ALBANY - New York has established a new electronic databank to help police and prosecutors better identify stalkers and protect victims by centrally listing domestic incidents from 57 counties.
Elizabeth Glazer, the governor's deputy secretary for public safety, said Wednesday that 10 police departments, three district attorneys and the Erie County Crime Analysis Center used it during a pilot program, and two dozen agencies have enrolled so far. The system is now available to authorities across New York to search approximately 244,000 records compiled electronically since September 2010.
Proprietary data from reports that police are required to write by hand when responding to a domestic incident can now be searched by address and name. The database isn't available to the public. Prosecutors have started using it to identify incidents across jurisdictions, which can constitute criminal stalking.
Many female homicide victims are killed by intimate partners, Glazer said. While overall crime has dropped significantly statewide over the past decade, domestic assaults and homicides are "still a pretty durable problem" and are often preceded by relatively small incidents, she said.
Stalking is one of the most undercharged crimes both in the state and nationally and has one of the highest correlations with domestic violence, said Amy Barasch, executive director of the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. "One of the challenges is it's a course of conduct, a series of incidents. Each taken in isolation may not be a big deal, but taken together can be an arrestable offense."
Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy said his office used the databank and found in one domestic violence case that the defendant had a prior domestic incident in another county within the past year. People often move, crossing jurisdiction lines for jobs or personal reasons, including to get away from law enforcement. The databank eliminates a blind spot, he said.
Police dispatchers also can access it to tell officers responding to a call about previous incidents at an address and whether there were threats made, arrests or access to weapons reported. New York City has a similar databank, and authorities there can access the state system.
Glenville Police Chief Michael Ranalli said his department relies a lot on prior histories at residences to try and gauge situations, including whether officers have been there many times and whether they can make an arrest or need to protect a resident even though the victim may not want that. The new system allows them to run names to see if any are from another community where they've had problems.
In New York, police are required by law to fill out reports when called to the scene of domestic incidents and leave a copy for the victim, Barasch said. The reports, formerly relegated to each agency's files, now are scanned with additional information input manually for the databank maintained by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. Officials said they didn't immediately know of other states with similar reporting requirements and databanks.
New York set up the system with a federal grant but officials plan to continue entering the estimated 175,000 domestic incident reports filed annually across upstate New York and Long Island.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said coordination of law enforcement efforts to effectively respond to complaints of domestic violence and stalking is important. The group's concern is having a mechanism in place to prevent misuse of the database, to prevent it from becoming a repository for misleading information that might tarnish someone with malicious and unfounded complaints.
New York's Criminal Procedure Law requires police to make domestic incident reports on a standard form and include victim or witness statements and whether an arrest was made. It requires keeping the reports for at least four years.