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911 calls reporting domestic violence drop in San Francisco

Advocates say decrease could show reluctance to contact authorities — or better access to resources

While authorities believe domestic violence played a role in the slaying of a university student and the killings of two other people this year, 911 calls reporting the crime to police are down in San Francisco.

New numbers from the Department of Emergency Management show that domestic violence 911 calls fell by nearly 14 percent from 8,305 in 2016 to 7,170 in 2018. And the downward trend has continued this year, with 5,884 calls through October compared to 6,000 at that time last year.

But some advocates caution that the dip in calls may not really mean that domestic violence is happening less in The City. And others hope the decrease means survivors are simply getting help before having to call the cops.

Beverly Upton, executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, said some immigrants are not reporting domestic violence to police out of fear that their partner will be deported.

Even in San Francisco, where sanctuary laws prevent police from cooperating with immigration authorities, Upton said immigrants are hesitant to call 911 under the Trump administration.

Upton went as far as to say domestic violence is not dropping in The City.

“The shelters are full, the classes are full, people are still calling the community,” Upton said. “We believe in reaching out to 911, but not everybody feels comfortable and I think there is a big chilling effect in immigrant communities around the country.”

Interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus echoed that sentiment.

In a statement, Loftus said the “rhetoric from the White House and the actions by ICE have increased fear among members of our community that may result in fewer immigrants reporting domestic abuse.”

“San Francisco is a sanctuary city and our work is to ensure that every survivor has a voice, and that every victim is safe from both their abuser and from the threat of deportation,” Loftus said.

But Kara Duggan, deputy director of a shelter for battered woman called La Casa de las Madres, would not name a specific reason for the drop. Duggan instead said the decline could be attributable to “a multitude of things.”

“From our end, we would hope that survivors are connecting to services sooner, such that they are not having to call 911,” Duggan said.

While 911 calls are down, domestic violence-related homicides are not.

Three people are believed to have been killed by their domestic partner each year in 2017, in 2018 and already in 2019, with a month left in the year, according to numbers from the San Francisco Police Department.

Last month, San Francisco State University student Valeria Villagomez, 21, was shot and killed in the middle of the day at a house across from Lowell High School.

Prosecutors believe the 20-year-old man she was dating, Jose DeJesus Rodriguez, shot her in the head with a revolver. He had allegedly become abusive in the months before.

Rodriguez has since pleaded not guilty to charges including murder and domestic violence.

Then two days later on the night of Oct. 26, 42-year-old Berneca Morton allegedly killed her boyfriend by pinning him against a wall with a truck in Bayview.

In court records, prosecutors said Morton called 911 to report that her boyfriend had broken the window of her vehicle. On the call, she is believed to be heard arguing with him and saying, “let me find him and I’m going to run him over.”

Robert Walsh, 41, was then found unconscious and bleeding against a wall near Gilman Avenue and Hawes Street shortly before 11 p.m., authorities said. He died after being taken to a local hospital.

Police found a tow hook beneath his body and later discovered a red Chevy Blazer with a missing tow hook and damaged bumper nearby, according to prosecutors.

The Blazer was parked outside a residence at the Alice Griffith housing project where Morton is believed to have been living, prosecutors said. The truck was also identified by a witness as the vehicle used to hit Walsh.

Morton, who is also known as Veronica Wedges and has a lengthy criminal history including for felony grand theft and drug possession, was arrested and charged with murder, domestic violence and leaving the scene of an accident.

The first domestic violence homicide of the year was in June, when prosecutors say 63-year-old Alice James was badly beaten with a wine bottle. Her boyfriend, 56-year-old Casey Murray, is facing domestic violence, murder and other charges.

Another woman, 61-year-old Veronica Soliz, was fatally stabbed while recording a domestic violence incident on a sidewalk in the Tenderloin on Jan. 2, but her death is not officially included in the tally.

La Casa de las Madres has a 24/7 domestic violence crisis line that can be reached at (877) 503-1850.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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