There is a rising awareness about domestic violence and the tragedies that it causes. What is less talked about is the number of police officer deaths that are related to such incidents.
According to the FBI, domestic disturbance calls lead to about 14 percent of officer deaths every year. A slew of recent events has put a spotlight on the dangers of responding to such calls for the men in blue.
The death of an Ohio police officer, Justin Yeo, in October is one such heartbreaking story. In another recent incident, a Chester, Illinois, police officer suffered a serious head injury while investigating a domestic disturbance case.
Most of the time officers aren’t sure of the dangers that lie within the walls of a troubled home. Since the suspects are on their turf, their familiarity works against the police. The high emotional quotient, and the volatile and unpredictable nature of the people involved make these situations risky for officers.
Offenders with a record of domestic violence are dangerous and are all about power and control. They see the police as an authority figure who can wrench their power away. This makes them lash out in the most violent way possible. More often than not, the person inside flips and reacts badly to police presence, who have been called in to calm a volatile situation.
2016 saw 64 firearms-related killings of the law enforcement officers. Out of that number, 14 deaths (22 percent) were related to domestic dispute calls.
Specialized domestic violence training for such disputes involves lessons on how to deal with the stress and unknown factors. It includes possible issues plaguing the people concerned, including serious mental conditions.
Surroundings matter, too, as do other unknown factors like weapons present in the house. For example, Florida police responding to a domestic violence call this week found not only a drunk and disorderly perpetrator but also uncovered an arsenal of weapons that could take out an entire city block.
Departments are upgrading training for officers and dispatchers to avoid more deaths. The latter are learning how to handle the call better and relay more relevant information to the officers on call.
Updated software that can immediately pull up information like the previous history of the suspect is also in the works. The chance of drug or alcohol involvement can exacerbate an already bad situation. The possibility of guns and other weapons could go a long way to prepare officers better.
Information and knowledge about past criminal records are a big help. The offenders’ access to weapons, history of restraining orders and history of violence can aid officers to do their job better. For example, it could have helped late officer Yeo and his team had they known the offender had been drinking all day and was prone to violence. Perhaps, they could have been better prepared.
While officer training differs among departments and states, some basic rules apply to all. All domestic violence calls should be treated as a high priority or a life-threatening situation. This means even if the victim cancels the request, officers will respond.
Instead of announcing their approach, officers should arrive discreetly, which prevents any violent triggers. Typically, two or more officers should arrive on the scene and try to separate the offender and victims.
Collecting evidence is as important as following procedure during rescue and arrests. Having a safety plan in place is essential as well. Some states also require their officers to have a community support program in place to help the victims.
By Bambi Majumdar | MultiBrief