Your Client Has Not Yet Made a Police Report:
client: It's very beneficial if you have the opportunity
to talk with your client before she goes to police. Assuming
there's no immediate danger, nor a likelihood that critical
evidence will be lost, the time you take preparing your
client can prevent many of the pitfalls of domestic violence
One of the most
common pitfalls at the reporting stage is for victims to
withhold significant information. This is generally caused
by a combination of victim fears and officer insensitivities
or incompetence. And though deficiencies in the report can
usually be filled in later, this should be avoided whenever
possible, since missing information affects the officer's
assessment, and since information added later is often attacked
by defense attorneys as lacking credibility.
client's questions and concerns: In particular, carefully
probe and address her specific fears about opening a criminal
on pertinent points of the police process: Validate
for her ahead of time that there are officials who respond
well to these crimes and officials who respond poorly. Assure
her that you will be monitoring the case for any problems,
and that you'll work to remedy the situation if problems
client understand the parameters of the police investigation,
that police are principally concerned with the offender's
criminal behavior:As you listen to your client's story,
help her identify what aspects of the abuser's behavior
are criminal. Encourage her to think about and identify
what evidence is available in her case.
explain the importance of not holding back information.
perpetrator's criminal record: It's important to obtain
the perpetrator's criminal record as soon as possible. If,
for example, the perpetrator is on probation for any crime,
the level of evidence needed to justify an arrest is much
lower than for someone who is not on probation. And though
it may be that you'll want to wait until after a police
report has been made, we discuss obtaining the perpetrator's
record here. Because if it's at all possible, and many times
it's as easy as making a phone call, having the perpetrator's
criminal history on the tip of your tongue can enhance the
way police handle your client's case.
it's important to obtain the perpetrator's criminal record
as early as possible is that domestic violence perpetrators
frequently keep their victims in the dark about their crimes.
In fact, it's not unusual to find out that a perpetrator
is on probation for serious crimes and the victim didn't
have the faintest idea.
victim of the perpetrator's record is often a moment of
great shock for the victim. It can also be a significant
turning point. Often it's the first time she really sees
that things aren't her fault. This guy is really a bad guy.
Finding out the perpetrator's criminal record can be key
to freeing the victim to move forward wholeheartedly with
her own criminal case.
The fact that
so many perpetrators hide their criminal history from the
victims also means you shouldn't rely on questioning the
victims as the source for obtaining the perpetrator criminal
way to get a reliable criminal history is to call a victim
advocate stationed in the courthouse or district attorney's
office. They'll likely have immediate access to the criminal
justice system computers. Remember, once a person is charged
with a crime, a record of that case is then placed on the
public record, and as such, is available to anyone who requests
If you can't
get a hold of someone in the courthouse to look up the record
for you, either you or the victim will probably have to
go over to the courthouse to check the criminal justice
system computer yourself.
that your county courthouse will likely have only the criminal
history that took place in your county. If the perpetrator
has lived in other counties, you'll have to seek assistance
from a victim advocate or other person in those counties
to obtain the records there.
record from other counties is often worth the effort. There
have been a number of occasions where we've discovered that
the perpetrator has jumped bail or has arrest warrants in
other counties. This knowledge can make things immensely
easier for the victim.
In most states, criminal justice officials themselves
are prohibited from giving out a perpetrator's criminal
record even though this information is available on the
public record. This is to avoid the formidable prejudice
that could be created by the authority of the official's
If at all
possible, try to be present when the victim makes the police
report and try to have the police come to your office or
to the victim's home. Avoid having the victim go to
the police station to give the report. Having the police
take the report at your office or in the victim's home,
in your presence, greatly increases the likelihood of a
thorough and respectful response from police.
If you can't
be there, and if it's not an emergency situation, stress
to the victim the importance of arranging to have a trusted
adult with her when she does make the report.
to consider when circumstances don't demand an immediate
report, is whether or not you want to try to get a particular
officer to respond to the case. If the client speaks Spanish,
for example, you may know of an officer who speaks Spanish
and who treats Latinas well. So if evidence and safety won't
be compromised, you may want to time your client's reporting
with a particular officer's shift.
Even if there
are no urgent circumstances, the victim or you should initiate
the report by calling 911 or by calling the police dispatch
number. Don't start a domestic violence report by calling
for the officer through the police business number. Calls
to the police business telephone are usually not taped.
911 calls and
calls to police dispatch are both audio taped and summarized
in written notes on a computer (the CAD record). Both are
preserved as official records. Both the 911 audio tape and
CAD record rank high in evidentiary value. And both frequently
come in handy when officers fail to write reports, since
these officers generally claim they didn't write the report
because the victim wasn't reporting anything of a criminal
nature. The 911 tape or CAD records can easily prove the
Advise your client
to put as get as much of her story as possible onto the
taped phone call. Telling a full story on the 911 or dispatch
call is especially important if the victim does not speak
English since 911 operators routinely and quickly connect
to a professional translator.
