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In Birmingham, Many Homicides Appear Connected to Domestic Violence Complaints

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Alaina Bookman

AL.com

This is another installment in The Birmingham Times/AL.com/CBS42 joint series, “Beyond the Violence.” Click here to sign up for the newsletter. Contribute to aid Alaina Bookman’s violence prevention reporting at AL.com today.

As Birmingham tackles a homicide crisis, paying more attention to domestic violence, advocates and law enforcement say, could help stop incidents before they become deadly.

In 2022, police received 8,269 calls about domestic incidents. Police made 701 arrests related to domestic violence, according to data shared by the department. In comparison, through Sept. 30, 2023, there have been 5,469 incidents reported and 461 arrests made – a hopeful indicator of a year-over-year decrease.

But numbers remain above pre-pandemic levels, according to police. And many homicides appear connected to domestic complaints.

“The homicide rate is going up,” said Special Victims Unit Lieutenant Rebeca Herrera. “The violent crime has increased in the past couple years. If we look at the history of the people involved in violent crimes, we see that an overwhelming majority of them have some type of history of domestic violence.”

In a recent report, One Place Metro Alabama Family Justice Center found 74% of homicide offenders in Jefferson County in 2021 had a history of domestic violence. They also found there is a 500% increase in homicide risk when there is a gun present in domestic violence situations.

“Domestic violence, is community violence,” One Place Clinical Director Danielle Mars said.

TiMira Marchell Pullom, 28, was fatally shot by her child’s father on Sept. 17. (Valerie Pullom)

TiMira Marchell Pullom, 28, was fatally shot by her child’s father on Sept. 17.

TiMira’s mother, Valerie Pullom, is now left to care for her toddler grandchild. She said it is now her responsibility to pass on her daughter’s legacy of kindness by teaching her grandson the importance of nonviolence.

“I would like everyone to know that domestic violence is real. TiMira is a product of it. There’s so much violence, we can’t solve problems through violence. Pay attention, ask questions, go out of your way to help people,” she said.

Police Response

Over the past five years, domestic violence calls averaged at 9,070 a year in Birmingham. And arrests for domestic violence occurrences average at 745 a year.

Police say the volume of cases demands an increase in law enforcement to meet the needs of domestic violence victims.

Herrera said staffing shortages among law enforcement has made it hard to address the many domestic violence cases. She said victims and their families often feel neglected by detectives when there is a lack of communication during investigations.

“There are a lot of victims who lose faith in the department and the process. They think that we’re not working on their case and not pursuing justice for their family members or themselves,” Herrera said. “We just want to let them know, ‘hey, we haven’t forgotten about you.’”

The Birmingham Police Department has received a $300,000 grant to advocate for victims of violence. Organizers hope the program will ensure victims do not lose faith in law enforcement.

The police force’s new program will appoint advocates whose sole job is to bridge the communication gap by disseminating information between law enforcement and victims.

The advocacy program will also help victims navigate the legal and judicial process. Advocates will provide victims with resources for counseling, support groups and victim compensation.

Herrera said these tactics will aid in educating communities about the resources available for cases of domestic violence.

Organizers are working on setting program guidelines and hiring advocacy personnel to continue to see a decrease in the number of domestic violence cases.

What The Data Says

Herrera said many people keep abuse to themselves and are not willing to involve law enforcement because cases can be extremely intimate, victims may be financially reliant on their abusers or have children with them.

“We see a severe assault case or homicide, but nothing had been reported prior. A lot of people don’t report,” Herrera said. “By no means do the number of domestic violence calls actually constitute the true quantity of domestic violence that citizens are experiencing. These are just the ones that reach out.”

One year ago, Pullom told her mother she no longer wanted to be in a relationship with Arkeem Tiyon Marshall and asked him to leave, yet he stayed. Pullom’s mother said she was unaware of any abuse prior to her death.

On the night of the shooting, Pullom told Marshall to leave and had neatly packed his belongings. He shot her in the presence of their toddler son and fled the scene, according to police.

Valerie Pullom recalled getting a call from her daughter and listening to her last moments.

Marshall has been charged with capital murder and is awaiting trial. The charge is capital because Pullom’s child was present at the time of the deadly shooting.

Herrera advises people to document when they are threatened or abused so law enforcement can advocate for the victims.

More Resources

The Birmingham Police Department is working with One Place to walk victims through the entire process of seeking help and resources.

One Place provides a central location for resources and services related to domestic violence such as making reports, filing protection from abuse orders, relocation and more.

“It’s all about communication and collaboration. When we talk about barriers and what can be changed in the system, its communication amongst all the partner agencies and the willingness to collaborate. It’s not just law enforcement that can solve this. We’re not going to arrest our way out of domestic violence,” One Place Deputy Director Kelly Klehm said.

“Ideally, every victim would feel unashamed to advocate for themselves, but people don’t know what resources are available.”

Herrera said she wants to spread more information about domestic violence resources.

She also said perpetrators should be receiving counseling to learn conflict resolution skills and de-escalation tactics to decrease recidivism rates.

“When it comes to the system, everything is put on the victim. The victim has to make the report. The victim has to relocate, change their address. The victim has to testify. They have to change their phone number.” Mars said. “The system doesn’t make it easy on victims.”

Mars said she hopes field officers will treat every domestic violence call with sensitivity and patience.

She also wants to see the courts do better. She said there are some domestic violence cases from 2020 that are only going to trial this year.

In 2020, there were 9,263 domestic violence calls which rose to 9,417 in 2021. Herrera said this rise in violence was a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to quarantine.

Pre-pandemic numbers were also high, with 9,365 reports in 2018 and 9,035 in 2019.

“We’re asking our partners and we’re asking our community to be more innovative when it comes to helping victims of crime,” Mars said.

Klehm said One Place is working to increase the number of police departments who partner with the advocacy group to encourage officers to be more involved in domestic violence advocacy work.

“By working here, the information they learn and that trauma-informed lens then goes back to their agencies,” Klehm said.

One Place organizers are hoping to create a larger coalition that spans across the state to help more victims.

“Violence as a whole is a very cyclical phenomenon. If children grow up in domestic violence situations, that’s all they know. They don’t know that it’s not appropriate to be struck, to be talked down to, to be verbally, emotionally or physically abused by their partner,” Herrera said.

She said officers often speak to children and young adults about how to recognize an unhealthy relationship and the importance of conflict resolution.

Pullom said she will eventually have to tell her grandson that his father killed his mother. She is determined to teach her grandson conflict resolution skills.

“She was always smiling. Considerate, helpful, kind hearted, peaceful, willing to go out of her way for people. She was sweet as pie,” Pullom said. “I want him to be just like his mom. I want him to be peaceful, kind and considerate.”

The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 800-799-7233. Victims can also text START to 88788. Operators are available 24/7 in English and Spanish.

 

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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