Domestic violence incidents are trending downward, according to the Burbank Police Department. But some local organizations believe underreporting may be a cause.
There were 167 incidents in 2020, Lt. Eduardo Ruiz of the BPD said at a recent meeting of the Burbank Domestic Violence Task Force, a 16% decrease from the total of 199 in 2019. In 2018, he explained, there were 238 domestic violence incidents in Burbank.
This year through March, according to BPD data, there have been 46 domestic violence incidents, compared to 49 in 2020 and 67 in 2019 for the same period.
However, some members of the municipal task force — which convened for the first time in years on March 31 — expressed concern that the pandemic and related stay-at-home restrictions may be making it more difficult for those in an abusive relationship to contact police. Some reported that their organizations have received more domestic violence-related calls since the beginning of the pandemic.
Such calls spiked last year, according to Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council Hotline data. There were more than 9,150 calls to the service in 2020, compared to about 5,400 in 2019. The number of calls in November 2020 was unavailable due to a server error, meaning the total for that year was higher than reported.
And the surge appears to remain high — from January through March this year, there were nearly 1,780 calls, compared to just under 1,700 in 2020 and about 1,180 in 2010.
Laurie Bleick, executive director of Burbank-based nonprofit Family Services Agency, said during the meeting that the severity of the abuse being reported to her organization has also increased. She added that attendance for FSA’s counseling program for perpetrators of domestic violence — which provides some accountability — is at a record low.
“It’s back to more grassroots access to care and hoping that networks are there,” Bleick said. “It’s back to the old days.”
Councilman Konstantine Anthony, who sits on the task force along with Councilwoman Sharon Springer and said he was a victim of domestic violence, suggested that reports to police could be decreasing because many people are confined to their homes during the pandemic. Victims often have to wait to make those calls, he added, when they are in a safe location or when the abuser leaves the home.
And Majid Alsharif, a mental health clinician with the Los Angeles LGBT Center, added that members of the LGBT community are sometimes reluctant to report domestic violence because of common misconceptions made by law enforcement, such as that two women or two men can’t abuse each other.
Task force members agreed that more public education was needed to address domestic violence during the pandemic.
“The community has to do something and make it public in such a way that there is a form of getting help for these people,” said Gloria Salas, president of the Zonta Club of Burbank, a community women’s organization.
Bleick noted that the task force once provided training for Burbank’s police officers, suggesting that the city launch a new initiative that involves all members of the community. But the group agreed to first discuss their overall goals at their next meeting, which will be scheduled for sometime before the end of this month, along with potential ideas for achieving those aims.
Albert Hernandez, executive director of Family Promise of the Verdugos, explained his organization works with families experiencing homelessness, providing temporary shelter and rapid rehousing. Many of those families include survivors of domestic violence — out of the 161 families served last year, he explained, 32 involved victims of domestic violence.
So far this year, the nonprofit has served 63 families, with 18 having experienced domestic violence.
But while Family Promise of the Verdugos specializes in housing, Hernandez pointed out, other local organizations offer different services. FSA focuses on mental health and counseling, while the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley offers safe after-school activities for children.
The task force’s meetings should allow the organizations to learn each other’s specialties, he believes, allowing the nonprofits to refer domestic violence survivors to the most appropriate service.
“I appreciated and was very content with the number of people that participated in the task force,” he told the Leader. “But I need a better understanding of what each of those organizations provide.”