St. Paul launches new task force to combat domestic violence

The St. Paul City Attorney’s office joined a new task force to improve the fight against domestic violence. The initiative aims to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Domestic violence has decreased over the last six years in St. Paul. Cases are down from nearly 900 to 560 since 2012, however, the decline is one Lyndsey Olson calls only a small measure of progress. Ironically, during this Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Minnesota saw three domestic violence homicides over the span of eight days.

“Every case counts,” City Attorney Olson told FOX 9 Saturday. “Nationally, if someone has access to firearms, that increases the homicide rate in domestic cases by 500 percent, which is just huge,” she added.

The task force is a collaboration between the St. Paul and Ramsey County Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, local criminal justice, and community partners. All ask critical questions from the moment a domestic violence call is placed.

“Does this person own weapons? How are we getting those weapons out of the hands of that person? What do we need for victim safety?” Olson asked. 

The effort streamlines communication between all pieces of the justice system.

“We have everybody at the table. We have law enforcement, we have advocates, we have the prosecutor, the defense council… and everyone is talking about how we can move forward for the safety of victims,” she said.

Although domestic violence cases in St. Paul have dropped 40 percent since 2012, Olson says the effort will better enforce Minnesota's 2014 Domestic Firearm Act. The law requires anyone convicted of domestic violence to surrender their guns to an authorized third party. 

“Now, we really have the opportunity to really pinpoint those areas that need additional time and attention,” Olson said.

Those grey areas include when an abuser turns their guns over to a friend or close relative. 

Also, while the task force will help close the “boyfriend loophole,” which allows access to guns by physically abusive ex-boyfriends who haven’t been ordered restrained or convicted, the work does not close the loophole for stalking. 

Olson tells FOX 9, however, the taskforce may make recommendations to close the loophole with additional gun restrictions for those who have abused dating partners they do not live with or share a child with.

“That is a continuing area of concern for advocates, victims, families and us in the system,” she said.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who appointed Olson last year, wrote in a statement that “addressing the harmful effects of domestic violence on children and families is vital," and that the task force “will help us better respond to the needs of our community."

Meanwhile, Governor Tim Walz on October 1 issued a proclamation declaring October Domestic Violence Awareness Month. 

That morning, Minnesota’s statewide coalition of programs working to address domestic violence – formerly the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, now known as Violence Free Minnesota - released two reports on the state’s victims of intimate partner homicides. One report provides documentation of Minnesota’s 14 victims of domestic violence homicide in 2018. The other is a 30-year retrospective on the state’s 685 known victims of intimate partner homicide. 

“We have spent 30 years keeping the memory of Minnesota’s 685 victims of intimate partner homicide alive in the hearts and minds of advocates, policy makers, government employees, and community members,” said Violence Free Minnesota executive director, Liz Richards. “Through our grief, we remain optimistic that through commitment, collaboration, and community action we can achieve a violence free state.”