If at any
point in taking the report the officer isn't following correct
procedure, or if important information is being left out
of the report, try to coax the officer to do things right.
The skill of coaxing officers to do what they hadn't intended
to do is a skill you'll be developing for as long as you're
an advocate. It's like walking a high wire; keeping a graceful
balance without ever stepping sideways on your position
or letting the gusts of officer bluff throw you off.
officer, Antonia would really appreciate it if you could
get all the firearms out of the house." "The perpetrator's
made some serious threats that would probably be helpful
to strengthening the case." "Yes, I know the judge
probably won't ok an emergency restraining order. But it's
worth a try. Maybe if you explain some of the case history
you'll be able to convince the judge how much we need the
If an officer
can't be coaxed to fly right, you then have a number of
options to choose from depending on what you think will
work best given the circumstances. You can choose to let
it go, and plan to get things corrected by other means after
the officer leaves.
You can choose
to try pushing the officer harder by telling the officer
in very clear terms that you're not going to drop the issue.
"Look, we need to get these firearms out of the house
one way or the other. So if you don't take them, we're just
going to have to call the sergeant to make sure it gets
Or, if the officer
has thoroughly dug in his or her heels on something that
needs to be done right away, tell the officer, "Look,
this issue is crucial to the victim's safety, so I'm going
to make a phone call right now to the on-duty sergeant."
Or to the head of the domestic violence unit, or to the
chief, or to whomever can get the job done. Then pick up
the phone, and make the call right there in the officer's
For a full discussion
of advocacy strategies for correcting inadequate law enforcement
response see Part III of this manual, "When Push Comes
Your Client Has Already Made a Police Report:
Soon as Possible Evaluate the Quality of the Police Response
and the Quality of the Police Report.
a Complete Copy of the Police Report
Errors and Deficiencies in the Police Response and Report.
any needed corrections made
In the section
that follows these introductory notes we provide two easy-to-use
evaluation questionnaires; a questionnaire for evaluating
the police response, and the second questionnaire for evaluating
the police report.
It is always
important for victims and their advocates to evaluate the
police response and report, and then to make corrections
as soon as possible. This is true even if the victim comes
to you late in the case process.
The police report
is usually the single most critical document a victim will
have in her efforts to stop the violence. If the police
report is done properly, it serves as a solid basis for
prosecuting the perpetrator and for getting the perpetrator
under control. A good police report can also frequently
resolve problems the victim may encounter in many other
arenas, such as in family court, or problems with landlords,
school, employment, immigration, etc.
On the other
hand, a bad police report - an incomplete or biased police
report - can seriously undermine a victim's attempt to end
the violence. A bad police report makes prosecution of the
perpetrator very difficult or impossible. And a bad police
report can easily be used by the perpetrator against the
You can choose
to start by first talking with the client and evaluating
the police response through your conversation with her.
Or, depending on circumstances, you may want to start by
first obtaining a copy of the police report and going from
your client why it is so important to evaluate the police
response and police report.
to obtain a COMPLETE copy of the police report as soon as
possible. Many states have laws requiring that law enforcement
agencies provide domestic violence victims, free of charge,
a copy of the complete police report. (In California the
law that gives victims the right to a copy of the police
report is Family Code Section 6228.)
To be sure that
your client has been given a complete copy of the police
report (which contains all witness statements and supplements),
look at the bottom of the first page of the report before
leaving the police department. There should be a written
notation of how many pages there are in the complete report.
Count the pages you've been given. If the number of pages
you've been given doesn't add up to the total indicated,
go back to the records clerk and ask for the full copy of
If the records
clerk won't give you a full copy of the report, ask for
the records supervisor, or go as high up the ranks as you
need to go. If officials still refuse to give your client
the complete report, you may have to go to a state official
and have them call the chief to inform the chief of the
intent of the law. Hopefully, you'll only have to do this
copies of the police report. The police report is obviously
essential for providing a solid evidentiary foundation for
arrest and prosecution. But the police report can also help
your client in many other ways since it provides authority
to her story, and it keeps her from having to tell her story
over and over again. Copies of the police report can (and
should) be entered into the family court case, can be submitted
as text for obtaining restraining orders, and can be used
in any housing, immigration, workplace, family, or school
disputes that arise out of a victim's attempt to escape
from the perpetrator and his violence. So right after obtaining
a copy of the police report, have your client go out and
make herself a dozen copies of the complete report.
