Domestic violence victims left in limbo for months after reporting crimes

On Special Assignment

Hundreds of domestic violence cases piled up in the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office, leaving victims waiting and wondering months after reporting crimes to police.

“The time delay makes people feel like people aren’t there for them,” said Amy Whitfield, Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Resource Center.

“We obviously have to move faster,” said Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez.

An anonymous tipster sent News 13 pictures of stacks of domestic violence cases.

So, we went straight to the District Attorney to find out what’s going on.

“It’s obviously disappointing to me to have that kind of delay,” Torrez said.

He said the image captures roughly 500 cases. Each one linked to a victim left waiting anywhere from two to five months without hearing a thing after calling police about misdemeanor domestic violence crimes like assault, theft and restraining order violations.

“Every single case that comes into the office and every single victim of crime in the community deserves to get immediate attention,” Torrez said. 

Specifically, he said, this backlog is made up of criminal summons cases, where police didn’t arrest anyone yet because the suspects may have already left the scene for example.

“For the victim, whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony it’s…they’re afraid. It’s they’re unsafe and that they don’t know what might happen to them,” Whitfield told News 13. “A lot of times what victims feel is that nobody is on their side, no one is there for them.”

Whitfield said the Domestic Violence Resource Center helps roughly 3,000 people a year with things like getting restraining orders and counseling for victims and their children.

Click here to contact the Resource Center.

However, she said, that’s just a small fraction of the cases police respond to, and it can be tough for domestic violence victims to reach out for help.

“They’re isolated from their support system, their family, their friends,” she said. “So, really being able to reach out means leaving behind the perpetrator, who is essentially their only support.”

So when someone does call for help, Whitfield said it’s important to respond.

“The amount of effort that it takes for a domestic violence victim to come forward, if they’re not contacted immediately, it means that they may end up staying within that relationship or they may end up changing their mind about prosecution.”

Since News 13 called the DA’s office last week about the backup of criminal summons domestic violence cases, they say they’ve caught up on calling victims for now.

“Right now, there is no backlog,” Torrez said. “The question for us, though, is how do we sustain this over the long-run?”

Torrez said victim advocates used to be calling people who reported these kinds of cases within two weeks compared with an average of two months now.

That’s because there used to be more investigators and victim advocates working these cases.

“We moved some of those resources into the felony side of the office so that we could increase the case speed on those most violent and dangerous offenders,” District Attorney Torrez said.

He said taking quick action on court cases is one of the best ways to deter someone from committing more crimes in the future. Furthermore, he said focusing resources to move fast on the few repeat offenders responsible for the majority of crime is working to drop the overall number of criminal cases in Bernalillo County.

His hope is that eventually, the falling crime rate will mean more manageable caseloads for his staff so that all victims get the attention they deserve.

Torrez said he put in a budget request this year for more investigators and victim advocates.

He’s also calling on more volunteers to work with victims through the Victims Services Alliance

Anyone interested can click here to fill out a form to volunteer.

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