FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
Most police officers know that domestic violence can be brutal and nasty. They become very familiar with the phenomenon all too soon when they hit the street and respond to calls for service that are, oftentimes, repeatedly to the same household or involving the same victims on more than one occasion. Though officers begin their careers with energy and enthusiasm, their zeal for change and a valid belief of wanting to make a difference can soon become jaded by what they encounter over and over again.
The recent high profile incident in Los Angeles involving R&B singer Chris Brown, and his girlfriend, Robyn Rihanna Fenty--better known as Rihanna--is illustrative of the nature of domestic violence that leads to significant frustration for police officers as well as other professionals in the criminal justice system. Rihanna's discovery of a three-page text message on her boyfriend's cell phone from a woman he had been previously sexually involved with led to an argument which escalated into a very violent situation in the car which Brown was driving.
According to the police report, Brown tried to force Rihanna out of the car, and he punched her in the eye, face, arms, legs, and feet. He allegedly bit her on her left ear, placed her in a headlock, and applied pressure to her carotid arteries, causing loss of breath to the point of almost losing consciousness, and threatened to kill her.
Brown was charged with two counts of assault likely to cause great bodily injury and making criminal threats. He was released on bond and later apologized for his behavior. His apology followed the similar pattern of most abusers.
Not breaking the pattern
The alleged actions of Chris Brown demonstrate a particularly brutal attack. The photo taken of Rihanna depicted a severely battered victim. In reality, most police officers would desire that the victim disassociate the abuser from her life and follow through by cooperatively moving forward with prosecution to hold the abuser accountable for his actions. However, as most officers soon realize, the revolving cycle of abuse rarely lends itself to ideal conditions and, for the most part, victims return to their abusers offering them forgiveness and believing that things can change for the better.
Rihanna, who could have set an appropriate example for all victims of domestic abuse by extricating herself from the abuser and progressing forward without him in her life, did just the opposite. She requested that the judge not prohibit her from having contact with her boyfriend and, subsequently, was back in his company and spending a weekend with him soon after the violent episode. Like many victims, she easily succumbed to the pursuant "honeymoon phase" of the cycle of violence, the promises for potential change, and is now caught up in the dysfunctional pattern that negates her own best interests and personal safety. Rihanna sends the wrong message to the abuser as well as to the community. As a high profile victim, she is a disturbing example and poor role model for victims of domestic abuse.
The reaction and behavior police officers frequently encounter in domestic violence cases, like that of Chris Brown and Rihanna, is frustrating. Officers expend significant effort with dissatisfying results. Officers want accountability. They want the victim to hold the offender accountable, and they also want the criminal justice system to hold the abuser accountable to the extent legally possible. Officers want to know that prosecutors take their cases seriously, possess some street savvy, and are fully prepared with intensive knowledge of their cases prior to the court hearing. When these components are lacking, police officers commonly feel as though they are spinning their wheels. It is no wonder that cops become jaded, cynical, and develop a lingering attitude of "why bother?"
Keeping the faith
How can officers maintain the proper perspective and continue to effectively do their jobs, without a defeatist attitude, despite the constant impediments and negativity that embrace domestic violence? First and foremost, police officers must remain cognizant of doing their jobs properly, no matter what the potential outcome may be. They must always write thorough and detailed incident reports that provide vitally necessary information needed by both prosecutors and victim service providers. In the case of Brown, the police officer wrote a comprehensive and painstakingly accurate report that some jurisdictions would envy. Police officers should never believe their efforts are to no avail and, consequently, make a decision to merely write the bare essentials without documenting the entire incident in a meticulously accurate fashion. All-inclusive reports enable their professional allies to determine the best way to proceed with the case and intervene to assist the victim with the appropriate intervention that may be needed to not only change the victim's circumstance but individual outlook as well.
At the same time, officers must realize that their presence may produce satisfying results with positive impact in some situations, whereas in others it will not. Sometimes they will never know. However, officers must remain cognizant of the fact that they must always treat victims with respect, sensitivity, and professionalism regardless of what personal opinion they hold. Their recognition and acceptance of that probability early on will diffuse some level of disgruntlement and will enable officers to continue to do their jobs as effectively as possible. The support of supervisors well-versed in domestic violence is also critical for officers to maintain the proper perspective. Officers may need their backing when they make an arrest and pursue follow-up with a case.
It is also important for officers to become well acquainted with victim specialists, victim/witness coordinators, and others who will likely be assisting the victim in the aftermath of the crime. The line of communication with their counterparts is important for all parties because it provides them an opportunity to share their concerns and feelings about the incident. The professional exchange can effectively alleviate significant levels of stress and aggravation. Collaborative efforts between police and victim service providers can often provide important insights that can assist both sides with knowing the proper approach to take with a victim.
Maintaining appropriate boundaries and having a life outside work is critically important for those who regularly work with domestic violence cases. Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and victim specialists and advocates need to step outside their daily realm of professional dealings with violence and abuse and divert their attention to some pleasurable and fulfilling activities. They need to nourish a sense of humor and engage in some laughter. In so doing, they will likely renew their energy levels, readjust their attitudes, and refresh their determination.
The case involving Rihanna and Chris Brown serves as a reminder that domestic violence is always serious and fundamentally dangerous. It illustrates the critical need to hold abusers accountable for their actions and encourage and assist victims to do the same. Law enforcement professionals must never diminish the importance of this challenge or relinquish their motivation to make a difference.