To use the police report as text in place of a new client
declaration in your client's restraining order application
here's what she should do. In the space where the restraining
order application asks for the victim declaration, simply
have your client write something like the following: "The
attached police report, #x, is an accurate account of
John Doe's January 5 attack on me."
there are additional facts the report left out, or additional
history the victim would like to add to what's contained
in the report, she can simply write out text of additional
information. But at the very least, attaching the police
report will keep her from having to retell that particular
story, and it will also avoid having two victim statements
on the record which a defense attorney can dig into looking
for minor contradictions to impeach her credibility. But
most important, attaching the police report(s) to the restraining
order application instantly gives the family law judge notice
that abuser is under criminal investigation for his violence
against the victim. And that, by itself, is usually sufficient
foundation for the judge to grant the order.
If for any
reason you can't get a copy of the police report, or can't
get the report right away, you can still do a pretty good
job of evaluating what's in the report simply by having
a careful, focused conversation with the victim.
Before you begin
questioning your client about the police response, explain
why you want to pursue a line of questioning that's different
from asking about what the perpetrator did to her. If you
don't give that explanation before starting, victims will
be confused about what you're trying to get at and they'll
keep trying to go back over what the perpetrator did to
them. But if you first explain that you're trying to find
out what the police did, and why, victims have no problem
understanding and sticking to the point.
the purpose of your questions to the client, you can use
Part I of the evaluation form that follows to guide your
In the process
of evaluating the police response and report, keep notes
as you go of the corrections you feel need to be made.
to evaluating the police response, it's also a important
to ask the victim how the police were contacted. If
it was the victim herself who made a call to 911 or a call
to police dispatch try get an idea of what she said on the
call, and what, of any relevance, was going on in the background
of the call. If someone else made the 911 call, it's important
to try to determine who it was that made the call. That
person is likely to be a valuable witness to the case.
911 calls can be decisive evidence in violence against women
cases. Because 911 calls are generally made at the peak
of a victim's fear, what she or anyone else says on the
911 tape carries immense weight as evidence. UnfortUmately,
prosecutors too often reject cases without ever having listened
to the 911 tape. So it's very important that you have a
good idea what's on the tape. And it's even better if you
and your clients make a habit of getting a copy of the 911
tape at the same time as you obtain a copy of the police
much information as possible on the perpetrator's overall
criminal history. See discussion on obtaining perpetrator's
criminal record in the section above entitled "If Your
Client Has Not Yet Made a Police Report:"
Official Police Case Documents and Records: 911 Tapes, CAD
Reports, Warrant Requests, Booking Sheets, Evidence Logs,
MDT Logs, and more.
In addition to
a police report, police departments usually generate a number
of other official records on a domestic violence case. These
additional records, such as 911 tapes, CAD reports, arrest
warrant requests, booking sheets, evidence logs, MDT logs,
and more - can also be very beneficial to your client's
911 tapes and
CAD reports are especially useful and can usually be obtained
at the police department records department. Arrest warrants
can usually be obtained at the criminal court clerk's office.
Booking sheets can usually be obtained at the jail or at
the local Sheriff's office.
Example #1: A police officer claimed the reason he
didn't write a domestic violence crime report on a woman's
call is because the victim only complained about a property
dispute with her husband. We found the officer's explanation
very hard to believe because the victim had told us in
detail about domestic violence and about her husband's
threats to kill her. So we went to the police department
records department and obtained a copy of the CAD report.
A CAD report
(Computer Assisted Dispatch) is the computer summary and
log of the 911 call written up by the dispatcher as he
or she takes the 911 call, dispatches an officer, and
informs the officer of the nature of the call.
You can see
immediately how valuable these CAD reports can be in all
kinds of situations. In the case example above, the CAD
report stated clearly that the victim was calling about
criminal domestic violence, and not a property dispute.
Not only that, the CAD report logged clearly that the
officer was informed that the victim was reporting domestic
violence, and not a property dispute.
the CAD report proved that the officer was lying. And
once we made the sergeant aware that we had obtained a
copy of the CAD report, the sergeant immediately assigned
another officer to re-interview the victim, and to write
a proper report.
Example #2: A victim complained to us that the Sheriff
never took her stalking calls seriously. She said she
had called the Sheriff to her home at least a dozen times.
The Sheriff denied she had called anywhere near that many
times. In fact, a request for past police reports turned
up only two reports. A public records act request for
all CAD reports connected to her address, however, showed
that there were exactly 15 times that the woman had called
the Sheriff to report criminal stalking. These CAD reports
gave us indisputable proof that Sheriff's deputies had,
in fact, responded to her home 15 times, and that on all
but two of those times they hadn't bothered to write the
Example #3: A prosecutor rejected a domestic violence
case saying, as always, there was insufficient evidence.
