At least 31 people in Kern County killed themselves or someone else during a domestic violence incident between 1999 and 2004 -- a statistic that should serve as a wake-up call, according to a new report.

The report, written by the Kern County Domestic Violence Death Review Team, examined 23 cases that had all gone through the justice system and are now closed. They hoped to show "that domestic violence is a more prevalent crime than maybe (Kern County residents) realized," said Nada Yorke, president of the group that formed the review team. "And that they would be interested in looking at possible solutions."

"It's hard to say from our data if (domestic violence deaths have) gone up or down because we only looked at cases that are closed," said the report's co-author, Doris Hall. For example, the Harper family slayings occurred during that time period but it's not in the report.

Key findings

The homicides and suicides occurred in 15 ZIP codes, mostly in Bakersfield. About half of the victims were white, the others were black and Hispanic with one Asian.

"I don't know the statistics but domestic violence is a very big problem and it spans all demographics," said Kern County Sheriff's Department Senior Deputy Vince Martinez.

Perpetrators and victims ranged from 17 to 78 years old. All but two of those who committed homicide were male. In all seven homicide/suicide events, men killed women. About half of the cases involved either suspected or confirmed alcohol or drug abuse.

Surviving children

"Most children who have experienced violence in their home ... quite often they will have violent behavior as well," said Diana Campbell-Rice, associate director of the group that manages Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault.

Thirteen children witnessed or were at home during a murder or suicide. Twenty-eight children lost one or both parents.

What's next

Specific recommendations will be worked out through DVAC and its partners, Yorke said. Where other proposals extend beyond the council's reach it will present recommendations to the Kern County Network for Children as early as spring.

Some changes have already been implemented or are in planning phases, she said.

Law enforcement agencies had previously not been required to note at the scene whether children were present. But when the review team noted in their own research that this data could be helpful, law enforcement documents were changed to allow for the information.

Martinez did not know the reason behind the department's addition of the yes-or-no box asking if children were present, but said it did change about three to five years ago.

By checking the box on the report's top page, supervisors can tell quickly if they need to refer a case to child protective services, Martinez said.

The Bakersfield Police Department and Alliance will work together starting Oct. 13 in a program to allow a domestic violence advocate to ride with officers on follow-up calls to domestic abuse victims.

Martinez said he believes domestic violence deaths are declining because of increased intervention and awareness.

Report recommendations

Establish comprehensive services for surviving minor children, such as grief and trauma counseling.

Allocate more resources to address substance abuse issues among domestic violence victims and perpetrators.

Create programs to address the growing problem of domestic violence among the elderly.

Create policies that require documentation of all domestic violence emergency calls, whether or not there is an observable injury.

Create awareness in the community regarding family violence, especially in the public school system.

Encourage law enforcement to confiscate weapons in the home, pursuant to current law.

Encourage domestic violence victims to obtain and enforce domestic violence restraining orders.

Source: Domestic Violence Advisory Council

Who is the council?

The review team, a Domestic Violence Advisory Council subgroup, was established in 2000.

The council’s subgroup, the Kern County Domestic Violence Death Review Team, examined 23 cases and set recommendations to address prevention and action strategies, according to council president Nada Yorke.

The death review team is one of 25 groups established under state law passed in 1995. It authorized counties to create groups like the death review team, according to a council press statement.

This is the committee’s first such report, Yorke said, but as the group becomes streamlined in its data-gathering capabilities, reports may be completed every year or two.

Representatives from law enforcement, the district attorney, Alliance, public health and other local agencies comprise the review team.

How to go

The Kern County Domestic Violence Advisory Council will hold a conference, “Coordinating a Community Response to Family Violence,” from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 3, at the Rabobank Convention Center, 1001 Truxtun Ave.

An advance fee of $40 includes breakfast and lunch.

Contact Cindy London at 326-3196 for details.

Source: Bakersfield Police Department

Getting help

If you are hurt in a domestic violence situation, call 911.

The Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault has a 24-hour hot line, 327-1091. In an emergency, victims may be driven to the alliance’s 34-bed shelter in a private, secure location. Contact the outreach center at 322-0931.

The alliance offers case management, groups, counseling, restraining order clinics, court accompaniment and advocates who work with victims.

Source: Diana Campbell-Rice, associate director of a group that manages Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault