COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Domestic violence-related homicides in Columbus have more than tripled this year compared to last year.

On Wednesday, city, county and law enforcement leaders came together to announce a new initiative to combat the crisis. They are creating a strangulation task force using a $800,000 federal grant.

Advocates say people hear a lot about domestic violence deaths, but strangulation tends to get swept under the rug. Victims of strangulation are more than seven times more likely to be killed by their abuser within the next year.

Dianna Williams is the founder of Ohio Women Against Domestic Violence. She is also a domestic violence survivor. She founded the organization last October 2022 to help women like herself. She said she can feel the need growing.

“Our helpline is not a nationally known line, and it is based upon word of mouth. Since we started our helpline, we have received over 180 calls from African-American women in Columbus, Ohio,” Williams said.

City and county leaders say this strangulation task force is needed more now than ever. There have been 22 domestic violence-related homicides in the city in 2023, according to Columbus police.

“We have to prevent strangulation. And this task force will help do that,” said Anthony Pierson with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office. “It will allow for more collaboration between law enforcement and prosecutors on the city and county level to make sure strangulation offenders don’t fall through the cracks, the victims of strangulation also don’t fall through the cracks.”

City Attorney Zach Klein led the charge to secure the grant for the team. It will support full-time funding for a coordinator of Columbus Police’s Strangulation Team Operations for Prosecution, or “STOP.” The city will hire two full-time victim advocates with the funding.

The grant will also help provide more training on how to handle a strangulation case.

Columbus Police First Assistant Chief Lashanna Potts said when officers go on domestic violence calls, they always bring with them a nonpolice de-escalation team that specializes in handling domestic violence.

“‘STOP’ has already completed 126 cases since April, when the new law went into effect. This accounts for nearly 40% of the strangulation cases the division investigated in 2023. However, we also understand that true change comes through collaboration,” Potts said.

City leaders blame the increase on a combination of things, ranging from lax gun laws to lack of awareness.

“We have to be more aware and alert in our own friend circles, in our own families to call out domestic violence because we are rich in resources to be able to deal with it,” Klein said.

Klein has been asking judges to set a minimum bond of $500,000 for domestic violence offenses involving a firearm or serious injury.

“If the evidence is there, we are going to hold you accountable. If you are a violent individual, especially with domestic violence, especially gun violence in our community. We are going to hold you accountable is zero tolerance. Our communities and families deserve better. But we also need the judges to step up and recognize that as well,” Klein said.

He said one Franklin County judge has fully adopted that ask, and with that they have already seen a significant impact in these cases.