Niagara County (New York)

Domestic Violence Intervention Program

County-wide planning meeting in 2002 to decide priorities for the next three years

The Domestic Violence Intervention Program was initiated in early 1994 by Niagara County District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III. Concerned about the number of family murders that were occurring in Niagara County -- 7 out of 12 murders in the county in 1994 were domestic violence-related -- Murphy brought together all of the stakeholders as well as researchers and professors from the Law School at State University of New York at Buffalo. The task force constructed an intra- and inter-agency set of protocols for handling domestic violence cases. The protocols included: police, prosecutors, the courts, and social service agencies.

Because Niagara County consists of three cities and many rural communities representing dozens of local jurisdictions, the protocols were introduced throughout the county over several years, beginning with a pilot program in Lockport in 1995. For each jurisdiction, a similar procedure was used to create each jurisdiction's protocols: local stakeholders met, agreed upon a set of protocols, then established the protocols through a series of internal policy changes within the agencies along with memoranda of understanding among the agencies.

To underscore how serious the county is in coordinating its domestic violence response, the protocols at Lockport (January 1995), Niagara Falls (1996), and North Tonawanda (1997) were introduced at public ceremonies attended by representatives of the Office of Courts Administration, the Governor, and state and local legislators.

The protocols appeared to be working. The number of domestic violence murders in the county dropped from 7 in 1994 to 0 in 1999. In fact, in 1999, Niagara County had no homicides. Sheriff Thomas Beilein commented,

"I've been in the business for 31 years, and this is the first time I can ever remember" going through a year without a single murder. (The Buffalo News, 12/31/99, B1.)

The reduction of homicides was attributed to

aggressive pro-arrest policies in domestic-violence cases, better intervention programs for dealing with violent offenders, and a get-tough stance by local justices dealing with those who physically abuse others. (The Buffalo News, 12/31/99, B1,B6)

But meanwhile, in June 1998, a body was found in the Rainbow Center Mall Parking Garage . . .