Policies and Procedures


Know Your Department's Policy

Most departments have specific protocol officers must follow when they respond to a domestic violence call. However, relatively few include protocol specific for officer-involved domestics. Do not rely on what your batterer tells you about department policy. Ask your domestic violence agency to request a copy of your local department's policy. If you live outside your abuser's jurisdiction, then you need policies from the employing department and your local (responding) department. The policy will tell you what responding officers are supposed to do when they respond to a domestic involving a police officer. If they don't follow the policy, make sure you document their failure to do so.

The department is liable for what is in their written policy.

If you are an officer or employee of the department, policies are often a double-edged sword. They can protect you in some ways but also make you more vulnerable in other ways. Policy may require only the respondent on an Order of Protection to notify the department. Some policies require either the respondent or the petitioner to report the existence of a protective order. This may or may not result in any direct intervention. If supervisors see the abuse as a marital dispute or a "he said, she said" situation, they may determine that no reassignment, disciplinary action, or safety planning is required. Policies mandating that any officer report knowledge of a domestic involving another may deter you from confiding in a fellow officer since they would have to choose between honoring your confidentiality or violating policy. If policy requires you to report your own abuse, you may be disciplined for not having reported the abuse when it began.

What to Look for in the Policy

Police Responsibilities

When police respond to a domestic violence call, officers are to use all reasonable means to prevent further abuse. In most states, whenever an officer believes that abuse has occurred s/he is required to take steps to prevent further abuse, including to:

Even though you may want to avoid any more confrontation, if the police do not respond in an appropriate manner insist that they call a supervisor or commander to the scene. Also get the name and badge number of the responding officers.

Police Report

Before the officers leave the scene, ask them for the report number. They may say there is no need for them to write a report, but in most states police are required to make a written report each time they respond to a domestic violence call.

Review the police report for accuracy.

The incident report is supposed to be an unbiased written record of the responding officers' observations, summaries of witness statements, and descriptions of seized evidence. Whatever s/he writes or fails to write in the report can affect the outcome of your case. If the police report is inaccurate, ask a supervisor or commander to allow you to amend the report so that it also states your side of the story. Get copies of the original and the amended reports. Make duplicate copies of both and keep them in a safe place. That way you are sure to have copies in case the originals are somehow "lost."

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Evidence Collection

Responding officers or investigators should take photographs of your injuries at the scene. Investigators should also ask to take additional photos, approximately 24 hours and 48 hours later because bruises develop over time. Responding officers should also take photos of any damaged property. Pictures of furniture turned over, holes in walls, smashed dishes, ripped clothes, a broken phone. Anything that shows evidence of violence or of a struggle is valuable evidence. If your abuser broke into your home, there may also be marks on door frames or broken windows.

It's a good idea to have someone else take photos too in case the department's official photos are "lost" or "misplaced." If you need medical attention, ask the doctor or hospital take photographs so they are in your medical record. If you do not seek medical attention, ask a friend to take photos, and then date and sign them. If possible, use a camera that prints the date and time on the film.

Keep in mind that the State decides whether to pursue charges. The State can use whatever evidence it has to make its case, even if you do not want to pursue charges.

Arrests

In most states, an officer may make an arrest if s/he has probable cause to believe that a crime was committed. This means s/he does not need to witness the crime to make an arrest, but can rely on evidence at the crime scene, including what the victim tells her, torn clothing, victim injuries, destruction of property in the home. For information on your state's domestic violence laws, visit the Women's Law Initiative.

It is not up to you whether the police make an arrest. They may arrest the abuser even if you ask them not to. Or, you may want them to arrest him and they may refuse. The officers may try to talk you out of signing a complaint or encourage you to sign a complaint, depending on the circumstances. If the abuser is able to twist things around, the police may even arrest you.

The response you get from the responding officers, their supervisor, and even from the chief depends on their personal integrity and the department's liability.

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