Domestic Violence Case that Spurred San Francisco Reforms Comes to a Close

The high-profile murder of a San Francisco woman more than 12 years ago showed just how ineffective the city was at dealing with domestic violence cases.

The death of Claire Joyce Tempongko spurred an investigation by the Department on the Status of Women into the city’s enforcement of domestic violence policies. The Justice and Courage Oversight Panel worked with community groups to identify problems in the Police Department and propose a list of reforms.

Now the case that brought domestic violence to the headlines has come to a close. On Monday, the California Supreme Court reinstated the second-degree murder conviction of Tari Ramirez’s in a unanimous decision. In 2008, Ramirez was convicted of second-degree murder for stabbing and killing Tempongko in her Richmond apartment in front of her two children in October 2000. In 2011 a state appeals court overturned the conviction when it found that jurors were misled about the possibility of an involuntary manslaughter verdict.

Tempongko struggled with domestic violence with Ramirez, her former boyfriend, for two years. She contacted the police six times and won a restraining order against him. Despite these efforts, authorities never removed Ramirez from the home.

How effective were the city’s domestic violence reforms? The Public Press reported last year that San Francisco still lagged behind other Bay Area counties in prosecutions for domestic violence cases. That’s despite the city’s “no-drop” policy, requiring police and prosecutors to press domestic violence charges even without the cooperation of the victim whenever there is evidence for a conviction.

In the last five years, the district attorney’s domestic violence team dropped about 72 percent of all domestic violence criminal cases before they reached court.

Poor record-keeping has also hindered the Police Department’s ability to respond to domestic violence trends. The Public Press also found that the police department had failed to record reliable statistics on domestic violence between 2004 and 2011, due in part to the use of hand-tallied monthly records and shifting and unreliable crime categories. Data from these records in some years were off by a margin of hundreds of cases.

The Police Department has since upgraded its database to a system called the Crime Data Warehouse. The digital database will allow for more accurate records enable the police to analyze trends.

But the new system still has its flaws. In a follow-up story in the Public Press, some domestic violence cases were still falling through the cracks.  As many as 20 domestic violence cases per month were not immediately referred to the Special Victims Unit for investigation. If a case falls under multiple categories, arrests might not be referred to the right people, or an investigation could be delayed, the police said.

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