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Part Il

First Line Criminal Justice Advocacy

C. Domestic Violence:
Police Response and Investigation

If Your Client Has Not Yet Made a Police Report:

Prepare your 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 police reports.

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.

Address your client's questions and concerns: In particular, carefully probe and address her specific fears about opening a criminal justice case.

Educate her 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 arise.

Help your 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.

Above all, explain the importance of not holding back information.

Obtain the 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.

Another reason 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.

Informing the 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 history.

The quickest 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 it.

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.

Also, remember 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.

Obtaining the 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.

NOTE: 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 position.

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.

Another angle 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 officer lied.

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.

"Listen, 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 emergency order."

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 done."

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 presence.

For a full discussion of advocacy strategies for correcting inadequate law enforcement response see Part III of this manual, "When Push Comes to Shove".

If Your Client Has Already Made a Police Report:

  • As Soon as Possible Evaluate the Quality of the Police Response and the Quality of the Police Report.
  • Obtain a Complete Copy of the Police Report
  • Identify Errors and Deficiencies in the Police Response and Report.
  • Get 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 victim.

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 there.

Explain to your client why it is so important to evaluate the police response and police report.

Make sure 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 the report.

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 once.

Make multiple 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.

NOTE: 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."

Naturally if 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.

After explaining the purpose of your questions to the client, you can use Part I of the evaluation form that follows to guide your interview.

In the process of evaluating the police response and report, keep notes as you go of the corrections you feel need to be made.

In addition 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.

Remember: 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 report.

Obtain as 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:"

Other 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 case.

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.

* Case 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.

In short, 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.

* Case 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 reports.

* Case 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.

NOTE: 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.

Arrest warrants along with the officer's write up of supporting evidence are available on the public record. As such, anyone can obtain a copy.

Obtaining arrest 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".

Common Police Errors in Domestic
Violence Response:

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.

Failure to 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'.

Officers who 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.

Although 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.

Example: Suicide 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 doctor.

Starting from 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.

Failure to 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.

  • Officials frequently fail to identify and address the many specific victim fears that routinely constrict a victim's statement in violence against women cases.

  • Officials 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 and witnesses.

  • Officers 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.

  • Officials almost always fail to engage the victim as a partner in developing case evidence.

  • Officials 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 officials.

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 emotional pain.

In addition, 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 car theft.

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.

Failure to 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.

Paying attention 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 current incident.

Case Example: 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 ask.

If police 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 witnesses.

If officers 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.

Again, since 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.

Failure to 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 threat.

Another common 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 ever heard.

Failure to 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 justice case.

  • 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 advocate.

Failure to 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 sufficient evidence.

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.

The Murder 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.

Failure to 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.

The combination 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.

What's worse 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?

Advocates often 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.

Failure to 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.

It's crucial 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.

Advocates have 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 child.

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:

  1. PC 278 Taking, Enticing Away, Withholding, or Concealing Child by Person without Right of Custody
  2. 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 custody.)

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.

Following 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.

Example #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.

When, after 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.

Remember, 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.

And remember, 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 women.

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 of meat.

The store owner's property rights to a couple pounds of meat were dealt with more seriously than a woman's right to her children..

Example #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.

Exactly what 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 laws.

In classic 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 and son."

The rest is bloody history.

Example #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".

Failure to 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."

Getting 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".



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Women's Justice Center,


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