Domestic violence cases difficult for law officers

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 2, 2004

Domestic violence calls are not only dangerous for the victims but also a hazard for law enforcement officers who must deal with them.

Domestic violence calls are the leading cause of officer deaths, said Demopolis Public Safety Director Jeff Manuel. (Traffic stops are second.)

An officer doesn’t always know what awaits them at a domestic scene, Manuel said.

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Anything can happen in such an emotional situation. Not only will the suspect possibly turn on an officer, but Greene County Sheriff Johnny Isaac said the victim might also turn on an officer. "All they want you to do is calm him down or settle him down and then leave," said Greensboro Police Chief Claude Hamilton, "We can’t do that. If we go to a call and there are signs of violence we have to do something."

The woman will not want the man arrested because he is the breadwinner, Manuel said. Often, "the best thing we can do is separate them," Hamilton said.

Officers are not always given enough information by dispatchers, Manuel said. Valuable information could be provided on whether the suspect has a gun or there have been previous DV calls at that address.

Robberies may be down in Greensboro, but Chief Hamilton is dealing with more DV cases. "I don’t know what the answer is," he said. The majority of the cases involve younger people. "It is rare that we go on a call where there is a person my age (45)," Hamilton said. "…They don’t have the patience, and they’re not willing to compromise."

In the case of a domestic violence call, an officer must make a report, Manuel said. If there is some type of physical injury, you have to make an arrest.

Isaac said he tries to take a man-to-man approach to a DV call if there has been no physical injury or damage. "You can’t put everybody in jail," he said. Isaac tries to talk sense into a suspect, but he has been disappointed many times when a suspect doesn’t heed his warning.

Law officials would like to avoid the time and paperwork of a DV arrest, Isaac said, especially when the victim will not testify in court and the man goes free.

Manuel said people would not believe the man-hours officers spend on DV cases.

How frustrating can DV cases be for officers? Isaac said he has gone home with severe headaches after dealing with a case of a repeat batterer where the victim will not swear out a warrant.

It is especially frustrating when it is the same situations over and over, Manuel said. It is "a vicious cycle," he said.

Suspects are getting craftier, and law enforcement is seeing more cases of verbal abuse over the phone. "That stops, in most cases, before you get there." Manuel said.

It is difficult to train young officers for DV calls, Manuel said. The cases are not simply black and white. "You’re dealing with two personalities (at a DV scene). We all come from different segments of society so we may not know what one culture believes in.

The law is intended to make the officer the bad guy in that situation so they can make the arrest, and the suspect will hopefully blame the officer not the victim for the arrest.

However, victims must take the responsibility to testify in court, Manuel said.

Law officers hope to get ministers more involved in helping address this social problem. "Ministers know a lot about what is going on," Manuel said. They are hearing from the victims long before law enforcement learns about the problem. "We’ve got to get these people (ministers) educated and realizing it is a problem in society…they’re keeping the problem under the rocks."

Manuel also stressed that domestic violence is not only found in the poor sections of town. It can be found in the wealthier sections too; it is just not reported as much.