Saturday, August 30, 2008

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part II): Violent crime within families and among intimates

I suggested in my first "Law and Order in the Ozarks" post last week that it seems there's more crime in Newton County (AR) than when I was growing up there. While the amazing UC Davis law librarians are tracking down some detailed data on rural and urban crime rates, including those in Arkansas if available, I'll tell you what I already know about them.

In my recent writing about domestic violence and drug use in rural places, I've come across the statement that the difference between rural and urban crime rates has narrowed in recent years. (Weisheit, Wells & Falcone, Crime and Policing in Rural and Small Town America (3d ed. 2006)). This suggests that urban crime rates, historically higher, have fallen some and that rural crime rates, historically lower, have risen some. Further, Weisheit et al tell us that violent offenses against family members are one type of crimes with rising rural arrest rates.

Even in light of this trend, what has happened in Newton County (AR) recently is surely an aberration. I am now looking at the August 14 and August 21 issues of the paper, and family violence is everywhere, along with some other crimes.

On August 14, three of the stories follow up on crimes previously reported, two in the previous week's edition. We learn more about the 33-year-old woman who shot her husband. She told the Sheriff's investigator that on the day of the shooting, "she and her husband had been arguing most of the day and drinking at a neighbor's house." She reports that he provoked her to pick up the shot gun from behind the sofa and told her to "go ahead and pull the trigger." She did, though she says she didn't know it was loaded. Once she realized she'd shot her husband, the police report says she "yelled to the kids to call for help" but it was too late. (While it would apparently have made no difference in these circumstances, this does remind me that there is no 911 service in Newton County, which is not uncommon in very remote rural areas in the U.S.). I am mortified that there was a loaded gun behind the sofa with two "kids" in the house. The August 21 paper reports that the woman has been arraigned on a charge of first-degree murder.

The other two crime stories on the 14 August front page are
  • Wife joins husband on child abuse charges -- following up on a story from a few weeks ago, which reported that a 25-year-old man had been charged with first degree battery and misdemeanor third degree battery for striking his three stepchildren, aged 10, 8 and 5. Now the mother has been charged with felony permitting abuse of a minor.
  • Man pleads guilty to burglary, animal cruelty -- following up on last week's report. While the 41-year-old man has pleaded guilty to the charges, the story makes no mention of the 15-year-old who was also arrested, except to say that the adult male was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Although the man is a habitual offender, the sentencing enhancement based on that status is not being pursued in exchange for the plea.
The rest of the front page is, thankfully, lighter fare. Two photos depict events at the Jasper School, in the county seat. One shows the beginning of construction on a $2.4 million auditorium, music, and physical education facility, and another shows a 4th grade teacher preparing his classroom for the new school year. The final items announce a write-in candidate for county judge a "FireWise" event at the Ponca fire station.

The August 21 issue shows a photo of the winning fair parade float and tells of the 3d Dist. U.S. Congressman's "mobile office" visiting the county seat. (This district has been held by a Republican for decades, while Arkansas' remaining three districts tend to go Democratic). The rest of the front page is all law and order. In addition to the notice of a new state trooper being assigned to the county, there are three crime-related stories.
  • One reports on a March 2008 domestic violence incident in which a man shot his girlfriend in the fact, stabbed her around the throat, stabbed the neighbors with whom she had taken refuge, and then set fire to his trailer. The man is expected to enter into a plea agreement. I first reportedthis matter back in March.
  • One clarifies that a pastor, who two weeks earlier was reported to have been charged with rape, has instead been charged with incest because the 17-year-old with who he had sex is his adopted daughter.
  • The last indicates that a federal subpeona has been served on the former director of the County's Office of Emergency Management. That former director has been called to testify before a federal grand jury. The story suggests that federal investigators who were in the county earlier this summer found some indications of misuse of federal Office of Homeland Security grant funds. Time will tell what's up with this subpeona, but reading this reminded me of the federal indictment of the county judge for vote buying a coupla' decades ago. He was convicted and served time in prison.
With so much of this news about violence within families in Newton County, I'll share these relevant statistics:
  • The less densely populated a place and the greater its distance from an urban area, the more likely a killer is to be a family member or intimate partner of his (or her) victim. Adria Gallup-Black, Rural and Urban Trends in Family and Intimate Partner Homicide: 1980-1999 (2004).
  • Rural perpetrators of intimate abuse are nearly twice as likely as their urban counterparts to inflict severe physical injuries, as by using a weapon. They are twice as likely to destroy property during the event. T.K. Logan, et al., Qualitative Differences Among Rural and Urban Intimate Violence Victimization Experiences and Consequences: A Pilot Study, 18 J. of Fam. Violence 83, 86 (2003).
  • Finally, at least one study suggests that state troopers are more likely to take crimes of famiy violence seriously and to pursue them fully than are local law enforcement, such as sheriff and deputies, who are more socially embedded in the community. Neil Websdale, Rural Woman Battering and the Justice System (1998).

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