07/18/2000

The role of the police concerning domestic violence

Police intervention is an emergency measure intended to stop violence, restore peace, and, if necessary, arrest a person who has violated the law. Since the police can and should be expected to offer relief to those seeking help, all officers must be trained in emergency procedures so that they can provide immediate assistance. They must also be prepared to refer victims to the appropriate agency for long-term relief. Too often victims of domestic violence confront a bewildering array of competing agencies whose policies and programs conflict with each other. Sadly, there is frequently little collaboration between agencies. In many cases the greatest service the responding officer can render the victim of domestic violence is simply to guide her to the agency that can best help.Involve the entire department Acknowledging that a problem exists is the first step in resolving the problem. If victims of domestic violence are to be helped, it is essential that police departments not choose the easy path and assign the responsibility for responding to domestic violence to an individual or squad. History demonstrates that the compartmentalization of responsibility fosters an "it's-not-my-job" mentality in those not expressly charged with the task. Thus, the danger in creating a Domestic Violence Unit is that other members of the department may infer that domestic violence is the sole responsibility of the specialized unit. Proper training must involve the whole department, sworn and civilian personnel alike, and innovations must be merged with routine functions and duties. Police administrators must be careful when placing increased social responsibility on their officers. The pressure of accountability can lead to frustration, the result of the officers' feelingS of helplessness in the face of complex social problems that they are unable to solve. Officers must be assured that they are not alone, that other members of the community share responsibility and can bring specialized skills to bear on the problem.A community-wide approach is the answer The training program must integrate all agencies in the community. The aim is to inculcate trust and cooperation among the community, social services agencies and the criminal justice system. Involving other agencies is especially important to assure officers that their efforts are not futile. If an officer spends many hours interviewing adult and child witnesses, collecting evidence, filing incident reports and making arrests only to find that the investigation is the end of the process, her enthusiasm is inevitably blunted. Arrest is only an important first step. Neither law enforcement nor the courts can effect solutions for long-term change. In order to create a seamless system for dealing with domestic violence in the community, other players have to appreciate the formidable problems police officers face. The job of a police officer is hard to describe and even harder to comprehend. There is nothing more unrealistic than television and movie versions of a police officer's job. The social worker who rides with an officer in the police cruiser, works alongside the officer in the police station and travels with the officer to the home of a victim gets firsthand knowledge that can't be learned from books or films. Officers, in turn, must know how their job dovetails with the duties of other professionals in the community. Treating the causes and consequences of domestic violence involves physicians and nurses, psychiatrists and psychologists, counselors, educators, social workers, attorneys and judges. They all have special skills and limitations that officers must understand if they are to perform their duties effectively.Teamwork, not competition, gets the job done To reduce the incidences of domestic violence is a multifaceted task of great width and breadth. Not only must the community respond to cases of abuse promptly with the personnel best equipped to render aid, but education and counseling are the solution to preventing future incidents. Nothing less than a community-wide task force can be expected to effect real change. The task force should consist of health professionals, school personnel, battered women's advocates, shelter personnel, the media, business, court personnel, mental health professionals, law enforcement, probation and parole authorities, neighborhood watch members, the district attorney's office and representatives from cultural and linguistic minority groups in the community. Jointly, components of the task force can assess the needs of the community, evaluate services already in place, and recommend appropriate changes. A task force without direction is a headless giant. Equally important as the task force is a team empowered to coordinate the activities of the components. The ideal team, composed of a police sergeant and a civilian domestic violence advocate, would be housed at the police station and thus woule be informed instantly of emergency incidents. They would disseminate information and instruction to concerned agencies, refer victims to the appropriate agency for immediate assistance and long-term relief, and oversee education and prevention forums throughout the community. Charged with such awesome responsibility, the team must be empowered with authority in three major areas:-- To develop and disseminate a protocol that clearly defines the responsibility and limits of authority of the agencies in the community. This prevents "turf wars" and puts an end to foot-dragging and shirking responsibility.