Domestic violence clearance rates remain the same during pandemic

Investigations

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Earlier this year, WREG reported a decrease in domestic violence during the pandemic, despite more calls for help.

One of those victims was Sherron Thompson’s daughter, living out of a motel with her six children in June.
 
“She was homeless and getting away,” Thompson said.

According to an affidavit, the father of her daughter’s children found her at the motel, kidnapped her, punched her in the head and choked her until she passed out.

“I couldn’t believe he’d do a thing like that. But he did. He tore me up because I could’ve lost a daughter,” Thompson said.

Court records show she managed to escape and call police.

According to hundreds of records analyzed by WREG, she’s one of 1,093 reported cases of domestic violence in Memphis this past June. That’s actually below average according to advocates and police.

“Initially we had a dip in number of calls coming to us, number of people coming when first shut everything down,” said Conchita Topinka with the Family Safety Center.

“We get about 50 cases a day which on average you can put 1,200 to 1,400 cases a month,” said Lt. Stephen Roach with Memphis Police.

He added the caseload can be hard to keep up with when you’re running low on investigators.

“It can be stressful, yes,” Roach said.

That’s part of why the cases are hard to close, officials said.

When WREG analyzed the numbers, we found clearance rates well below half, with about 40 percent cleared by an arrest or a warrant issued for a suspect.

“It says that we’re having a lot of people coming forward. Also tells me we have a lot of work to do,” Roach said.

Thompson’s daughter’s case is one of the 40 percent cleared by an arrest.

“I’m glad he was, to teach him a lesson. Cause don’t nobody wanna go to jail,” Thompson said.

But the path of the court system is not right for everyone, according to Family Safety Center Spokesperson Conchita Topinka.

“A lot come to us for orders of protection. We help them get that process started,” Topinka said. “The important thing is you make a change to stay safe and make a change. You may not have to go through the system. It could be moving away or getting away.”

In addition, experts say it takes a victim an average of seven times to get the courage to act or get help. In Memphis, police say 60 percent of victims decide not to prosecute. Police say that won’t stop a felony from going through court, but it will stop a lower level crime.

“If it’s a misdemeanor assault, there’s a good chance it’ll be dismissed,” Roach said.

In addition, the officer shortage, which Mayor Jim Strickland has stressed as a priority throughout his time in office, contributes.

Roach works in MPD’s domestic violence unit with a staff of less than 20 people.

“If we have more patrols, we’d be able to make scenes a lot quicker. Hopefully catch them in the act or on scene,” he said.

Instead, Roach said the department and its community partners focus on prevention.

The Family Safety Center works with victims and children. But they’ve also realized the suspects need help too.

“There are programs for them to help the perpetrator. Figure out what’s going on to get them help. If there are anger issues, that’s where we wanna help,” Roach said.

In her daughter’s case, she said the system worked. Her daughter has recovered and is living on her own in peace, something she hopes police can help more victims find as well.

“What I want to happen is he take anger management because I truly believe he really, truly regret what he did,” Thompson said. “I just let justice prevail. So it won’t never happen again.”

Contact the Family Safety Center’s crisis hotline any time at 901-249-7611.

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