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Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.

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Patrol

Dangers of Domestic Violence Calls

Don't discount DV calls as routine. It just takes one to get you killed.

May 23, 2008  |  by - Also by this author

At the scene of a recent domestic violence call, an officer was assisting a woman in retrieving her belongings when her estranged significant other showed up. He shot the officer, who died at the scene.

This is the second such shooting I've read about recently. I'm not saying the officer did anything wrong.

Sometimes, you're just screwed.

But I have been at enough domestics to know that some officers can be a little more lax than they should be.

Exercise Caution

Consider this: There's a reason that you're called to a location. The transition from domestic bliss to domestic violence can take place in the blink of a wandering eye and the person requesting your presence often has some legitimate expectation of getting his or her ass beat. And the person who may inflict such harm might not care who's on the receiving end.

Assuming you've been able to get to the location without having some low-life ambush you, you have the right and the obligation to keep the peace for all involved to the best of your abilities.

To this end, consider the following:

Have at least one backup officer present and keep in eye-line of one another.

If the disturbing party is not currently at the location, but there is a possibility of their imminent return, position yourself where you can optimally:

1) detect their arrival before they know where you are (unfortunately, where you park your patrol car may have some effect on just how they elect to approach the location, so keep this in mind);

2) have cover and concealment available;

3) be able to intervene while minimizing the prospect of friendly fire or crossfire with innocents or other officers.

Maintain Peace and Safety

If the person is on site and you're able to contact them, first determine if there's been a crime involved. Whether or not one has been committed, tell the person you're assisting to keep their mouth shut so they don't provoke the aggressor into going Jerry Springer on their ass, or more importantly, yours.

Conduct a cursory pat-down search of BOTH parties. Considering the nature of circumstances, the omnipresent threat of danger associated with such calls, the understandably agitated frame of mind of the distraught boyfriend/husband/significant other, and the possibility that one/the other/both may have a weapon to launch or prevent an attack, it shouldn't be too hard for you to justify your need for doing so.

Have the disturbing party maintain their distance, both from the person you're trying to assist and yourself.

Keep the disturbing party in sight, in any area that has been subject to a protective sweep and where their hands are apt to be in plain view.

If the disturbing party wishes to leave and is not subject to further detention or arrest, tell him or her that's fine, but not to return to the location while you're there, as they may avail themselves a weapon in the interim.

Personal Experience

I hate domestics, and was wounded while responding to one when an idiot ambushed another deputy and myself with an AK47. Perhaps predictably, the girlfriend we saved—the one who, along with her family, was the object of the suspect's murderous rage in the first place—pissed backward when it came time to go to court and testified on his behalf (he was still sentenced to 160 years).

Personally, I believe that the first time any person becomes a victim of domestic violence, law enforcement officers should do everything in their power to insulate them from any further attack. But the moment they go back to the abusive son of a bitch, then we should be able to wash our hands of them. Professionally we don't have that discretion: We are expected to continually run interference on behalf of these Darwin Award aspirants.

So you will probably find yourself going back to the same location on such calls more than once, occasionally with no lasting effects to show for it.

But remember: Just because a crime hasn't been committed yet, doesn't mean one's not about to happen.

And the victim could be you.


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