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Putting Out the Fire

As the San Diego Police Department has discovered, developing a comprehensive police pertaining to domestic violence calls will quell the fires in the courtroom and also curb the number of homicides.

March 01, 1996  |  by John Pentelei-Molnar

Gathering Information

As you are driving to the call, dis­cuss your options with your partner. The San Diego Police Department utilizes a contact-and-cover procedure when deal­ing with response calls, traffic stops, etc.-a policy it developed after a rash of officer fatalities in the 1980s.

Essentially, the process involves one officer handling all aspects of the con­tact while the secondary office pro­vides cover. This process is highly effective and goes a long way toward ensuring the safety of the officers. When driving to a call, decide which officer will handle the initial contact with the individuals.

If possible, gather information from either your in-car computer or dis­patch. Try to ascertain whether or not there have been prior calls to this par­ticular residence; whether any of the individuals named are on parole or pro­bation; if the individuals speak English; whether weapons have been seen; if there are clothing descriptions; and if both parties are still there.

If there is a prior history of domes­tic violence at this particular location, find out if weapons were used in the past. Information is paramount before arrival to help evaluate any potential threats to you or the victim.

Upon arrival, don't park your patrol car within view of the location you are responding to. This may allow the suspect to see you, become even more enraged at the thought of going to jail, inflict more injury on the victim or have time to gather weapons to assault you with.

Approach from a distance and coor­dinate directions of entry from each officer as they arrive. If possible, try to coordinate so all avenues of escape are covered should the suspect see you and try to run away. As you approach the residence, all of the same rules apply when nearing windows and doors.

Stay away from the "fatal funnel" and away from windows. You never know if a chair or worse could come crashing through and hit you. Use your ears too. If the fight is still ensuing, use the sound to direct you to the area of the residence or apartment complex from which it originates.

Making an Entrance

Many times, a tight will have subsid­ed by the time you arrive at the scene. When contacting anyone at the resi­dence, first identify how many people are in the residence, their locations and tem­peraments, and who the suspect and vic­tim(s) are.

If the tight is in progress when you knock on the door, separate all parties and contain all other members of the residence in an area where they can be viewed by both you and your partner. If in doubt, call for more backup, because the last thing you want to do is get into a major fight with family members who fear that you may be taking their relative to jail.

Also, separate the suspect and victim in such a way where they are facing away from one another. This will prevent them from reading each other's facial expressions as they explain the situation. It will prevent further escalation and give you a clear view of your partner's status.

If the victim is not in sight when you arrive, immediately determine the location of the victim and if medical attention is required. If the suspect is still at the scene, determine if any weapons are involved; if so, secure the weapon as quickly as possible.

Then take the necessary time and steps to ensure that the situation is sta­ble enough for you to conduct a inves­tigation without threat to you or your fellow officers. Time is on your side at this point. Use it.

Determining a Crime

While the penal code does allow for misdemeanor citation releases on domestic violence arrests, the San Diego Police Department puts all arrested male suspects in the county jail regardless of whether they committed a felony or misdemeanor.

For the purposes of defining a felony or misdemeanor domestic vio­lence case, the primary dictator is whether or not visible injury exists. If no visible injury exists, then the crime can be punishable as a misdemeanor if the victim wants to place the suspect under private person's arrest.

If there is any visible injury at all, the suspect is automatically arrested and charged with felony spousal abuse. This particular aspect of the SDPD policy does not cover boyfriends and girlfriends that do not live together, or apply to homosexual relationships.

Before you can hook anyone up for domestic violence, though, you must first define the relationship between the victim and suspect. As mentioned before, the SDPD defines domestic violence as abuse committed against an emancipated minor or adult who is a spouse, ex-spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child.

This does include homosexual rela­tionships, but it does not include room­mates as long as they have not had consensual sexual relations. Once the determination of intimate status has been made, then you must determine what crimes have occurred.

As an example, a single incident could involve the use of terrorist phone threats, stalking, trespassing, battery and malicious destruction of a telephone. That last one is especially useful in Cal­ifornia as it is punishable as a felony. So, as you begin your investigation, explore all possible angles to determine what types of crimes have occurred.

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