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  • Jim Schroeder

Domestic Violence and Law Enforcement

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Did you know the old saying “rule of thumb” refers to an outdated law that a husband could only hit his spouse with an object smaller than the width of his thumb? Domestic violence has occurred since the dawn of time.  It is a sensitive subject that is talked about in hushed tones.

Not surprisingly, there are cases where not enough evidence supports convictions, leaving victims vulnerable to future attacks. Consequently, how do law enforcement officers view and respond to domestic violence instances at present? How do they prepare to react to a call, and how are they affected daily by their jobs as first responders?

Law enforcement officers are instructed to handle all domestic violence calls as high-priority or even life-threatening. Even if a victim has decided to cancel their request for assistance, many departments will follow through to ensure the safety and welfare of all parties involved. When available, officers will respond in teams of two or more to further ensure safety and to manage tasks where parties are separated to preserve evidence. Once entering a scene, police are trained to approach carefully, meaning they may choose to arrive without the use of bright lights or loud sirens. They will often listen for activity before announcing their presence, which leads to improved security and upholding of proof, like ongoing fights.

Once all is safe, officers will begin to collect evidence from what they see and by conducting interviews of victims and possible offenders as well as any other witnesses. Pictures and audio are sometimes taken to further document the incident. Officers are then faced with the decision to issues citations or make arrests where necessary by following the laws and procedures which sometimes involve a “mandatory arrest policy.” The victim can then seek other assistance while the assailant is being detained or arrested.

Law enforcement officers will encounter lots of different scenarios during their time on the force. In some cases, victims will change their minds. This is often due to fear of further abuse by their partner. This can make the situation challenging for police to deal with as the victim is refusing their help. Another factor that weighs heavily on officers handling a domestic violence call is the potential for a physically dangerous circumstance where they are at higher risk in comparison to other calls. The assailant can be combative upon their arrival and may even possess a weapon. There are other times when officers will have arrived too late and the domestic violence call has turned into a homicide and/or suicide investigation.

It’s important to treat law enforcement with respect because of all they go through to keep citizens safe. If you ever witness an incidence of domestic violence or experience one firsthand, it is imperative that you cooperate with those sworn to protect and serve. As the first and often only other party involved at the scene, providing police with as much detail as possible will help strengthen your case should you have to appear in court to prosecute your assailant or defend yourself from false accusations.

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