We asked the prosecutor if he had listened to the 911
tape. Like so many prosecutors, he had simply rejected
the case without ever having listened to the 911 tape.
Since we had
obtained the 911 tape, we knew that not only was the victim's
terror unmistakable, but you could clearly hear the perpetrator
in the background making threats to kill. In other words,
the perpetrator was caught in the act, committing a crime
right there on the 911 tape. With the 911 tape in hand,
we were able to go to the prosecutor's supervisor and
get the case properly charged.
Arrest warrants aren't all that common in domestic violence
cases because the suspect is generally present and arrested
at the scene. But in those cases where a suspect has fled
and in cases of domestic violence homicide, police will
often seek an arrest warrant.
In order to request
the arrest warrant from the judge, the officer has to lay
out an evidence-based argument for why the officer believes
an arrest should be made. Often, instead of writing up a
new report, police will simply attach a copy of the police
report to provide the needed overview of evidence.
along with the officer's write up of supporting evidence
are available on the public record. As such, anyone can
obtain a copy.
warrants is especially helpful in sex crimes cases since
sex crimes victims are generally not allowed to obtain a
copy of the police report. So by obtaining a copy of the
arrest warrant in a sex crimes case, you and the victim
can often obtain the forbidden police report because it's
so often attached. Also, arrest warrants are much more frequently
issued in sex crimes cases because the suspects are not
usually arrested right away for reasons we'll discuss in
detail in Part II subsection, "Arrest and Arraignment".
Police Errors in Domestic
The following are
some of the most common and most harmful errors in police
response to domestic violence. They are things that you should
be vigilant for in evaluating the police response and report.
Write a Report: One way police walk away from violence
against women is by simply walking away. No report means
no work, no hassle, no record, no domestic violence, no
investigation, no court dates, no problem. It means getting
quickly back on the street to real police work'.
walk away without writing a report usually tell the women
that they're very sorry, but there's nothing that can be
done in her situation. If by some rare chance the officer
is confronted with an accusation that he or she didn't write
a report, the officers usually lie and say the women only
told him about a property dispute or some such other non-criminal
matter. This is one reason it's so important that advocates
know how to access 911 tapes and Computer Assisted Dispatch
(CAD) records. Those records are usually the only successful
way to convince officers' supervisors that the victim was,
indeed, calling police to report domestic violence or a
related crime. It's also another reason why, whenever possible,
women should be accompanied when they report to police.
failure to write a report is not uncommon in any violence
against women situation, it's most frequent in cases of
restraining order violations, sex crimes, terrorist threats,
dissuading a witness, and stalking crimes. It's also more
common when the victim is a member of a minority race, doesn't
speak English well, is mentally ill, has a criminal history,
is young, or is using drugs.
But the fact
to keep in mind is that officer failure to write a report
can occur at any time, even in the most serious cases and
with the most privileged of victims.
by Bucket? On November 7, 1999, a well known Petaluma
physician, Dr. Louis Pelfini, called 911 to report that
his wife had committed suicide by sticking her head in a
bucket of water. At the scene, among dozens of red flags,
violent crimes Sheriff detective York encountered a fresh
cut on Dr. Pelfini's hand, fresh bruises on the upper body,
head, and legs of the deceased, Mrs. Pelfini, only an inch
of water in the bucket, and a shifting story from the good
the outlandish absurdity of someone committing suicide by
sticking their head in a bucket, even a high school student
would have recognized that this situation should be declared
a crime scene. It was not. Nor did the detective write up
a crime report. In fact, the detective didn't even write
up a suspicious death report. Detective York went home.
The full story
of this case leaves plenty to ponder. But just for starters,
doesn't it make you wonder how many domestic violence homicides
get swept under the rug and out of the statistics like the
murder of Mrs. Pelfini? No report, no crime, no hassle.
Get an Adequate Victim Statement: Failing to get an
adequate victim statement is the single most significant
and most common deficit of law enforcement response to rape,
domestic violence, and child abuse.
frequently fail to identify and address the many specific
victim fears that routinely constrict a victim's statement
in violence against women cases.
frequently fail to ask a sufficiently comprehensive set
of questions needed to elicit the full extent of the crime(s),
and needed to elicit important leads to additional evidence
frequently fail to establish victim confidence that he
or she is aware of the profound risks the victim is taking
by telling her story, and that he or she will prioritize
protecting the victim from further harm. Unless officers
create this confidence, not only won't they obtain an
adequate victim statement, it's likely the victim will
retreat from the criminal justice process altogether.
almost always fail to engage the victim as a partner in
developing case evidence.
frequently fail to take adequate and careful notes of
the statements the victim does make.
