SAN JOSE -- As a new report shows Santa Clara County with a sharp drop in domestic violence-related deaths in 2012, a county committee says the figures offer a mere glimpse into a problem that still exists mostly in the shadows of the criminal-justice system.

The county's Domestic Violence Death Review committee -- a multiagency team encompassing police and the courts, health and social services and victim-advocacy groups -- released its annual report Thursday and bolstered it by highlighting a new law aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of proven batterers.

That the report was put out on Valentine's Day is not a coincidence.

"For victims of domestic violence, there is no Valentine's Day," said Steven Dick, a supervising deputy district attorney and the committee chairman. "Every day is a day of fear, of violence and control."

In 2012, the report states, nine people died from six instances of domestic violence in Santa Clara County. It's a drop from the 11 incidents that yielded 17 deaths the year before, but over the past 12 years the domestic violence death toll has fluctuated anywhere from the three in 2008 to a recent peak of 21 in 2003.

The report promotes a message of "Speak Up Save Lives": alerting authorities and victim advocates when domestic violence is suspected. Dick said even as his office filed 2,259 nonlethal domestic-violence cases last year -- over 43 a week -- the problem is vastly underreported and that victims have been abused an average of six times before contacting police.

"We must all make a concerted effort to become more knowledgeable about domestic violence and to speak up when we know something is wrong. The community must get involved before another victim loses their life," the report concludes.

In addition to the report, the District Attorney's Office held a panel discussion Thursday headlined by retired Silicon Valley state Sen. Elaine Alquist, who authored Senate Bill 1433, which became law last year and adds teeth to existing provisions that require those served with protective orders to surrender their firearms. The burden had rested on the alleged batterer for compliance, so the new law gives police serving the orders the ability to seize firearms in plain sight and during a lawful search.

The law also empowers judges weighing a protective order to run background checks on an alleged batterer's criminal history and firearm ownership, the latter of which is prohibited if the order is granted. Santa Clara County had such policies before the law and served as a model for the state law.

A Santa Clara County resident also spurred the law's existence. Los Gatos resident Carmen Hamady-Daou suffered untold heartbreak when in 2011 after divorcing her husband after an abusive marriage, he shot and killed their 22-year-old son Andrew and then turned the gun on himself. Ed Daou had been the subject of a protective order and was supposed to surrender his handgun, but gaps in the law meant local police were unaware whether he actually did.

Carmen Hamady-Daou vowed to honor her son's memory by instilling change and turned to the District Attorney's Office and Alquist, who gave her blessing to the cause.

"I believe the passage of the state law is a revolution," Hamady-Daou said.

Six of the nine domestic violence deaths in 2012 involved guns. The other three involved beating, arson or pill overdose.

Thursday's report offers up other sobering figures. Three of the victims were driven to suicide. Four children were orphaned. Four of the deaths occurred in public. The ages of the victims and assailants -- who were sometimes also victims -- ranged from the early 20s to past 60. Three murder charges have been filed.

Among the committee's recommendations were protecting funding for domestic-violence services and enforcement; bolster outreach and education programs; increase training for police and others who victims contact to better identify and respond to suspected domestic violence; and create policies to more effectively remove weapons from the equation.

Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.

MORE INFO
Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council Website: dvc.sccgov.org