Eight — or nearly 60 percent — of the 14 homicides that occurred in the county in 2009 were domestic-violence related, according to a new study released this week by the Fairfax County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team.
The team, established by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2007, is a multi-disciplinary group of professionals made up of representatives from law enforcement, family services and other county agencies and community organizations. It is one of 15 such teams throughout the commonwealth that reviews domestic violence cases and attempts to determine indicators that prompt early identification of the circumstances that can lead to domestic violence and homicides.
Fairfax County leads the region in domestic violence arrests, according to another recent study released late last year by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services’ Criminal Justice Research Center.
That study — Domestic Violence in Virginia 2006-2010 — claims domestic violence arrests in Northern Virginia rose nearly 70 percent between 2006 and 2010. Arrests were most pronounced in Fairfax County, where they were up 306 percent during that five-year period.
There were a total of 1,796 domestic assault arrests during the period of July 2011 through June 2012, according to Fairfax County Police statistics for the county’s 2012 fiscal year.
Fairfax County Domestic Violence Coordinator Sandy Bromley said she believes the uptick in arrests outlined by the Criminal Justice Research Center study is primarily attributable to the fact that beginning in 2007, each of Fairfax County’s eight district police stations was assigned a “domestic violence detective” whose primary focus is to investigate all domestic violence-related claims within their district.
Before he left office at the end of 2012, outgoing Fairfax County Police Chief Dave Roher cited that initiative as one of his proudest achievements.
“Before that initiative, all domestic violence cases were centralized,” Bromley said. “By having domestic violence detectives localized at each district station, it enables better training of patrol officers in each district and results in them being better educated to handle those issues within their own areas.”
Bromley also participated in the new study, in which the Fairfax County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team reviewed 12 domestic-violence-related deaths that occurred in 2009 — eight homicides and four related suicides. Of the eight homicides, three occurred in Reston, two in Franconia, two in McLean and one in Chantilly. In four — or 50 percent — of the eight homicides, the offender also committed suicide.
In those cases, the study revealed that 75 percent of the victims were female, and 75 percent of the offenders were male. In addition, the study revealed that 63 percent of the homicides were perpetrated with a firearm, and in 38 percent, the offender was unemployed or had recently lost a job.
The remaining four homicide offenders who did not commit suicide were charged and convicted: two of second-degree murder, one of first-degree murder and one of involuntary manslaughter, according to the study.
“Domestic violence is the engine that drives this court,” said Robert A. Bermingham, director of court services for Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
Bermingham said about 85 percent of all adults placed on probation by the court are due to domestic violence issues. “Domestic violence generally accounts for about half of all Fairfax County homicides,” Bermingham said.