Reading the news locally and nationally, we’ve got some troubling community safety issues we’re trying to address. In Saratoga Springs the front page stories lately revolve around the concerns about homelessness, vagrancy and the need for housing and support services to assist people out of homelessness and into safe housing, services and stability. Nationally, the tragedy in Orlando has spiked concerns about the rise in gun violence. These are big issues that may seem very unrelated to my work in domestic violence or sexual assault, but it’s interesting that lately I’ve seen people drawing links to Wellspring’s mission.
About a week ago I attended the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association meeting. Saratoga Spring’s Police Chief, Greg Veitch was talking about his department’s work to preserve community safety, quickly and effectively respond to any crimes that are reported, and whenever possible to link people living on the street with support services such as those offered by Shelters of Saratoga. As always, the audience appreciated his openness and professional response to their questions and concerns. The Chief responded to community inquiries about safety, explained the SSPD’s efforts and limitations in having a continual presence in the downtown business district (it’s a relatively small police force which sees exponential increase in demand during the tourist season). He also discussed factors that underlie/contribute to homelessness.
When citizens and business owners described their experience with feeling unsafe, he offered suggestions and discussed how the SSPD can assist. At one point he mentioned data about arrests for assault and observed that statistically there’s greater potential for harm from someone you know than from strangers. I noted it’s interesting that we perceive the streets to be potentially dangerous, while our sense of home is a place where we’re safe from harm– not always so. The number of assaults in Saratoga Springs over the past 3 years, by a homeless person against a random person on the street was negligible if not null; by comparison the SSPD has ~400-500 arrests each year for domestic violence. It’s no surprise to me that we fail to notice one of the most serious safety concerns in our county- domestic violence. Why? Because we don’t see it. Grabbing our morning coffee at Uncommon Grounds, lunch at the Hungry Spot, and shopping at any of the wonderful shops on Broadway, we may pass by the same homeless person sitting on a corner several times each day… and each time our mind registers one more incidence of homelessness- even though it’s the same person sitting on a corner. Conversely, it’s so rare to actually see a domestic violence incident, that domestic violence seems nonexistent. In Saratoga County, domestic violence is the #2 violent crime (and also the primary cause of family homelessness) … but I rarely hear community groups convening to discuss what we can do about this safety issue*.
Later in the week another seemingly unrelated headline evidenced a horrific crime with connections to domestic violence lurking just under the surface. In the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy, it was quickly revealed that the shooter had a history of domestic violence. To anyone who works in the domestic violence field, this revelation didn’t come as a surprise. All too often when reading about a mass shooting, we note there was a history of domestic violence… or the tragic incident involved an abused partner or was preceded by an act of abuse at home. In her article On guns, stop talking about terrorism. Start talking about domestic violence,Vox reporter, Emily Crockett states,
“…most “mass shootings” aren’t how we imagine them — they’re not school shootings or dance floor massacres. They’re relatively private acts of horror, preceded by red flag after red flag of abusive and violent behavior…
We can’t predict who will become a mass shooter, nor can we save every potential victim of domestic violence. But it would be an unforced error not to do all we can to keep guns out of the hands of people who are known to be violent — and it’s a lot easier to predict violent behavior in general than the specific decision to commit a mass shooting.”
I don’t have the answers these big social issues affecting community safety, but I do think it’s interesting to note that we shouldn’t discount red flags that are a little less obvious because they’re happening at home. Let’s not look away from violence in the home. That flash of red you see waving in the backyard may be more than just some laundry hanging on the line…it could be an indicator of something dangerous looming larger in the future.
*Wellspring staff is available for presentations at no charge to business or organizations if they’d like to learn more about domestic violence or sexual assault or what they can do to help.