Rise in domestic violence may be linked to oil spill, claims frustrations, officials say


FOLEY, Alabama – A recent rise in domestic violence cases across southwest Alabama could be linked to stress from the BP oil spill and the claims process, according to officials analyzing the data.

In Foley, for example, where many of those who found work during the oil spill were left searching for jobs when the Deepwater Horizon well was capped, police have reported a “significant” jump in calls and arrests during the last three months.

Police officials were reluctant to tie the rise directly to the spill, but Paige Rucker, a state director of Project Rebound, responsible for Baldwin and Mobile counties, said that much of the tension in homes across the area is because of financial stress caused by the spill.

“It does go hand-in-hand with the oil spill,” Rucker said. “They’re in a situation they’ve never been in before, never had to think about. They’re independent, prideful people, and they have all this stress going on in the home, and it finally hits a boiling point. They’re frustrated, they’re angry, they’re trying to deal with this all at once.”

Rucker’s group regularly meets with people involved in domestic violence cases and offers counseling to those in need.

Many people have no history of domestic violence, and in most instances, Rucker said, the incident is a one-time occurrence.

Because of the rise in Foley, police have devoted an investigator to oversee all domestic violence cases, according to Lt. David White.

From August through October last year, police received 154 calls for domestic violence, and from November through January, police received 178 calls.

That’s an increase of more than 15 percent.

“While we do think that the oil spill has caused stress in this region of America and the state, we can’t necessarily say that this is due to the oil spill,” White said. “We don’t have any evidence that it’s directly related.”

In Gulf Shores, meanwhile, police provided statistics for 10 months prior to the spill and 10 months following the spill.

From July 2009 to April 2010, there were 215 calls for domestic violence, and from April 2010 to this month, there were 287 calls. That represents a 33 percent increase.

The number of reports taken by officers in response to those calls jumped by 53 percent, to 223 from 146.

But police spokesman Lt. Bill Cowan said, “We did not drill down into the narratives of the reports for direct references to the disaster.”

In neighboring Orange Beach, however, the 2010 yearly total for crime was down by about 33 percent from the previous year, said Chief Billy Wilkins.

Because of the oil spill, the tourist community saw a significant drop in visitors, and “a lot of our domestic violence cases are from visitors,” he said. “We didn’t have as many visitors, so we didn’t have as many cases.”

He cited an “uptick” in domestic violence toward the end of 2010, but said that domestic situations typically heighten during the holiday season.

“We saw the effect of (the oil spill), we just did not have the numbers that at one time I thought we might have,” Wilkins said.

An influx of mental health workers in the area may have helped stave off crime, the chief said.

Project Rebound started receiving an increased number of calls late last year, Rucker said, and “a lot of times when you help those families with the resources, the tensions are eased in the household.”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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