-- To provide educational instruction in grades K-12. The team would train the trainers within the school system and address civil and criminal domestic violence issues in the classroom. One avenue might be a series of seminars and public speaking engagements aimed at education administrators, teachers, guidance counselors and community groups. The team would be responsible for developing the curriculum and providing resources to teachers for educating victims and abusers. The team should also advise school administrators about ways to protect whistle-blowers, students and staff who disclose abusive situations.-- To create a training program to instill in police officers sensitivity to the problem of domestic violence and to demonstrate to them that developing skills in preventing and responding to domestic violence serves their own professional and personal interests.Police officers learn best by doing The mode of training police officers in dealing effectively with domestic violence is extremely important. It is vital that training not be classroom structured for two reasons. Although scheduled classes and roll-call training for police officers on domestic violence issues are important and should continue, the responsibility for classroom training falls on first-line supervisors. It likewise remains the responsibility of first-line supervisors to change ingrained patterns of behavior and to modify long-standing attitudes. The second reason for avoiding the structured classroom setting is that police officers learn best in the normal work environment. Lessons stick when training gives them skills and knowledge that are relevant, that make them perform their job more effectively. The team should concentrate on field training as the principal of instructing police officers in dealing with domestic violence. Indeed, on-the-job training offers the best hope of changing the culture in the police department because it's when officers hit the streets that genuine individualized learning begins. Over time, field training will yield police behavior in compliance with department procedures in domestic violence calls.Understandably, veteran officers should be trained in the field and receive follow-up training. Resistance to new attitudes to domestic violence can be expected in grizzled veterans. It can't hurt to alert officers that supervisors will make random checks of domestic violence calls to ensure that everyone is "on the same page" in their understanding of department procedures. Effective training develops skills that yield expected results. Classroom training typically anticipates the same results from all learners at the same rate. In on-the-job training, on the other hand, officers see the results of their efforts and get accurate -- often instantaneous -- feedback about their progress, motivating them to continue to learn. Moreover, experience, expertise, and individual ability add to the learning process in the field.Follow up training with monitoring A task as important as training is monitoring officers' responses to calls. With their finger on the pulse of the patient, the team can assess the effectiveness of instruction and modify it to meet the needs of individual officers. The officers must be assured that the team is there not to threaten but to help. After all, when field training is done right, officers learn to solve problems on their own. Monitoring means the team can detect performance problems and correct them. Likewise, the team can find opportunities to improve performance in the areas of investigation, report writing, and victim safety at the scene. On the larger scale, the team may find efficient uses of other community support resources to augment police efforts.A proactive policy When an innovative policing initiative falls short of its promise to improve the public good, the reason may be because the community and the police department see the program as the responsibility of the police alone. In the past, focusing on the criminal justice system as the sole deterrent to abuse has failed to reduce the incidence of domestic violence. Today, communities persist in attempting to resolve domestic violence by intervention instead of prevention. Violence is learned behavior inside and outside of school. The entire community, not just the police department, must be held accountable for modifying behavior. It is the responsibility of the entire community to establish activities that promote nonviolent values and teach nonviolent alternatives to resolve conflict. Healthy activities are the essential ingredient in a successful community-based program.Summary Designing and launching a coordinated community-based program is only the first step. Ensuring continued participation is a formidable task. It is the responsibility of the team to create an interdisciplinary system of training and written protocols for all agencies. Each agency has expertise and special skills it can bring to bear on the problem of domestic violence. It's the job of the team to develop a harmonious relationship among agencies so those members of each agency understand and appreciate the difficulties experienced by their brothers and sisters in other agencies. It is illusory to pretend that the criminal justice system by itself can solve the complex problem that is domestic violence. In fact, to encourage victims of domestic violence to seek safety in a justice system where there is little communication between members and few effective programs to ensure their safety amounts to abuse of another kind. There must be a collaborative community-wide response to domestic violence that makes more sense than waiting for victims and their children to show up on the steps of our civil and criminal courts.# # #This article appeared in slightly different form in WomenPolice Magazine, Summer 1999, Volume 33/No. 2.Women Police is the official publication of the International Association of Women Police (IAWP).

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