|"Oh! The time and
resources it takes to do a domestic violence crime report!"
This has always been the audible grumble in the background when
police respond to our complaints. But lately that background refrain
has crescendoed into a frontline alarm.
Law enforcement officials
throughout the county have been warning us directly, 'With the
homeland security situation, terrorist threats, the demands of
the protests, the losses of funding, we don't know how we're going
to have the resources to do all these cases.' It isn't too hard
to read between the lines. Violence against women, which only
recently has been allowed on the bus, is now going to be clinging
off the back for dear life.
So let's talk business.
We'll show you how law enforcement can save a mountain of time
and money on domestic violence cases - not somewhere out there
in the distant future, nor even out there in the realm of social
benefits. But a veritable mountain of money to be found right
there in their daily operating responses to domestic violence
calls. After looking at the results of a survey of 63 victims
who were questioned about the police response to their calls to
police, we think you'll agree. The solution is as obvious, as
simple, and as urgent as plugging the hole in the hull of a ship.
of SRPD Domestic Violence Victim Survey
Early in 2001, in response
to scores of case complaints we made to Santa Rosa Police Department
command staff and to the Santa Rosa City Council, Chief Dunbaugh
and then Mayor Janet Condron agreed to form two working groups.
The first working group focused on police language response to
limited English-speaking victims. The second group would develop
a domestic violence victim survey for the purpose of providing
internal quality control on police handling of domestic violence
The victim survey,
initially developed by Women's Justice Center and then adapted
and carried out by SRPD, asks domestic violence victims a series
of questions on the police response the victim received to their
domestic violence calls. The victims in the survey were selected
by calling victims from a consecutive batch of domestic violence
crime reports. (Because of this selection method, the survey does
not capture the victims for whom police failed to write a report.)
To ensure that their memory of events would be fresh, the victims
were surveyed within weeks of the victim's call to police for
The survey questions
correspond roughly to the domestic violence check list officers
are expected to follow in responding to domestic violence calls.
And the checklist corresponds to the fundamental elements of response
as mandated by the Sonoma County's law enforcement policy on domestic
violence, a policy that was signed onto by all Sonoma County law
enforcement chiefs in 1996.
(click here to see raw data of survey questions
or scroll to end of text)
The key finding of
this survey of 63 domestic violence victims (and of the survey
that preceded it) is that in a significant number of domestic
violence cases police are failing to carry out the most fundamental
requirements of victim protection and the most basic level of
evidence gathering that's essential for prosecuting the case.
In 33% of cases victims
were not asked about the presence of firearms. In nearly 50% of
cases where visible injuries were present, photographs weren't
taken. In more than 50% of cases where children were present,
officers didn't take a statement from children. In 27% of cases,
the officer didn't ask the history of abuse. In no case in which
the victim felt she needed a translator did the officer provide
one. In at least 30% of cases where visible injuries were present,
officers didn't make the required arrest. Etc.
The results validate
exactly the kind of defective police responses we have been complaining
about for so many years. But in regard to the money, the first
point we wish to make is that after investing all the time, money,
equipment, and institutional backup needed to dispatch an officer
and car to a call, in a large percentage of these cases the officer
has left such big holes in the case, that the massive investment
all counts for naught.
But that is only the
first level of waste. Given the nature of domestic violence, when
police respond sloppily to a domestic violence call, the job of
protecting the victim and prosecuting the perpetrator doesn't
get done. If anything, the situation is made worse as the perpetrator
gets the message that authorities see his behavior as no big deal.
Not surprisingly, in so many of these cases it's just a matter
of time before police are called out again to the same residence
to deal with the same problem all over again. And in many of these
cases it will be again, and again, and again. And as at least
one study shows, the more times police respond to the same domestic
violence scene, the more shoddy the police work tends gets.
The police domestic
violence infrastructure and machinery has been put in place. To
go through all the motions and then fail to ask a few key questions
is as lame as launching a new ship with a hole in the hull, and
then grousing that there's not enough time to plug the hole. The
huge expense of repeat calls could be time and money in the police
department coffers if only command staff would insist that their
officers do it right the first time out.
Role of the DA: In addition to the illogical grumble
about not enough time to do the cases properly, another common
police refrain is 'what's the sense of putting in the effort if
we know ahead of time the district attorney isn't going to file?'
In this, we agree, police definitely have a point.
Sonoma County District
attorney statistics for the year 2001 show that of the 2,384 domestic
violence crime reports sent to the district attorney only 1,025
resulted in a conviction. This Sonoma County domestic violence
conviction rate of 43% is far below the 60% average conviction
rate of the other Bay Area counties. And even these Bay Area county
statistics are far below the 80% plus conviction rates of counties
such as San Diego which have prioritized domestic violence crimes.