Because of the
nature of violence against women, obtaining a complete and
open victim statement is as fragile a process as lifting
a footprint from the sand. Victims of violence against women,
much more so than victims of other crimes, are almost always
very fearful of and guarded when talking with criminal justice
Because of the
uniquely intimate and gender-specific nature of these crimes,
telling the details of the crime is usually constricted
by multiple layers of social taboos, shame, gender barriers,
anticipated victim blaming, privacy barriers, and intense
because of the all-encompassing hold the perpetrator has
on every vital aspect of the victim's life, her entire being,
from child custody, housing, finances, job, family relations,
to life itself, is thrown into risk from the simple act
of explaining how she got the bruise on her arm. Unless
officials understand these features of violence against
women, and make a conscious effort to mitigate these distortions
before interviewing, it is highly unlikely the official
will obtain an open and complete statement from the victim.
At the same time
that obtaining an adequate victim statement requires a high
level of officer consciousness, obtaining that statement
is also more crucial to the overall success of a violence
against women case than for other crimes. Most of the evidence
and most of the principal leads to other evidence is contained
in the details the victim has to tell. Nothing is more damaging
to rape, domestic violence, and child abuse cases than a
constricted victim statement. And nothing is more common.
Even at best,
many well intentioned officers carry out their interviews
of violence against women victims in a manner that is virtually
indistinguishable from the way they interview victims of
Because of the
importance of a good victim statement to your client's case,
and because officials so rarely get a thorough statement,
it's always important for you the advocate to do your own
evaluation of the victim's story in search of vital information
that may have been left out of the case.
Get a History of Abuse. Most all written law enforcement
domestic violence policies require that police get a history
of the abuse from the victim and additionally, require that
police pull up the suspect's criminal justice history from
the computer and attach that history to the report. Many
police officers don't do either.
And even when
officers do make note of the history of abuse, many don't
recognize dangerous and escalating patterns of abuse, or
they miss valuable evidence that's lodged in past incidents.
It's as if the officers are going through these cases like
robots, filling in the boxes to get to the end of the page,
not paying the slightest attention to the tragedies developing
right in front of their eyes.
to the history is critical. So often even the most extreme
cases of domestic violence only first manifest to law enforcement
as nothing more than a small bruise on the occasion when
police are called. Without taking a good history, officers
not only frequently miss the gravity of the crimes, what's
even worse, they miss the trajectory of the crimes. Making
careful note of the escalation from one incident to the
next gets you very close to being able to predict the future.
By failing to
get a good history, officers also risk missing a gold mine
of excellent evidence in previous cases that can often be
much more compelling than the evidence available in the
Anna's husband grabbed a gun during a violent argument.
This time, Anna was able to knock the gun out of her husband's
hand. Terrified, she called the police for the first time.
But unfortUmately, aside from Anna's story and the presence
of a gun, there was no other evidence of the crime. And
since Anna's husband's told police a story that contradicted
Anna's story, there clearly wasn't enough evidence to
prosecute the case. So it was doubly important that police
obtain a history in this case. But police didn't even
had simply asked for a brief history, Anna would have
easily told the police, as she told us, that a few months
before there had been a similar incident. Only on that
earlier occasion her husband had pressed the gun barrel
so hard against her temple, and then twisted it, that
it left a visible barrel shaped scar in her flesh which
lasted for weeks. When Anna's friends had asked her about
the scar she had told her friends the truth. Some of these
friends were professionals who would have made excellent
had taken this history from Anna not only would they have
been doubly alerted to the very high lethality risk in
this case, they would have had excellent witnesses to
use in a prosecution of the earlier incident. If only
the officer had cared enough to do the job right.
Police so often
tell us they don't have the time to get the history. The
obvious response is that taking a good history takes far
less time than going out to the same residence over and
over again because they didn't handle the case right the
first time. Doing the job right the first time also takes
a lot less time than doing a homicide investigation.
police so often fail to get a history of abuse, it's up
to you, the advocate, to obtain this history with an eye
to identifying missed evidence, and, even more important,
with vigilance to the perpetrator's trajectory of violence.
Ask About or Properly Record Threats: Police often fail
to get specific information on the perpetrator's threats
to kill or harm... usually because they fail to ask. Or
if they ask about threats against the victim, they may fail
to ask about threats made against other family members,
and just as important, to ask about any threats by the suspect
to commit suicide. And some of those who ask about the threats,
often, unfortUmately, don't take care to write down accurate
quotes of the threats.
The exact quotes
of the abuser's threats to kill or harm are important for
a number of reasons:
- Threats are
evidence. If the officer doesn't accurately quote the
threat, that sloppy quote is like a smudged finger print
that can later be used by a defense attorney in an attempt
to impeach the victim if it doesn't match the victim's
later testimony about the threat.
