Public Safety

Study shows intimate partner homicides increasing

Corridor bucks trend, with guns showing up infrequently

A Cedar Rapids Police Officer badge (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A Cedar Rapids Police Officer badge (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

After nearly four decades of decline, murders by intimate partners are on the rise nationally, driven primarily by guns, according to a study looking at gender and homicide published this year.

The number of victims killed by intimate partners rose to 2,237 in 2017, a 19 percent increase from the 1,875 killed in 2014, according to James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University and one of the study’s authors.

The majority of the victims in 2017 — 1,527 — were women.

FBI data analyzed in the report showed that gun-related domestic killings increased by 26 percent from 2010 to 2017, a spike that Fox called alarming.

In 2017, more than 60 percent of the 1,527 women murdered by intimate partners — or 926 — were killed with guns.


In Eastern Iowa, Linn and Johnson counties have bucked the national trend.

In the past five years, Cedar Rapids has reported four domestic violence homicides — three in 2014 and one in 2015. Three of the deaths involved firearms, with the shooter in two of the cases also killing himself.

Iowa City police and the Linn and Johnson County sheriff’s offices reported no domestic violence homicides in the past five years.

Most cases of intimate partner violence in the two counties involve “personal weapons,” meaning hands and feet, officials said,


In domestic assaults involving weapons, “objects of opportunity” are most commonly used, said Sgt. Laura Faircloth of the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

In the past five years, knives have been the weapon of choice in most cases, with clubs or blunt objects following, data from the departments show. Though rare, motor vehicles also have also used as weapons.

“Guns are involved in less than 15 percent of all domestic abuse cases that involve a weapon, and less than 3 percent overall,” Cedar Rapids public safety spokesperson Greg Buelow said.


National statistics show more than half of all women murdered in the United States are killed by an intimate partner with a gun, and the chance of being murdered by an abusive partner increases fivefold when there is a gun in the home, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“When we respond to the scene of a domestic assault, and we learn of weapons in the house, that’s an indicator that we need to slow down and look closely at the situation,” said Eric Nieland, a domestic violence investigator with the Iowa City Police Department.

“With every case we respond to, officers do what is called a lethality assessment program, where they ask a series of questions to determine the seriousness of the situation,” he said.

Depending on the answers, the victim is connected to appropriate services before the officers leave, he said.

Nieland said it is his job to follow up on every domestic violence report and see what he can do to help.

“I’ll call them to follow up, see what we can do to help the situation and connect them to services that can help them with what they need, whether that’s shelter or a safety plan or a no-contact order,” he said. “But it’s frustrating because we can only do so much.”



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Fox said the results of his domestic violence research were surprising, given that the number of such homicides have been declining for decades.

In 1976, he said, 3,275 people were murdered by a romantic partner, well above the 2017 total.

He attributed the decline in recent years to fewer and later marriages, an increase in divorce, and women escaping bad relationships by going to shelters or seeking help.

“This is information we have to pay attention to,” he said. “It can’t be ignored.”


The U.S. House last month reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act — a law passed in 1994 that is meant to protect victims of sexual and domestic violence. Representatives added stricter provisions regarding domestic abusers and gun ownership.

The new provisions would close the so-called boyfriend loophole and bar those under a restraining order — or who were convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a domestic partner — from buying guns, the New York Times reported.

The bill, opposed by the National Rifle Association, is awaiting action in the Senate.

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