefferson County SWAT team.

That was precisely the case in early August when Park County deputies spotted a man pacing outside his Fairplay home with what authorities described as an AR-15 type rifle following a domestic dispute. McGraw promptly called the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office SWAT unit for assistance, and the man finally surrendered and was subsequently apprehended after a prolonged standoff.

More recently, while responding to a domestic disturbance call that was occurring on the side of a Park County highway, a Park County deputy was involved in a head-on collision and badly injured. It was later discovered that a male involved the roadside dispute had departed the scene and intentionally initiated the violent collision. 

The Flume published stories regarding each of the previously mentioned incidents Aug. 14 and Aug. 28, respectively.

No matter what a deputy encounters when responding to a domestic violence-related call, it is probable that the deputy is embarking upon a complicated and time-consuming endeavor that will ultimately require the time and attention of numerous county-based entities and personnel.

Extensive follow-up

In cases of domestic violence, extensive follow-up services are generally required by Park County’s Victim Services.

Bowen, director of Victim Services with the Park County Sheriff’s Office, says domestic violence-related incidents require considerable amount of follow-up work by her department and staff.

Bowen also explained that in instances of domestic violence where probable cause exists, the responding officer is mandated to make an arrest. Once an arrest is made, the party being charged is placed on a no bond hold and the defendant must appear before a judge to arrange to be bonded out.

Additionally, providing care for victims requires extensive follow-up and referrals to system or community-based victim advocate entities. According to Bowen, Victim Services attempts to assist victims in making sound decisions about what is best for themselves, their families and their safety.

“Victims know their safety the best, and we try to empower them to talk through and consider their options,” Bowen said. “We try to be informative and reassuring, and to intervene in such a way that promotes the possibility of a different outcome and prevents bad situations from repeating themselves.” 

Why the increase in domestic violence-related calls?

According to Bowen, there is generally an increase in domestic disturbances during the early stages of the summer. Bowen said this year that increase occurred during the middle and end of the summer months.

“August was a particularly difficult month this year for some reason,” Bowen said.

Perhaps COVID-19 and resulting stay-at-home orders contributed this year’s increase in domestic disturbance calls. Social strife and trying economic circumstances – especially for small business owners – might also be contributing factors. 

Sometimes, according to Bowen, the county will experience an uptick in domestic disputes when spring weather fails to arrive on time and winter weather prevails longer than expected. 

None of these reasons, individually, seem to justify the considerable increase in domestic disturbances reported this year in Park County. More data over longer periods of time would likely be required to settle such speculation. 

Emotional toll

With the rise in domestic violence cases in Park County, a closer look at the emotional toll domestic disturbances take on families is in order.

Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behaviors within an intimate relationship that is used by a partner to maintain power and control over another partner.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “one in four women and one in seven men aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

Men are often afraid to report being victims of domestic violence for a variety of reasons. Some believe that it would be seen as a sign of weakness, others fear people assuming that the woman is the real victim and must have been acting in self-defense or retaliating for abuse.

Steve, a Bailey resident, experienced domestic violence from a partner, but the police didn’t believe him. “She repeatedly hit me while I was driving, and a passerby called the police. Despite the fact that my face was bloody, and she did not have a scratch on her, the police believed her when she said I was abusing her. I was arrested for domestic violence and was held for weeks before she recanted the false statement she gave to the police.”

Domestic violence is not always physical. Almost half of all men and women in the United States have experienced psychological abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

The emotional toll that domestic violence takes on victims and their families can last a lifetime. People who have been victims of domestic violence may fear intimacy or become frightened if an argument occurs around them. Victims may have specific triggers that remind them of past experiences, and will often react strongly to those triggers.

Sue, a Bailey resident and survivor of domestic violence, described the cycle of abuse: “A perpetrator is good at having control over the victim. They keep the victim in a cycle of violence. After an abusive incident, the perpetrator showers the victim with gifts or kind deeds and promises to stop the abuse. Then more abuse and so the cycle continues over and over. 

Many times, the perpetrator isolates the victim from friends, family, bank accounts, transportation, phones and employment. Most times verbal and emotional abuse is also sustained and is by far worse than the physical abuse.”

Children are also likely to be affected by domestic violence in the home, whether it is an emotional toll from witnessing the violence or being victimized themselves. The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect suggests that, within the United States, domestic violence may be the single major precursor to deaths from child abuse and neglect.

The rate of domestic violence among the teenage demographic is rising in the United States. In a recent survey, one in ten high school students have reported experiencing physical violence from a dating partner in the last year. Also, one in four teenagers have reported being abused or harassed online or via text by their partners.

Becca, a Bailey resident, has experienced the effects of domestic violence first-hand. She focused on trying to mend her relationship, to no avail. “He claimed I’d been brainwashed by my counselor every time I tried a method of resolving conflict instead of engaging in an argument or letting him ‘be right,’” she said.

Victims often blame themselves and seek to change their behaviors and other things about themselves that their abusers criticize. At that point, when the abuse doesn’t stop, the victim has a choice: seek help, or continue living in fear.

“Only after truly dragging on the rock bottom of life can one realize the true worth of life. When the only direction to go was up, I had an epiphany. A clear view of what I want and who I really am,” Becca, who chose to seek help, said.

Sue has a message for victims of domestic violence: “Have faith and start taking action now. You do not need every detail planned before you start. Just take the first step, believe you deserve better and have faith that great things will come your way. You are already at your lowest low, have the courage to improve your future, take a step up and go get all the great things in life that are out there waiting for you. Listen to your gut, follow your heart. Come join the Survivors club.”

“The statistics say that it usually takes an individual about seven times leaving before they actually stay out of that relationship,” says Lori Cuno, Executive Director of PeaceWorks Safe Shelter.

PeaceWorks

PeaceWorks Safe Shelter is a non-profit charity providing assistance for survivors of domestic violence, teen dating violence, stalking, sex trafficking, and sexual assault outside of relationship violence. PeaceWorks owns and operates Safe Shelter, a temporary secure and confidential home for individuals, families and pets that are experiencing IPV.

PeaceWorks Safe Shelter provides services in the Bailey community, including a shelter for both men and women, LGBTQ individuals, and pets. It also provides non-shelter services such as counseling, a crisis line, and education and advocacy around the subject of domestic violence.

Law Enforcement also works with the shelter, providing information on PeaceWorks to victims who they come in contact with.

PeaceWorks are mandated reporters for child abuse, but are not required to report domestic violence to the police. If it is not in the victim’s best interest to involve police, they are still able to get the help they need through PeaceWorks.

“We always say that survivors are some of the strongest people that we know. Just the act of courage it takes to call the office or the crisis hotline, and say ‘I need some help’ or ‘I need some support’, it takes a lot of courage and it’s really one of the first steps, and it’s pretty empowering when they do that,” says Cuno. 

Victims are encouraged to call the crisis line at 303-838-8181, or contact PeaceWorks through their website.

PeaceWorks accepts donations through its’ website. Currently, they do not need clothing or bedding, but they are in need of King Soopers gift cards for victims to buy food and gasoline, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and other essentials.

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