- Threats to
kill or to cause substantial harm are crimes in and of
themselves. Here again, if the officer doesn't record
the threat, or writes a sloppy quote of the threat in
the police report, it makes it difficult or impossible
to prosecute the threats crime.
- And perhaps
most important of all, threats are a very clear window
into the abuser's criminal intent. The descriptions contained
in the threats of what the perpetrator says he will do
and how he will do it are a chilling accurate description
of what the perpetrator is likely to do. Study after study
of domestic violence homicide reveals that threats to
kill or threats to commit suicide bear a high correlation
to subsequent carrying out the act, and carrying it out
in a way that mirrors the detail of the perpetrator's
problem in police response occurs when a victim calls to
report threats and the threats are the only thing she is
calling to report. Many officers persist in telling these
women that there's nothing they can do about the threats
until the suspect acts on the threats. And then the officer
leaves without even writing a report. These officers know
very well that threats to kill or commit bodily harm are
a crime on their own. These officers should be disciplined
when they tell women there's nothing that can be done. But
they never are.
Always ask the
victim for the exact words of the perpetrator's threats
as best as she can remember. Not surprisingly, victims usually
have no trouble at all recalling the exact words. They are
branded in their consciousness like nothing else they've
Ask About Sexual Violence: In every culture there are
strong taboos against talking directly about the sex act
itself. In talking with domestic violence victims, it's
so much easier to talk about bruises and kicks, and to leave
it at that.
99.99% of officers
on a domestic violence call don't ask the victim about a
history of sexual violence in the relationship. In fact,
many domestic violence advocates don't ask about sexual
violence either. And since victims themselves will rarely
bring it up on their own, the high rate of sexual violence
in domestic violence cases is rarely recorded or dealt with
in the law enforcement or in the advocate response - to
the very great detriment of the victim.
There are a number
of reasons the inclusion of sexual violence considerations
is so critical both to the case and to the victim's healing.
We limit our remarks here to their importance in the criminal
- Most domestic
violence incidents are charged as misdemeanors. But rape
is an automatic felony. If a victim reports a rape in
her domestic violence history, the case, in most police
departments, will immediately be assigned a detective
who will give the entire case a much more thorough investigation.
So many police,
victims, and advocates themselves continue to believe
that spousal (or partner) rape cases are impossible to
prove. But the reality is these cases can often be proved
very easily by use of pretext calls and other investigative
techniques. (See the section on sex crimes.) And once
there's a successful pretext call, that usually spells
the end of any need to go to trial.
- The presence
of sexual violence in domestic violence is a key flag
of lethality risk. A number of domestic violence homicide
studies have found that domestic homicide victims had
a much higher rate of sexual violence in their histories
than do domestic violence victims who have not been murdered.
Police and advocates
should routinely ask domestic violence victims about any
history of forced sex in the relationship. Discuss with
your client the possibility of making a report of the sexual
violence to police. Or of talking further with a rape crisis
Get Witness Statements: Though most officers will make
note in their report of the existence of witnesses mentioned
by women, they frequently fail to actually contact those
witnesses and obtain the crucial witness statements. Far
too often what happens next is that the district attorney
reviewing the case is just as lazy and uncaring as the officer
who wrote the defective report. Instead of either calling
the witness directly, or having the officer go back and
obtain the statement he should have gotten in the first
place, the prosecutor simply rejects the case for lack of
More than one
domestic violence homicide in our community has resulted
from this two step failure of law enforcement; a police
officer who, couldn't be bothered to properly obtain the
witness statement in the first place, followed by a prosecutor,
who though aware there is a witness, also couldn't be bothered
to obtain the statement.
of Mina Arevalo: In the case of Mina Arevalo, police
wrote in their report on her domestic violence call that
the victim's (teenage) son had seen the incident and had
given a statement. But that's as far as police went. They
didn't bother to write out the son's statement, only that
he had made one. The prosecutor who reviewed the report,
instead of calling the officer to obtain the son's statement,
or of having a DA investigator call the son to obtain
the statement directly, simply rejected the case for prosecution.
Three weeks later Mina's husband pumped nine bullets into
her body. The teenage son and daughter discovered their
mother's bullet ridden body.
In another lethal
example, after more than a dozen violations of a restraining
order in which police had not even bothered to write reports,
the victim called to report that the perpetrator had again
called her home. This time she told the officer that her
roommate had taken the perpetrator's call. Police wrote
the report with the name of the roommate witness but didn't
bother to obtain a statement from the roommate who was readily
available. The district attorney also didn't bother to obtain
the statement from the roommate, and instead rejected the
case for insufficient evidence. Just weeks later, the perpetrator
lay in wait at the victim's workplace and executed her with
a bullet to the head when she arrived.
