Relatively few officers are arrested for domestic violence, and only a small percentage of those are prosecuted.
Lawsuits against law enforcement agencies are very difficult, lengthy and expensive. What can seem to be a solid claim of "failure to protect" or "denial of civil rights" can be difficult to prove and consume your financial and emotional resources. The department may respond to the threat of a suit by shutting down further communication. Threatening to sue should be your last resort to consider, and then only with an experienced attorney skilled in domestic violence and civil suits against the police.
Whether or not the State presses charges is not your decision. You may believe that if the State holds your abuser accountable for his violence, he will stop abusing you; or you may believe that prosecution would increase your danger. The prosecutor (state's attorney) has the discretion to determine which cases the State prosecutes. You may be asked whether you want them to pursue charges, but they are under no obligation to honor your wishes. The state's attorney weighs many factors when deciding whether to pursue prosecution and the fact that your abuser is a police officer is significant. Officer-involved domestics are difficult cases to pursue with many political, personal, and public concerns. Some prosecutors avoid cases involving police officers, others vigorously pursue them.
Prosecutors may decide not to pursue a case against an officer because they work closely with the police. Prosecutors and police officers often have close personal and professional relationships. Prosecutors rely on the police to investigate, collect evidence, and prepare reports in every case the state pursues. Prosecuting a police officer runs the risk of alienating the police department. The prosecutor may face political pressure to avoid the case, especially if there is little public support for prosecution. S/he may also not want to risk losing campaign endorsements or clash with public officials. Responding and investigating officers may be reluctant to actively help the prosecution — or may deliberately obstruct it. Judges and juries often resist finding officers guilty of domestic violence even with strong evidence. To win a conviction, the State has to be able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It can be difficult to meet this standard in a case involving a police officer. A prosecutor might choose to proceed if there is enough strong evidence and if there is a high risk to the community. If the case has received media attention, the prosecutor may be pressured by the public to hold the officer accountable.
In reality, few officers are convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors. Prosecutors generally allow officers to plead guilty to a lesser charge, one that does not trigger the gun restriction. For example, a reduced charge might be reckless conduct, simple assault or simple battery, or disturbing the peace. Departments are not mandated to fire an officer with a conviction. The officer can be reassigned to an administrative position that does not require carrying a firearm. The department's decision on whether to retain an officer depends on many factors, including the size of the department and the abuser's professional reputation.
Your role in prosecution is to be a witness for the State. The state's attorney may worry that you will be intimidated or forced to recant your statement. In order to avoid having to rely on your voluntary testimony, they will want to have enough evidence to proceed without your cooperation. This is called evidence-based prosecution. The prosecutor can coerce you into testifying via subpoenas and threats of jail for refusing to cooperate, with little regard for your safety and well-being.
Victims relay their common experiences:
Many people may be trying to influence your decision whether to cooperate with the State by giving a statement and testifying against your abuser in court. It may be difficult for you to know whose advice to follow and who to trust. If you are involved — willingly or not — in your abuser's prosecution, consider calling your local domestic violence agency for help.Back to top
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