Addressing Domestic Violence
The State of Connecticut is introducing stronger legislative action to address domestic violence. This is a step in the right direction. However, law enforcement’s ability to respond comes down to training. The more knowledgeable an officer is, the more likely he or she is to respond appropriately.
Law enforcement has a duty to intervene in a domestic violence situation. Officers can be called to a disturbance or simply to a situation where a husband and his wife are arguing. All incidents are addressed based on the facts at hand. Officers on the scene need to understand it may be the potential victim who first initiates physical contact to overcome the aggressor.
This is not a difficult concept to understand. If an officer is face-to-face with a suspect armed with a firearm does the officer need to allow the suspect to fire upon him first or does the officer have the right to overcome the imminent threat? In such a scenario, an officer must protect himself and innocent bystanders. There is no difference for a person taking action to overcome victimization.
In domestic violence incidents, police need to document what happened, as well as how it happened. Too much information does not exist. Documentation is the foundation required to initiate an arrest. Officers need to get it right. Promptly addressing the circumstances at hand is critical in maintaining the integrity of the case. Officers need to identify the victim; if there is one and afford this person the protection of the law. When a domestic violence incident occurs in the presence of children, they too are victimized.
Victims of domestic violence may experience physical, mental, and emotional scars, or a combination of each. This type of victimization may take a lifetime to correct. Various states use a mandatory arrest policy when domestic violence is committed. In conjunction with such an arrest, a restraining order may be issued by a court against a defendant. Violators of restraining orders will be arrested immediately, affording the victim a sense of security.
Domestic violence policy and procedures incorporate state guidelines and mandates protecting the victim. Uniform officers are the first responders. If a mandatory arrest is initiated the circumstances at the time of arrest will determine if the domestic violence officer is required on scene or will conduct a follow-up investigation.
The role of the domestic violence officer requires, but is not limited to, maintaining contact with the victim of a domestic violence incident, the family, and school representatives on a need-to-know basis. Other tasks include ensuring restraining orders on file are not violated, as well as follow through with representatives of Child Protective Services. Interaction with outside agencies working within this field helps prevent the recurrence of a domestic violence incident. The one ingredient necessary to initiate and maintain this approach is training.
Most smaller police departments cannot afford to send more than one or two officers for training at the same time. Nevertheless, training is imperative to ensure that all officers are competent in the various police specialty areas. A domestic violence officer may also be used as the department’s domestic violence training officer, maximizing their use to the department.
If the steps I mention above are taken, each agency, regardless of size, has the means to enact an efficient, effective, up-to-date policy at a time all of law enforcement is required to do more with less.
In 1985, the landmark case of Thurman vs. City of Torrington CT initiated changes in the domestic violence law. This law addressed the need for the victim to be protected by police. t Domestic violence is now a crime in which the police may take action even if the victim declines to press charges.
The strength and vigor of the law is only as strong as the enforcement practices in place. Effective police management is the key to overcoming incidents of domestic violence Law enforcement is at its best if the first response to a domestic violence incident is the last.
Training is not an expense. It is an investment! Training help is available. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) provides many types of training at no cost.