By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) – October is Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and in Denver domestic violence cases are on the rise. According to the Denver Police Department, police officers have responded to more domestic violence calls during the coronavirus pandemic.

Police records show more than 13,700 domestic violence calls were made in 2019. That number jumped to more than 15,000 in 2020. So far this year, Denver police have answered more than 11,000 calls. In turn, many of those cases land on the desk of the district attorney.

(credit: CBS)

“Each day we get anywhere from five to 10 domestic violence cases,” Maggie Conboy, Denver Assistant District Attorney, said.

Conboy oversees the office’s special victims’ units, which includes domestic violence. She said cases can turn deadly quickly.

“We know statistically that the lethality is at one of its all-time high points immediately when a survivor takes steps to leave her or his abuser,” she said. “What we’re looking to do is make it safer for victims of domestic violence in the wake of one of the most lethal time periods.”

That’s part of the reason why in 2013 Colorado passed a law requiring domestic violence offenders to relinquish their firearms and ammunition. The trouble is, Conboy explained, that law could only do so much.

“The idea behind the law is a great one, but the problem that we had was there was nothing in the statute that would compel somebody accused of the crime to admit ownership of the weapons,” she said.

(credit: Denver District Attorney’s Office)

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann was in the state legislature when the domestic gun violence bill was passed. She later went to Denver City Council to get funding for a full-time investigator to help determine if an offender has guns.

“There are certain ways you can look at a case outside of making someone admit they own guns,” Conboy said.

The DA was able to hire an investigator in early 2018. To protect his identity, he was not made available for an interview. However, Conboy is his boss and she told CBS4 the investigator has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience. He will sort through prior police reports, 911 calls, witness statements, even scour social media for evidence.

“That gives our investigator another avenue to springboard his own investigation,” she explained. “Defendants have even met him and voluntarily relinquished their weapons.”

His tactics work. In 2019, he helped take nearly two dozen firearms from just one domestic violence offender’s home.

“Which also included 6,000 rounds of ammo,” Conboy added.

As for where those weapons go, Conboy said they are often handed over to the police department or certain firearms dealers.

(credit: CBS)

“Guns have value,” Conboy said. “So, we’ll have a family member come for it at some point, assuming that person clears the proper background check.”

Conboy said sometimes the victim or even the offender’s family will tell authorities about if and where weapons are being stored. Yet, that help was few and far between at the height of the pandemic when people were basically locked down at home.

“We’re coming out of a period of time where we’ve had abusers and victims in the same household without the usual societal eyes on the situation – like coworkers or teachers at school,” she explained. “That has given us additional concerns.”

Even more reason why the gun relinquishment program is so important, Conboy said. It’s an effort to prevent future harm and perhaps one day put an end to domestic violence.

“Ensuring the safety and health and well-being of domestic violence survivors is also helping the next generation,” she said.

Conboy said a small “tweak” was made to the domestic violence gun law this summer. She explained offenders are now required to sign an affidavit of ownership and provide information on where they relinquished their weapons.

“It’s not changed the program, but what it has done is we’re now tracking and making sure that he or she files the paperwork,” she said. “It’s been helpful.”

LINK: Domestic Violence Survivor Resource – Rose Andom Center

Kelly Werthmann