Of the “at least 91” people killed in Colorado in 2021 in domestic violence-related incidents, 28 were in El Paso County, according to a new report released by Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office.
Of those 91, 45 were killed by their intimate partners, 14 were collateral victims and 32 were the perpetrators themselves. Of those collateral victims, four were children, Weiser reports in a release.
“This was the highest number of domestic violence fatalities in Colorado since the board was created in 2017 and began its work researching and tracking domestic violence-related deaths in the state,” the release says.
As in past years, the victims were overwhelmingly female (88 percent) and perpetrators overwhelmingly male (90 percent). And, also consistent with past findings, guns were the weapon used in 81 percent of the domestic violence fatalities in 2021 — and all collateral victim deaths identified were caused by guns.
Last year’s report about 2020 fatalities was the first to control for population size and the data similarly show that domestic violence fatalities occurred disproportionately in rural counties.
The report shows that El Paso County had the highest number of domestic violence fatalities, at 28, with Denver County reporting 20, and Arapahoe County reporting 10.
El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly tells Sixty35 via email, “Consistently, year after year, domestic and family violence represents the single largest category of homicides in El Paso County. And while most would assume robberies, mass shootings, the drug trade or gangs are the biggest threats to us as individuals, it’s unhealthy relationships and family dynamics which actually take the most lives in our community.
“In the majority of our homicides, the victim personally knew the killer and had some relationship with them prior to the murder,” he adds. “Any meaningful attempt to reduce homicides in El Paso County and across our country must involve significant efforts to create healthier families and in particular to raise young men who can navigate the inevitable stresses of life in non-violent ways.”
The county’s two largest categories of homicides are domestic violence and simple altercations that escalate to homicidal violence, Kelly notes.
“Both of these categories are almost exclusively perpetrated by young to middle age men who have not developed the necessary coping skills to appropriately manage their emotions,” he says. “And when we look to other social ills including suicide and substance abuse, that same issue underlies many of the challenges we face as a society. To truly address the underlying issue is well-beyond the scope of our criminal justice system and falls to the fundamental building block of our society which is a healthy family.”
The Colorado legislature created the board in 2017 to examine data on domestic violence fatalities, identify ways to prevent these tragedies and make policy recommendations to the legislature. The legislature reauthorized the board for another five years in 2022.
Previous recommendations led to actions in the past, and this year’s report also makes suggestions, as follows:
• Expand domestic violence training opportunities for judicial officers. Judicial officers are in a unique position to intervene and respond to domestic violence. The prevalence of domestic violence issues in the courts presents an important opportunity for judges to act in a trauma-informed manner and to make evidence-based decisions, ultimately leading to better outcomes for victims while assuring public safety.
• Invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts that improve the response to domestic violence statewide. Due to unequal access to services and resources, the board recommends that the Colorado General Assembly appropriate necessary funds to support recruitment and retention at the agencies and organizations that provide initial response functions to domestic violence, with a particular focus on encouraging efforts to recruit and retain individuals with diverse backgrounds. This is a critical step in creating greater trust between providers of initial response functions and victims of domestic violence.
• Invest in strategies that ensure firearm relinquishment that can improve victim, officer, and public safety. One tool critical to stopping gun violence toward intimate partners and the community at-large is firearm relinquishment statutes, yet firearm relinquishment does not always occur. The board recommends greater investment in strategies to enforce existing laws which can improve victim, officer, and public safety and that the Legislature provide funding to jurisdictions to support firearm relinquishment strategies.
According to the report, over 80 percent of victims died from gunshot wounds. In fact, domestic violence perpetrators with access to firearms are five to eight times more likely to kill their victims than those without firearms, studies show.
Also, nationwide, gun homicides by intimate partners have increased by 58 percent over the last decade and increased by 25 percent in 2020 compared with the previous year, to the highest level in almost three decades.
And here’s a frightening finding contained in the report: “Emerging research also points to a connection between mass killings and perpetration of DV, showing that possession of firearms by perpetrators of DV presents a threat not only to DV victims, but also to the general public. For example, researchers reported that more than two-thirds of recent mass shootings in the U.S. involved perpetrators who killed partners or relatives or had a history of domestic abuse.”
In accordance with state law, the report was submitted to the Health and Human Services and Judiciary Committees of the Colorado Senate, and the Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services and Judiciary Committees of the Colorado House of Representatives.