Deal With Restraining Order Violations and Stalking: Few
other crimes seems to elicit police contempt more than restraining
order violations and stalking. Police just can't seem to
wrap their minds around the idea that a phone call, or that
sending a valentine card, can constitute some of the most
terrifying crime that exists. Yet histories of domestic
homicide victims are rife with repeated acts of such restraining
order violations and stalking, and with law enforcement
failures to do anything about it.
of the gravity of restraining order violations and police
unwillingness to properly respond to these violations prompted
the California legislature to pass legislation mandating
that police make an arrest on all restraining order violations.
But police, nonetheless, continue to ignore the law. For
too many officers, the idea of going through police academy
learning how to drive fast and shoot straight just doesn't
seem to square with having to writing up a crime report
because some female is freaked out over a valentine's card.
And even if the
officer does write a report the first time, the more times
police are called to the same address with the same petty
complaints, the more disgusted the officers seem to get.
The more the perpetrator is emboldened in his deadly game
of cat and mouse, the more the victim gets frustrated with
calling the police. The more the situation is propelled
into a headlong rush to homicide.
is that prosecutors seem to respond the same way. So even
if there is an officer who does understand the dangerousness
of these crimes and is diligent in writing reports, it doesn't
take long for the officer to change his ways. How many restraining
order violations would you write up if you knew ahead of
time, the district attorney doesn't do restraining orders?
have to be very proactive in pushing police and prosecutors
to properly handle restraining order violations and stalking.
This usually involves obtaining CAD records and police reports
in order to identify occasions when the victim called the
police and no report was written. And it also involves looking
into the court record to identify improper handling of incidents
by prosecutors. Once that history is pulled together, the
advocate then usually has to go to the head of the domestic
violence or violent crimes unit before these cases get properly
handled. But the effort won't be a waste of your time. It
can save your client's life.
Enforce Custody Orders, Visitation Orders, and Other Family
Court Orders. As difficult as it is to get law enforcement
to treat restraining order violations and stalking as real
crime', it's close to impossible to get officials to enforce
visitation, custody, and other family court orders. When
women call to report these violations, police routinely
tell the women to take the problem back to family court.
The consequences of law enforcement's frequent failure to
enforce family court orders are devastating and dangerous
to victims and their children.
In a typical
example, Anne's husband decided to punish her by not bringing
their two-year-old child back to Anne at the end of the
court-ordered visitation. After a couple hours Anne called
police. When the officer arrived, she showed him the court
order. In classic fashion the officer told Anne she'd have
to take the problem back to family court. But the family
court, of course, can do little more than issue a modification
of the order, in other words, issue another order.
Two days later,
Anne's husband still hadn't brought the baby back, and Anne
now calls police for the third time. The results are the
same. This third officer, with the same disgusting indifference
to Anne's agony, again tells Anne to take the problem back
to family court.
for advocates to know that violations of all family court
orders are real crimes and can be charged and prosecuted
as crimes. (In California, violations of court orders are
covered under Penal Code Section 166.4.) Police are a hundred
times more likely to write up a police report for a slashed
car tire than for a baby being withheld from the mother
in violation of a family court order. The general police
refusal to implement their powers on violations of family
court orders is a clear cut sexist denial of women's constitutional
rights to equal protection. The police consider violations
of family court orders to be far, far beneath their dignity.
to be very aggressive to get police to enforce family court
orders, but it can be done. And it must be done to stop
one of the cruelest crimes abusers commit against their
victims, terrifying them with horror of the loss of their
There is a related
set of crimes that police also routinely refuse to enforce
for similar reasons. Child stealing and child concealing
with or without a court order, whether or not the perpetrator
has custody, are crimes. In California the two relevant
sections of the penal code are the following:
- PC 278 Taking,
Enticing Away, Withholding, or Concealing Child by Person
without Right of Custody
- PC 278.5 Taking,
Enticing Away, Withholding, or Concealing Child in Order
to Deprive Lawful Custodian of Custody (In other words,
it is a crime for one parent to conceal the children from
the other even though both parents may have shared legal
These are serious
crimes that cause intense pain and clear danger to the victims.
Yet police turn away from parents, usually the mothers,
who report these crimes, and they frequently do so with
an attitude of affront, as if the police are the victims
of the women who have wasted their time with the call.
are three distinct examples of both the gravity of these
crimes and of law enforcement's absolute, discriminatory
and sexist disregard for enforcing the relevant laws.
