In 2008, Isol Cotto of Stone Ridge NY in Ulster County was gunned down in the middle of the night by her batterer, a retired officer. Isol’s abuser bailed himself out of jail with his own credit card and was released in the early morning hours, free to re-victimize Isol. Isol had a history of domestic violence and her case was high-risk. Her death could have been prevented.
Having worked with the family after this murder/suicide case, I quickly learned that Isol Cotto was not aware of and not registered for a service that could have saved her life-V.I.N.E, a victim notification system offered in every state that alerts victim via telephone when an offender is released.
After reaching out to local police departments in the area after this homicide, I also learned that many officers were unaware of V.I.N.E., and a few had to scramble to find the V.I.N.E. pamphlets in order to give any explanation about the service. After doing further research, I discovered that local police departments received pamphlets on V.I.N.E. once per year and domestic violence training for officers was limited. Domestic violence training, given by domestic violence service providers, is still limited and lacking.
As a victim of domestic violence, I was also unaware of this notification system. I was never verbally informed by law enforcement about this service when I was victimized in Orange County NY. Is this a coincidence? No. In fact, many victims are unaware of V.I.N.E. The lack of awareness may be due to the fact that victims do not receive a verbal notification about V.I.N.E. from first responders. Rather, V.I.N.E. information is provided to the victim with the Domestic Incident Report (DIR). Unless a victim reads through the entire report, he/she may not be aware of this life saving service.
Each and every state, county, and community must spread awareness about this life saving notification service for victims of domestic violence. One way to improve awareness about V.I.N.E. is for officers to verbally notify victims of domestic violence about this service and assist them with registration shortly after a domestic incident. This is a training issue, one that I’ve started to address in local police departments. V.I.N.E. is not a perfect system. Very often victims get short notice of a release, but it is better than no notice at all. At minimum, victims can flee and alert police if they are being threatened and are in danger.
Currently, Tri-County Crisis Center, Inc. is working on promoting awareness about the importance of a first responder verbal notification of V.I.N.E. for victims. Law enforcement is also in need of domestic violence training and we are striving to improve domestic violence response at the local and state level.
For more information, please visit www.tricountycrisiscenter.org.
To learn more about V.I.N.E. or register, call 1-888-VINE-4NY (1-888-846-3469).