Cumberland’s domestic incidents up, prompting effort for awareness

Cumberland’s domestic incidents up, prompting effort for awareness

CUMBERLAND – In four of the five months from April to August, more than half of all of all criminal charges in Cumberland were related to domestic incidents. There was only one month in the previous nine months when domestics represented even half of the total charges.

In July of 2019, 15 of the total 39 charges were related to domestic incidents, or 38 percent of the total. In July of 2020, total domestic charges nearly doubled to 28, or 51 percent of the total 55.

In August 2019, the 16 total domestic incidents represented 50 percent of the 32 charges total. Domestics were up four to 20 in August of this year, or 56 percent of the 36 total incidents

The lingering effects of the pandemic appear to be leading to a rise in domestic incidents, says Sarah King, community outreach coordinator for Mayor Jeff Mutter, a key reason why the staff is seeking to create a bigger and broader conversation about how to prevent incidents and draw attention and awareness about the problem.

The Breeze reported in August that the town overall is seeing a decline in crime during the pandemic, with arrests down some 30 percent for the March-July period and calls for service down 10 percent during that time.

If a unified strategy can help cause people to look for signs of trouble in their neighborhoods and with their friends and family, then the community as a whole can be safer and healthier place to live, said King.

The Town Council, at the administration’s request, approved a resolution last week designating October 2020 as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Cumberland, listing the serious impacts of domestic incidents now and in the long-term and highlighting how awareness can help address the problem through conversation.

Mutter says he is proud that his office has made connections with some invaluable community partners in the Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center and Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. He said his administration will be doing a lot more in the coming weeks to elevate the good work those groups are doing in local communities.

Those in need of support can call the 24/7 confidential statewide helpline at 1-800-494-8100. The hotline continues to operate and provides help and referrals.

King said there have been six domestic violence homicides this year, and while none have happened in Cumberland, these deaths impact everyone in this small state. She said she and Mutter had a productive meeting with Police Chief John Desmarais and Deputy Chief Douglas Ciullo, Ciullo as a top trainer in the state on domestic violence and very involved in addressing the issue locally, she said. She said she was not aware previously how much Ciullo does on this front.

Officials are not trying to reinvent the wheel or change course on how the domestic violence issue is addressed, said King, saying instead that it is about “connecting the dots” between the people who are already doing the good work. She said she doesn’t think it’s going to be a big reach to make a significant impact, and she’s excited about the prospect of elevating those who are already working so hard on the issue.

The mayor’s office will work with the Police Department and the domestic violence advocate in the department on prevention strategies and to streamline efforts to create a broader understanding on the causes of domestic violence.

She said staff has also reached out to the School Department to learn about dating violence data and policies, understanding that this isn’t just an adult problem.

Rhode Island, she said, “is really ahead of the curve” on this issue.

Town Council members, including Stephanie Gemski, Lisa Bealieu and Mike Kinch, thanked King for her work on the issue.

Gemski said she was recently going through the police logs when she noted the volume of calls related to domestic violence, saying she was shocked at seeing the “raw numbers.” She said realizing that these are neighbors is a “really helpful way to frame the conversation.”

Kinch, former deputy police chief, said part of the reason numbers of reported incidents are increasing is that people like King are helping get rid of the stigma associated with being a victim.