#1:Though we've mentioned this case earlier we go
into more detail here. On March 27, 2000, in Tacoma, WA.,
John Muhammad of Washington D.C. sniper fame, abducted
and concealed their three children from his wife Mildred
for 17 months. Although in June 2001, Tacoma Police finally
wrote up a warrant for the three children to be picked
up, they never obtained a warrant for the arrest of Muhammad.
17 long months, the children were found by chance registered
by Muhammad at a school under false names, police still
didn't arrested Muhammad. This despite the fact that Tacoma
Police knew Muhammad's whereabouts, had ample evidence
he had concealed the children for more than a year, knew
he had made threats to kill Mildred, and knew Mildred
had obtained a restraining order against John. If police
and prosecutors had enforced the certain multiple felony
counts of child concealment, it's likely Muhammad would
have been behind bars instead out in Washington D.C. on
his killing spree.
it was in the fall of 2002, that John Muhammad together
with juvenile John Malvo held Washington D.C. under siege
of sniper fire, killing 13 people and wounding 5 others.
also it was Tacoma Police Chief Brame who, in April 2003,
shot and killed his wife in front of their two children
in a shopping mall parking lot. This after Tacoma officials
had ignored multiple reports of Brame's violence against
And one more
note...On February 2, 2002, Tacoma Police did obtain an
arrest warrant for John Muhammad - why? Why? After failing
to obtain an arrest warrant for Muhammad after abducting
his three children for 17 months, taking them out of the
country, changing their names, and threatening to kill
their mother- why did Tacoma Police now issue an arrest
warrant for John Muhammad? Tacoma Police were now issuing
a warrant because Muhammad allegedly shoplifted $27 worth
owner's property rights to a couple pounds of meat were
dealt with more seriously than a woman's right to her
#2: On December 19, 2001, Uma James, mother of John
Malvo, called Bellingham Police to report Muhammad's harassment
of her then 16 year-old son. John Malvo had been picked
up by John Muhammad when Muhammad was visiting Jamaica,
and now his mother had left her country for the first
time and was desperately seeking police help to get her
son back from Muhammad. It was a clear cut case of child
concealment. In making that report to Bellingham police,
Uma James reported that when she tried to get her son
back from Muhammad there had been "pushing and shoving"
according to an officer who had responded to the call.
happened in that regard is difficult to know since it
appears the Bellingham officer didn't write up a domestic
violence crime report, nor did the Bellingham police investigate
Uma James' accusations of Muhammad's harassment of her
16 year-old son. Nor did Bellingham Police arrest or write
up a crime report of Muhammad's violation of child stealing
outrageous contempt of mothers' rights to their children,
instead of treating Muhammad as a criminal suspect, the
Bellingham police officer turned on Uma James and her
son, and arrested them for being in the country illegally.
The Bellingham officer then called in and reported James
and her son to the INS. As for Muhammad, the Bellingham
officer gave Muhammad a verbal warning to leave Uma James
and her son alone.
The only reason
we know this is because the INS officer did write up a
report on Malvo and his mother Uma James (for immigration
violations) and happened to include in that INS report
the following statement, "(Bellingham) Police told
John Muhammad to leave and not to interfere with mother
The rest is
#3: A 13 year old Latina was sexually involved with
an adult male in his mid twenties when school officials
reported to our Sheriff's department that the girl was
missing after being picked up by the male at the school
bus stop. A sheriff's detective was assigned to the case.
But the detective never once contacted the parents of
the girl, despite the fact that the parents were frantically
seeking help, and continued seeking help as months went
by and the girl was still missing.
When the girl
was finally returned home after six months, the Sheriff's
department would not make an arrest, and prosecutor's
refused to file on the case, all saying (all except one
deputy) that since the girl had gone willingly there was
no crime. These officials knew full well there was a crime.
(Imagine if their 13-year-olds had been lured away by
an adult male!) But, of course, the officials just didn't
want to be bothered. Finally after intense pressuring
of the district attorney, the case was properly charged
as eleven felony counts of child stealing, and numerous
counts of statutory rape.
It is very difficult
to get police to write crime reports or take any action
on family court violations or child stealing cases. Advocates
usually have to resort to tactics discussed in Part III
of this manual, "When Push Comes to Shove".
Properly Determine Dominant Aggressor: Since this common
failure so often leads to the arrest of the victim, we discuss
it in detail in the following section, Part II, subsection,
"Advocating for Domestic Violence Victims Who Have
Been Arrested for Domestic Violence."
Corrections Made to the Police Response or Police Report
The first step
in getting corrections made to the police response or the
police report in a domestic violence case is, as always,
to discuss a course of action with the victim. The next
step usually will be to make a phone call to the on-duty
sergeant or to the head of the domestic violence unit, or
to the head of investigations.
If a few phone
calls don't quickly resolve the problem, then go to Part
III of this manual, "When Push Comes to Shove".