Bexar County data shows startling increase in pending family violence cases in 2020

Domestic violence dashboard newly established by district attorney’s office

Due to a growing backlog in pending domestic violence cases, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said Thursday he plans to ask the commissioners court for additional resources and staffing.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, experts have been concerned about an increase in domestic violence incidents and shelters have seen an increase in demand.

In a first for the district attorney’s office, officials created interactive dashboards to show the increase prosecutors are seeing on their end.

The first dashboard shows the number of incoming family violence and sexual assault cases comparing September 2019 to September 2020.

The data does not only show a rise in incoming cases, from 637 in 2019 to 771 in 2020, but also shows an increase of bookings in the Bexar County Jail on family violence charges.

The second dashboard shows the increase in pending cases since March 16, when the pandemic led to a pause in jury trials.

Before jury trials were canceled amid the pandemic, there were a total of 4,635 pending family violence cases, including both felony and misdemeanor offenses. Now, that number has risen to 7,208 — a 55% increase over the past seven months.

“The facts are, my staff cannot continue to handle these cases without additional resources. This is why I plan to ask Bexar County Commissioners to allow us to increase staffing to specifically address the growing backlog of misdemeanor cases we know will need our attention when courts can resume in-person proceedings and jury trials,” Gonzales said in a statement.

Gonzales said he will need funding for at least two additional prosecutors to address the problem when the pandemic-dictated court shutdown is over.

Marta Pelaez, of the Battered Women’s Shelter, praised Gonzales for creating the dashboard, saying it keeps everyone informed.

“There are victims who need to know what’s going on,” Pelaez said. “And there is law enforcement, those of us who provide services and there is the community at large.”

The district attorney’s office said the data will be updated often, and they will try to create similar dashboards for their other divisions.

A local domestic violence symposium kicked off Thursday in an effort to help the public recognize red flags for domestic violence and how they can help.

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About the Authors:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.

Paul Venema is a courthouse reporter for KSAT with more than 25 years experience in the role.