Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Public Policy Action

Homicide Prevention

HOMICIDE PREVENTION: FATALITY REVIEW

PROBLEM

In the decade between January 2001 and December 2010, at least 1,532 people in Pennsylvania died as a result of domestic violence—mostly abused women but also children, law enforcement officers, friends, coworkers, passersby, and perpetrators who killed themselves. Such fatal incidents of domestic violence occur throughout all areas of our state, in rural, urban and suburban communities, and underscore the lethal consequences of abuse.

Since Fatality Review was made a policy priority in 2003, much has been achieved. However, there are only seven fatality review teams in existence, with little to no consistency in their practices or data collection. While domestic violence programs may be interested in forming fatality review teams, they may be reluctant to take on additional commitments given the increasingly dire funding situation and consequent staff shortages. To address the need for more review teams, and materials to aid those review teams, more resources are needed.

PROGRESS

PCADV convened a Planning Group in 2004 to research and strategize around the best means of bringing the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project to fruition and what the Project’s objectives would be. PCADV assembled a state-level Domestic Violence Fatality Review Advisory Group, including representatives from an array of systems and offices, which began meeting in 2004.

In addition, PCADV and the Advisory Group drafted model legislation enabling fatality review teams access to records concerning the fatal incident while maintaining the confidentiality of identifying information. This legislation, the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Act, would also create a statewide Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, and provides that PCADV will serve as the sole administrator of the Project. The legislation has been introduced in two consecutive legislative sessions but has not yet passed, due in great part to the absence of a state agency to serve as a partner with PCADV in the project.

PCADV has made significant strides toward its goal of providing technical assistance on the creation of county-based fatality review teams.

  • PCADV staff has created a comprehensive model Data Collection Form for use by existing and new review teams; the Data Collection Form will standardize the information gathered by the local review teams so that it can be aggregated across all counties statewide.
  • PCADV staff has drafted a Best Practices Guide for Establishing and Administering Domestic Violence Fatality Review Teams; as of this writing, the draft is currently being edited and readied for publication. The Guide will provide step-by-step practical guidance, best practices, and model forms and policies for those interested in creating fatality review teams in their county.
  • PCADV held its Homicide Prevention Conference in March 2010, which included a panel presentation by representatives of all existing fatality review teams in PA.

2012 ACTION STEPS ON FATALITY REVIEW

  • Publish the drafted Best Practices Guide, making it electronically available on the PCADV website;
  • Continue to conduct training and technical assistance as requested;
  • Plan for and reconvene a round table of stakeholders similar to the dissolved statewide Fatality Review Advisory Group, with the goal of examining systems’ roles regarding victim safety and abuser accountability in fatal incidents and steps that can be taken to strengthen systemic responses;
  • Conduct analysis of accumulated fatality reports and produce comprehensive publication that looks more in-depth at the ten-plus years’ data on PA domestic violence related deaths.

HOMICIDE PREVENTION: FIREARMS ADVOCACY

PROBLEM

The gun industry’s lobby is incredibly powerful in Pennsylvania, and consequently the Pennsylvania General Assembly is loathe to enact any legislation regulating individuals’ use and ownership of firearms. Moreover, many Pennsylvania counties neither enforce the federal Brady Law nor adequately participate in
NICS. At the same time, between one half and two-thirds of all domestic violence homicide victims are killed by perpetrators using firearms. Nonetheless, several bills have advanced that propose to expand access to and use of firearms, including a bill to expand the “castle doctrine” and a bill to provide for
expedited emergency concealed carry permits to PFA plaintiffs. Despite our efforts, the emergency concealed carry permits bill was enacted in 2008 with only a partial victory for us: the removal of all language referring to PFA orders or domestic violence. As for the castle doctrine expansion bill, it, too, was enacted in 2011 despite our zealous opposition to it, with the partial victory for us in that we successfully fended off inclusion of PFA orders in the proposal.

PROGRESS

After a decade of advocacy, in 2005 the PFA Amendments Act was finally passed, authorizing judges to order PFA defendants to relinquish all or some of their firearms, even absent the use of particular firearms against the victim. Additionally, we were able to remove inclusion of the PFA Act and/or domestic violence
in both the emergency concealed carry license bill and the castle doctrine expansion bill.

In addition to the legislative accomplishments contained in the PFA Amendments Act, PCADV has:

  • Completed an array of multi-system trainings on implementing the new amendments;
  • Convened a focused panel presentation to the Board (now Membership), reviewing research on the use of firearms in DV-related incidents, current law and procedure regarding firearms confiscation, and opportunities for further advocacy on gun violence prevention;
  • Developed strong working relationships with Ceasefire-PA, ensuring that the concerns of domestic violence victims are included in the gun violence prevention movement;
  • Adopted a policy position statement on firearms: “Consistent with both our mission to end domestic violence, and the fact that firearms too often turn domestic violence into domestic homicide, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence supports gun violence prevention legislation and opposes efforts to encourage domestic violence victims to obtain guns.”

2012 ACTION STEPS ON FIREARMS
  • Increase collaboration with allied organizations invested in preventing gun violence;
  • Monitor firearms-related legislation, actively opposing legislation that furthers access to firearms, and supporting legislation that curbs gun violence;
  • Advocate for inclusion of all state-held records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS);
  • Monitor the implementation of the PFA Amendments' third-party safe-keeping provisions to compile incidents justifying amendment of the PFA Act to remove the third-party safe-keeping provisions; and
  • Continue efforts to educate judges, law enforcement, and other professionals on PA and federal law and practice regarding firearms regulations pertaining to PFA defendants.
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