In a sobering revelation, Colorado witnessed a disturbing surge in domestic violence-related fatalities last year, reaching a record high, according to a comprehensive report released by the Colorado Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board (CDVFRB). The report, disclosed by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, paints a grim picture of the persistent threat of domestic violence in the state.
In 2022, a staggering 94 lives were tragically claimed by domestic violence-related incidents, setting a grim milestone. Among these fatalities, 39 victims fell victim to their current or former intimate partners, while an additional 22 were collateral victims. Shockingly, this included six children and two peace officers. It is worth noting that the only two peace officers who lost their lives while serving the people of Colorado in 2022 did so while responding to domestic violence incidents. This underscores the critical and perilous nature of this responsibility for law enforcement.
The total number of fatalities was nearly 1.5 times higher than the average number recorded in the seven years of data collection by CDVFRB. Furthermore, the report highlights that the volume of collateral fatalities was exceptionally high compared to previous years, underscoring that the lethal consequences of domestic violence often extend beyond the victims themselves and affect the entire community.
The report delves into the analysis of 62 cases in which domestic violence fatalities occurred in 2022, along with 16 cases considered by local domestic violence fatality review teams in 2021 and 2022. The stark statistics reveal that 97% of the domestic violence victims were female, while 95% of the perpetrators were male, emphasizing the gendered nature of these crimes.
Consistent with previous reports, firearms remained the leading cause of death in domestic violence fatality cases, contributing to a harrowing 86% of the domestic violence fatalities. Notably, all domestic violence perpetrator fatalities were linked to firearms, with 73% of the domestic violence victim fatalities and 86% of the collateral fatalities resulting from gunshot wounds.
Attorney General Phil Weiser, who also chairs the CDVFRB, expressed his deep concern over the findings, stating, “The 2023 report serves as a sobering reminder of the critical work we all must undertake to combat domestic violence in our state. The numbers are alarming and should catalyze action. This report provides a stark reminder that domestic violence continues to be a serious threat, primarily to women, and all Coloradans must work toward greater gender equality and more robust efforts to prevent domestic violence.”
For its initiatives in 2024, CDVFRB is placing a strong emphasis on domestic violence prevention. The report also includes several specific recommendations, such as:
- Expand Risk Assessment Tools: Encouraging organizations that work directly with domestic violence survivors to broaden the use of risk assessment tools. These tools, used by courts, advocacy agencies, law enforcement, and others, help create a common understanding of safety risks and enable a more consistent and effective community response to the needs of those affected by domestic violence. A thorough survey will be conducted to evaluate the current state of risk assessment in Colorado, with the goal of establishing best practices and principles for consistent use, ultimately leading to statewide measures for improving survivor safety.
- Support Firearms Relinquishment Investigation: Proposing the establishment of a limited pilot program in Colorado through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Given the prevalence of firearms in domestic violence fatality cases, the board advocates for increased investment in the enforcement of Colorado’s existing firearm relinquishment procedures. The pilot program would facilitate collaboration between prosecutors, law enforcement, and the defense bar to ensure the enforcement of Colorado’s relinquishment statutes.
- Enhanced Collaboration: Increasing collaboration and partnership with entities such as the Maternal Mortality Prevention Program, Child Fatality Review Board, and the Office of Suicide Prevention. These organizations address various challenges, and their collective efforts can enhance the CDVFRB’s ability to comprehensively identify and analyze domestic violence fatalities.
Additional findings from the report include the distressing fact that nearly a quarter of collateral fatalities in 2022 were minors, with six children aged 16 and under tragically losing their lives. In cases where the domestic violence perpetrator died, 70% of the perpetrators died by suicide, but they were also killed by law enforcement, victims, and bystanders. It was observed that few social and institutional players were aware of the underlying domestic violence in cases analyzed by local domestic violence fatality review teams. Furthermore, a quarter of the ultimate domestic violence fatality victims had prior domestic violence-related arrests, with none resulting in convictions. This raises concerns about potential victim criminalization.
The Colorado General Assembly established CDVFRB in 2017 with the mandate to examine data on domestic violence fatalities, propose ways to prevent such tragedies, and make policy recommendations to the legislature. The board was reauthorized for an additional five years in 2022. Notably, previous recommendations from CDVFRB have led to specific actions and initiatives that are highlighted in this year’s report.
The findings of the CDVFRB’s report are a stark reminder of the urgent need for collective efforts to combat domestic violence in Colorado and to protect those who are most vulnerable. It is a call to action that demands a comprehensive and unwavering commitment to addressing this grave issue and ensuring the safety and well-being of all Coloradans.