Domestic violence calls are one of the most frustrating and potentially dangerous calls that cops routinely handle. Think about that—routine and potentially dangerous. That’s a combination for disaster because it’s way too easy for complacency to set in and for officers to lose sight of the WIN (What’s Important Now?) factor. One of the most complex and challenging cases of my career dealt with a DV case that evolved into a double homicide and kidnapping. A disgruntled boyfriend who had just been dishonorably discharged from the military stalked his girlfriend and grabbed her as she was leaving work. A friend who was picking her up and a passerby tried to intervene and were shot dead. The former boyfriend later released the victim and went to a military base where he tried to confront his former commander but ended up killing himself when military police arrived.
As I write this, the lead story in the local newspaper is about a 19-year-old DV victim who was found dead on a college campus shortly after obtaining a restraining order against her 37-year-old estranged husband. These cases are obviously the extremes, but they’re also the potential that exist in every DV case. And the danger is not limited to the victims. Far too many officers have lost their lives when handling the ‘routine’ DV call.
Let’s address some basics. What’s the known history? Are there weapons involved? Are there firearms in the house? Has there been a recent issuance of a restraining order? (Often the greatest potential for violence is after the issuance of a court order.) Is the suspect still at the scene? (Although a suspect often flees when the police are summoned, they’ve been known to return and violently confront the officers.) Be careful about assumptions such as one party is clearly the victim and is not a risk. Many officers have been injured and even killed by a distraught spouse reacting to the arrest of the person who, only minutes before, was the enemy.
Bottom line: DV calls can range from frustrating to fatal, and they’re one of the primary reasons that officers should always wear body armor. Don’t become complacent and continually evaluate from a What’s Important Now? perspective. Law Officer’s November issue will have an Officer Down feature by Brian McKenna on a DV case where complacency became a factor that nearly cost an officer his life. Watch for it. Until then, stay safe and remember the Below 100 basics:
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For additional resources, visit the Domestic Violence Awareness Project’s website.