Our shameful local
statistics, too, are in line with the realities we see at Women's
Justice Center in our day-to-day handling of domestic violence
cases. Too many prosecutors, instead of approaching a case with
an eye to building a prosecution, are looking for any excuse to
dump it. Here's a current case:
Criminal Justice Tax Dollars at Work - Case Study.
Last month a victim came to us for the first time after her case
had already been adjudicated. She was confused about the outcome.
That by itself was an indication something was wrong. The woman
is a professional who would have understood everything if things
had been properly explained.
In researching her
case, here's what we found out. In January, 2002, the prosecutor
had filed three felony counts of stalking and terrorist threats
against the perpetrator and one felony count of evading a police
officer. (The perpetrator had fled in his car when police went
to arrest him.) More than a year later, in February 2003, despite
the victim's willingness to testify, despite more than the usual
physical evidence to support the case, despite the fact that the
perpetrator had recently done prison time for another felony assault,
the deputy district attorney pled the case out to one felony count
of evading police and dismissed all other charges. (No wonder
the prosecutor wanted to leave the victim confused about exactly
what had been done.)
But there's more. In
addition to the insult this plea delivers to the victim and to
the interests of justice, in the more than one year of time between
filing the case and obtaining the plea, the case was brought into
court thirty nine times. That means that thirty nine times a prosecutor,
a defense attorney, a judge, bailiffs, clerks, and all the other
highly paid court personnel were tied up in court dealing with
this case. Your tax dollars at work.
And more... During
the time this case was going round and round in the courts, the
perpetrator stalked the victim again. This resulted in the filing
of an additional felony stalking charge. That charge was also
dismissed as part of the plea.
The tally for your
tax dollars on this case comes to more than a dozen police reports,
39 court appearances, an exhausted, exasperated victim who was
re-victimized by the perpetrator and by the system, an incalculable
waste of money, and a community once again robbed of justice and
safety. And, of course, one of the many intangible costs are police
officers themselves who understandably conclude that there's not
much point in focusing their efforts on cases like this.
And round and round
it goes in what a recent Washington State study of domestic violence
homicide so aptly names, "The Meaningless Processing of
In December 2002, the
Washington State Domestic Violence Fatality Review published an
intensive study of 230 domestic violence homicides. Among the
key common factors they found in the histories of these homicides
is what their team describes as criminal justice system "meaningless
processing of cases," in which domestic violence cases are
handed off from one official to the next without anyone of them
ever really implementing the immense powers they have to help
the victim. This is exactly the senseless and hugely wasteful
phenomena we identify here in our own county. (For the full text
of this groundbreaking report from Washington State click
And What's Wrong? Here's the short answer. The public
has made it repeatedly clear they want domestic violence treated
seriously. Law enforcement has responded by creating the infrastructure,
the training, the policies, task forces, equipment, and protocols
to deal effectively with domestic violence. Indeed, many officers
have taken these changes to heart and follow through to help the
victims. But behind this costly investment, there remains a significant
number of officers and prosecutors who just plain don't want to
do the job.
These officers feel
violence against women cases are beneath them, and not the real
crime fighting work they envisioned when they took the job. When
these officials come face to face with the victims, instead of
pursuing the goal of helping the victim, they pursue the goal
of getting the victim and her case out their hands as quickly
as possible. In so doing they squander the investment and cost
their departments a fortune.
Solution is Simple: On most every occasion when we
discuss this problem with command staff, we get the response that
officers need more training. Indeed, training is always important.
But lack of training is certainly not the root cause of the problem
at hand. As any one can see, the deficits identified in the survey
-such as not asking about firearms, about history of abuse, not
taking a statement from children, not obtaining a translator,
etc.- these tasks are no-brainers.
Clearly command staffs
are misdiagnosing the problem. Officers know how to do the job.
They are failing to do it for one simple, easy-to-fix, reason.
They don't like these cases. All law enforcement officials have
to do is make it clear that domestic violence cases will be taken
seriously and then follow through with discipline when they are
not. The money they save will be their own.
Domestic Violence Victim Survey
Questions and Results:
63 Victims Surveyed
Results April 2002
text for survey background, methods, and discussion)
Did the officer(s)
who responded to your call address any safety concerns you may
Did the officer(s)
who responded to your call ask you about any specific threats
your partner has made?
Did the officer(s)
ask you if there were any firearms in the house?
Did the officer(s)
who responded to your call ask about the history of your partner's
Was an Emergency Protective
Did the officers make
If visible injuries
were present when police arrived, were photos taken?
After the police left,
did you notice any visible injuries that you did not tell the
Did you go to the police
department for follow-up photographs of your injuries?
Did the officer(s)
give you information about the services available to you?
Did the officer(s)
who responded to your call request to talk with any children present?
No Children Present 23
Did you feel as though
the officer(s) gave you enough time to tell your story?
Under the circumstances,
did the officer(s) talk with you in a place that gave you enough
privacy to tell your story?
Did you feel you needed
a translator to communicate with the officer?
If so, was one offered?