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Federal grant aimed at curbing domestic violence in Columbus

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Columbus will create a multi-agency domestic violence strangulation task force with an $800,000 U.S. Department of Justice Office of Violence grant.

The strangulation task force will be a working committee of the Blueprint for Safety team, which is a collection of city and county prosecutors, law enforcers, judges, advocates and forensic nurses. The goal is to better identify strangulation cases and support victims.

The grant will fund an additional full-time Columbus police officer who will be focused on strangulation cases as part of the Strangulation Team Operations for Prosecution (STOP) unit. The funds will also be used to purchase a dedicated STOP vehicle and support police training to better identify and respond to strangulation cases.

The city prosecutor’s office will be able to hire two specialized victims’ advocates – one full-time and one part-time – to work on felony strangulation cases.

Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said the advocates will specifically support victims in felony arraignment court when the defendant is brought forward.

Klein said domestic violence homicides in the city have increased threefold over this time last year. In 2022, the city saw seven domestic violence-related homicides. As of Wednesday, there have been 24 domestic violence-related homicides in the city this year, Klein said. He said that makes up about 20% of all the homicides in the city this year.

When it comes to domestic violence, Klein said strangulation cases are statistically more deadly.

“All the data shows that you have a 700% increase in lethality, which means death, if you're a victim of domestic violence where there's previous evidence of strangulation,” Klein said.

In April, a change in state law elevated non-lethal strangulation from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Klein called domestic violence offenders, especially those who use a firearm or strangle victims, “some of the worst of the worst offenders.”

“These are the folks that have demonstrated a proclivity through their actions of already being a violent individual. And so, these folks are the ones that we need to get off the streets,” he said.

Klein asked that family and friends who suspect domestic violence report the incidents. He said that in many cases of domestic violence-related homicide, the abuser had no prior contact with law enforcement and the victim had no intervention from a social service agency.

“That means that it’s going under the radar. It’s occurring in the dark of night. But friends and families do know that it exists,” Klein said. “And we need folks to stand up and not be afraid to be the voice for the voiceless."

Allie Vugrincic is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She comes to Columbus from her hometown of Warren, Ohio, where she was a reporter, features writer and photographer for four years at the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator newspapers.