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Violent crimes increase in Victoria (Video)

By By Caty Hirst - CHIRST@VICAD.COM
Feb. 16, 2013 at 9:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 17, 2013 at 8:18 p.m.

Wanda Mathis wipes the tears away as she recalls the evening in 2010 when her husband shot her, her son and her granddaughter before killing himself.

Violence clouded much of her life, and in many ways, it still does.

The bullet holes on the side of her house not only provide a peek into her home but also give a glimpse of the brutal past Wanda Mathis, 61, barely survived.

The scars on her hand, wrist and chest and the metal casings still in her lungs are a constant reminder of July 21, 2010, when her husband shot her four times, her granddaughter once and her son three times before he killed himself.

Mathis said though her son and granddaughter survived, her family has not been the same since.

"There is so much hatred toward him for doing this," Mathis said, adding the cruelty is hard to reconcile.

Even though the overall crime rate in Victoria is the lowest it has been since 2009, the rate of violent crimes - murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault - is the highest since 2009 and the third highest since 2004.

An increase in aggravated assaults, up 17.1 percent from 2011, is propelling the increase. Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig said he is changing the strategy to combat the increase.

"What we will do, from the police department's perspective, we will pay additional attention to those individuals who we come into contact with on a regular basis who we believe are more likely to be involved in violent crime," Craig said.

He said many of the aggressors are repeat offenders, so he hopes a relentless follow-up approach will curb the violence - the same strategy he implemented to target narcotic crimes.

"One of the things I mentioned last year was that we are going to have a strong focus on drug-related crimes throughout the city. I believe, as I said then, there is a correlation between drug offenders and property crimes," Craig said.

Robbery and burglary rates, for example, are the lowest since at least 2004, dropping about 30 percent each from 2011.

Ginny Stafford, chief executive officer of Mid-Coast Family Services, said many of the batterers she sees in her office are not only repeat offenders but also substance abusers.

"Unfortunately ... it becomes a learned behavior. It is how they learn to express their desire to control or their anger or frustration," Stafford said.

However, Craig attributed much of the violent crime increase to a 2009 law which made strangulation assault a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor.

The new categorization added another crime to those being labeled as violent crimes, thereby increasing the number in recent years.

Still, Craig said his department plans to take the offensive as much as possible. He added that focusing on assaults could possibly lower the homicide rate because many murderers have assault records.

"One homicide is one too many. We are not going to be happy until we can get that to a zero," Craig said of the five murders reported in 2012.

Mathis hopes violent crimes will decrease in Victoria and that more of the abused will reach out for help - even if it is just to talk.

"We stay and take it because we are scared if we don't take it, what else is going to happen to us?" Mathis said. "But there is always a way to get out of it."

Stafford said violent crimes, especially domestic crimes, can be very hard to overcome and victims should seek counseling.

"It just distorts your whole vision of relationships and the world as a whole because you think of that intimate partner ... as having your back and being a protector. When they turn into the aggressor, it leads to long-term issues because that is not the natural way of things," Stafford said.

Mathis said she learned an important lesson about love and respect since 2010.

"You have got to love yourself first before you can love someone else. And if you don't have respect when you are in a relationship, there is no way it will work out," Mathis said.

Mathis said she did not find that love and respect from her husband but has since found it from somewhere else.

Her four dogs who adore and protect her, she said, help fill a void in her life by giving her someone to love, someone who listens and someone to love her back.

"They don't hurt me," Mathis said, battling tears as she stroked Sweet Pea, a small dog she rescued from the side of the road. "I can come and talk to them, and they just listen to me and bark at me and talk to me back. And love me, love me, love me."

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