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Year passes since murder in Jēkabpils; authorities work on prevention

This month will mark one year since the brutal murder when Leons Rusiņš killed his ex-wife in front of their child and the wife's mother. It was not only the atrocity that shocked the public but also the failure of law enforcement authorities to prevent it – they knew that Rusiņš had been stalking the woman. Latvian Television's De Facto looked at what has changed in prevention work and penalties for stalkers over the year.

The number of calls to family conflicts has fallen from over 11,000 in 2020 to around 8,000 last year, but importantly, the number of police decisions on separation has risen from 461 to almost 900.

Temporary protection, or restraining order, is also more often ordered by courts, and the penalties for breaching them are more frequent, and more often the punishment is jail. According to the Judicial Administration, imprisonment or temporary detention for breaching restraining orders was imposed 28 times in 2022 and 87 times in 2023.

The State Police admits that the higher activity is due to efforts to correct what led to murder last year.

Armands Ruks, chief of the State Police, told De Facto: "It was indeed found that the system does not work as it should. I would say that what has changed in the work of the police is that we are no longer alone in this whole process which is called criminal proceedings, and it is precisely for this type of crime."

"We have achieved more inter-institutional cooperation and understanding, a more common understanding in society of what violence is", Ruks said.

However, the possibility of imposing harsher sentences for violence and harassment is not yet seen in legislation.

After Rusiņš's murder, the Parliament increased the maximum sentence in the Criminal Law to three years for threats, harassment and violation of a restraining order, instead of the three months previously provided for. After the amended articles of the law, the database of rulings contains three such judgments, all of which entered into force at least half a year after Rusiņš's murder. They do not impose a real prison sentence, let alone the maximum, on any of the perpetrators.

One of the cases states that the woman was stalked by her ex-partner for more than a year from the summer of 2022, also after the incident in Jēkabpils. The judgment reads: "[the man] repeatedly came to her, demanded to be let into the flat, looked for any belongings that a man might have left behind, went crazy, insane, humiliated and insulted her, as well as made unwanted and prolonged communications. [the woman was threatened with physical violence against her and her son, as well as against another man, if [the woman, was in an intimate relationship with either of them. In the text messages, [man] stated that if [woman] wanted the aforementioned persons to live, she should commit suicide herself."

The man also disconnected the electricity to the woman's flat several times, blew out the tires of the car, scrawled abusive texts on the car's body and the apartment door.

Five days after the restraining order, he started writing to her, and a few days later he tried to enter the apartment. He was sentenced to a year and a half of probation supervision and €2,300 in compensation for moral and material damages.

Judge Ivars Dzindzuks of the Latgale District Court, who tried the case, explained that he did not see any grounds for imprisonment.

"In this particular case, the person admitted guilt and expressed remorse. Another point [..] was that he had previously been ordered by the court to undergo a course on violence reduction, and he had completed it by the time of the trial. We were therefore convinced that he was sincere in his desire to change his behavior," the judge reasoned.

From the police to the judiciary, there is still work to be done in understanding crimes of violence and harassment.

The Ministry of Justice says it is working on changes. It is also preparing its own analysis of how the changes to the law introduced so far are working, as it has until May 1 to submit such a report to the Crime Prevention Council chaired by the Prime Minister.

Lauma Paegļkalna, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry, said that a year is not yet enough time to see the full picture.

"We will probably see in two or three years how effective it is. But in small steps, I hope that the process is set in motion to actually deal with these cases quickly, efficiently and give reasonable justice to both sides on the outcome," she said.

As for what remains to be done, the State Police also hopes that from January next year it will be possible to put into practice electronic monitoring bracelets for stalkers, which will signal if they are approaching a person they are forbidden to approach.

Murder suspect Leons Rusiņš has not been found to this day.


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